How to Attract Butterflies to your Garden
Creating a butterfly garden is an exciting and rewarding endeavor! It is easy to invite butterflies to your area by gardening with their needs in mind. These beautiful insects will add bright colors and entertaining antics to your garden display.
- Start your perennial butterfly garden in a sunny area. Butterflies and butterfly-attracting plants need the sun.
- Plant nectar-promising annual and perennial flowers. Butterflies visit flowers in search of nectar, a sugary fluid, to eat. Many native butterflies seem to prefer purple, yellow, orange, and red-colored blossoms. Clusters of short, tubular flowers or flat-topped blossoms provide the ideal shapes for butterflies to easily land and feed.
- Select single flowers rather then double flower varieties. The nectar of single flowers is more accessible and easier for butterflies to extract than the nectar of double flowers which have more petals per flower.
- Use large splashes of color in your landscape. Butterflies are first attracted to flowers by their color. Groups of flowers are easier for butterflies to locate than isolated plants.
- Plant for continuous blooming throughout the growing season. Butterflies are active from early spring until late fall. Plant a selection of flowers that will provide nectar throughout the entire growing season (e.g. spring – azaleas, summer – buddleia, fall – mums).
- In your butterfly garden, include host plants in the garden. Host plants provide food for caterpillars and lure female butterflies into the garden to lay eggs.
- Add a damp area, bird bath or shallow puddles to your pollinator garden. Some butterflies drink and extract salts from moist soil. Occasionally large numbers of male butterflies congregate around a moist area to drink, forming a “puddle club.”
- Place flat stones in the garden. Butterflies often perch on stones, bare soil or vegetation, spread their wings and bask in the sun. Basking raises their body temperature so they are able to fly and remain active.
How Butterflies Rely on Plants
Butterflies depend on plants in many ways. The most successful butterfly gardens include plants which meet the needs of butterflies during all four stages of their life cycle: egg, caterpillar, chrysalis, and adult. After mating, female butterflies search for a specific kind of “host plant” on which to lay eggs. For example, monarchs lay eggs on milkweed, black swallowtails on parsley, and Eastern tiger swallowtails on tulip tree or wild cherry. Some butterflies lay eggs on more than one type of plant while others only use one particular kind of host plant. In a few days, caterpillars emerge from the eggs and begin to eat. Caterpillars are selective eaters and only feed on specific kinds of plants. If the desired plants aren’t available, the caterpillars will starve rather than eat another type of vegetation. Usually female butterflies lay eggs on or near the plants their caterpillars prefer to eat. Most butterfly caterpillars feed on native plants and are not considered agricultural or ornamental pests. In a few weeks when the caterpillars are fully grown, they shed their skin for the final time and change into chrysalises. Inside each chrysalis, the body of an adult butterfly is formed. Often chrysalises are attached to plant stems and protected by surrounding vegetation. After emerging from the chrysalis, the adult butterfly soon begins to search for nectar-rich flowers to feed. Plants are important to butterflies during each stage of their life cycle. A garden designed with this in mind attracts the largest number and greatest variety of butterfly visitors!
Butterfly Bush (Buddleia spp.)
Privet or Amur Privet (Ligustrum amurense)
Honeysuckle (Lonicera tatarica)
Littleleaf Lilac (Syringa microphylla)
‘Superba’ Common Lilac (Syringa vulgaris)
- Allium, including Chives (Allium spp.)
- Forget-me-not (Myosotis sylvatica)
- Bee Balm (Monarda didyma)
- Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa)
- Coreopsis (Coreopsis spp.)
- Daisy or Shasta Daisy
- Daylily (Hemerocallis spp.)
- Gaillardia (Gaillardia x grandiflora)
- Liatris or Gay Feather
- Heuchera or Coral Bells
- Mint (Mentha spp.)
- Phlox (Phlox spp.)
- Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)
- Sunflower (Helianthus spp.)
- Yarrow (Achillea filipendulina)
Wild Flowers for informal gardens
- Hawk weed
- Winter Cress
- Queen Anne’s Lace
- Thistle Wild
- Joe-Pye Weed
Larval Food Plants for Catepillars
Queen Anne’s Lace
Dock and Sorrel
Senna Sweet Fennel
Shrubs and Trees