A Butterfly Garden is very peaceful and cathartic. Sitting in the garden, enjoying the beautiful flowers and watching vibrantly colored butterflies flutter around, dancing on the breeze. Butterfly gardening is the art of planting species that will entice them into your yard, and is growing in popularity. With a few simple tips you can encourage the beauties to take up residence in your butterfly garden.
The most important aspect to a butterfly garden is planting species that attract the butterflies. There are two types of butterfly garden plants they need: ones that provide nectar for the adults to eat (nectar plant), and those that provide food for their young (host plant). After plants have been chosen, encourage blooming seasons to last as long as possible, lengthening the feeding window for butterflies.
Butterfly Garden Plants
The following list details some of the most popular garden butterfly plants to attract butterflies.
Aster Flower – Growing upwards of 6’ tall, with dozens of blooms on a single plant, asters make a great addition to any butterfly garden. Asters are daisy-like perennials that bring a variety of colors to your garden throughout the entire growing season.
Bee Balm – A north-American native perennial, butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds alike are highly attracted to the bee balm plant. Bee balm grows up to 4’ tall and produces brightly colored tubular blooms that are a fantastic nectar source. Deadheading flowers after blooms are spent will encourage a second round of blooms.
Black-Eyed Susan – A fantastic native plant, black-eyed susans are an incredibly drought resistant perennial. Their blooms of yellow and orange draw in butterflies and hummingbirds to feed on their nectar.
Coneflower – This daisy-like perennial blooms midsummer and are relatively drought tolerant, making them a great addition to gardens in hot climates. Also know as Echinacea, coneflowers make great cut flowers as well and are a popular deterrent for deer.
Dogbane – Similar in appearance to some milkweed varieties, dogbane plays an important role in butterfly gardens. Dogbane plants are a great nectar source for butterflies early in the season before many other plants are blooming. Classified as perennial, this herb is known for its clusters of dainty, bell-shaped pink flowers.
Goldenrod – Often considered a weed by gardeners, goldenrod is primarily found in open areas such as prairies, and meadows. Goldenrod plants do have many useful properties though and are finding their way into garden landscapes. These late-blooming plants are known for their ability to attract butterflies, bees and hummingbirds and also have many healing properties. Planting goldenrod near vegetable gardens will draw insect pests away from valuable plants.
Hollyhocks – An impressive plant in a butterfly garden, hollyhock stems can reach a staggering 9’ tall under the right growing conditions! This adds a lovely vertical element to a gardening space. Hollyhocks are a short lived perennial; most varieties will need to be replaced every 2-3 years. One benefit however to growing hollyhocks is their ability to reseed themselves. If left to go to seed, under appropriate conditions, they will continually grow new plants.
Lupine Flower – Available as both annuals and perennials, lupines are a butterfly garden favorite. Lupine plants develop stiff, erect spires of flowers that can reach 4’ in height. Purple is the most common variety but lupine but can found in a wide range of colors.
Milkweed – Although a very useful plant, common milkweed is often treated as a weed and removed from gardens and landscapes. Milkweed contains a mildly poisonous, sticky sap within its leaves and stem. This bitter taste deters many of the animals and insects that try to feed on its leaves. Butterflies however, are immune to this toxin. By feeding exclusively on milkweed plants, butterflies can accumulate enough of this poison in their bodies to make them taste bitter to their predators.
Pansy Flowers – Known for their colorful “faces”, pansies have one of the widest ranges of colors and thrive well in containers, or when planted in ground. They are treated as annual plants due to their legginess but will come back if left to go to seed. Pansies prefer sun, but like cooler temperatures. They also need plenty of water to thrive.
Russian Sage – The purple blooms of Russian sage, when paired with the delectable fragrance, make this perennial plant a proven butterfly attractant in any garden. Its silvery foliage and small purple flowers will draw butterflies into the landscape in a single season.
Shasta Daisy – Similar in looks to the wild daisy found along roadsides, the Shasta daisy is a classic perennial. Its blooms are larger and more robust than the wild variety, blooming in gorgeous clumps that grow 2-3’ tall and 1-2’ wide. Shasta daisies are easy to care for, requiring deadheading as needing and dividing every 3-4 years to promote plant vigor.
Snapdragon Flowers – A cool season flower, snapdragons add beautiful color to gardens early in the spring and then again in fall. Snapdragons are available in most colors, to coordinate or contrast with other garden plants. Their tall spikes make for a longer blooming period than many other plants.
Verbena – This versatile plant makes it home in many gardens due to its ability to thrive in hot conditions and its tendency to attract butterflies. Verbenas have a long blooming season, and come in a variety of colors. Adult butterflies are drawn to the nectar-rich verbena flowers, while the plant overall acts as a deterrent for deer and rabbits.
Zinnia Flowers – One of the easiest annuals to grow, zinnias provide a wealth of color in a garden landscape as well as attracting butterflies. Zinnias grow best from seed and require little care other than deadheading flowers as needed.
At one time, butterfly bushes were widely recommended for butterfly gardens. The popular garden varieties imported from China are now being classified as invasive species, or even noxious weeds, in many areas as they are crowding out native food that is essential to local wildlife (butterflies and birds specifically). There are some non-invasive American varieties of butterfly bushes that can be purchased. Check with your local garden center or county extension office for more information.
There are many plants available – a variety of annual and perennial species – that can be planted in a garden to draw in butterflies. Some plants draw them in by providing food for butterfly larvae, others entice butterflies with their nectar. Planting a variety of the above plants will give butterflies plenty of feeding sources in your garden, encouraging them to stick around.