PLANTS THAT ATTRACT BUTTERFLIES
With just a few flowers and plants you can attract butterflies to your yard. Many plants that attract bees also attract butterflies and for the same reason. They are rich in pollen or nectar.
Some plants don't provide food for the adult butterfly but feed their caterpillars.
Here is my list of butterfly favourite plants and flowers in the garden. I don't suppose it's a complete list but they are proven butterfly plants. Try to plants that will give your butterflies an un-interrupted food supply through the warm seasons.
Butterfly Bush, Buddleia
It's well deserved name tells it all. Buddleia Davidii is covered with butterflies, and honey bees all summer from July onwards. It likes sun, and grows quickly. In my hardiness zone 5b, it often dies back completely then re emerges in the spring just when you've given up on it. It can be cut down completely and mulched for the winter. Where it's warmer, it can be a bit invasive so put it where you can control it. It's easy to do a soft wood cutting in the spring if you want more plants.
Milkweed, butterfly weed
Milkweed flower is probably THE most popular butterfly, bee and other pollinators plant out there. Sadly it's only in bloom for a few weeks. In my garden the weight of the bees and butterflies make the heads bend right down.
There are many varieties of milkweed, this is just the common milkweed. Choose a local varieties that your neighbourhood butterflies will like.
Everyone knows that monarchs lay their eggs on the milkweed plant.
You can grow then from seeds but some nurseries sell roots as well. Here is a link to Amazon for common milkweed seeds: Common Milkweed Native Seeds (Asclepias Syriaca), Pack of 100 Seeds by Seeds2Go
Once established they come back every year. In my garden they tend to spread because of the enthusiastic root system and I place them where I can mow around them and keep them in line. Here is my page on starting and growing milkweed. Milkweed even has a quite nice smell.
Catnip, Nepeta cataria
I started growing catnip for the cats, who love it, but I soon realized that it was a very popular plant among butterflies, bees, and many other pollinators. It flowers for a long time and always seems covered with something. Skippers seem to be regulars as are the little blue butterflies. It would be hard to keep the cabbage butterflies off of it. Later when the seeds mature, Goldfinch start coming and stay till fall eating the tiny catnip seeds. Catnip comes as a regular boring but enthusiastic plant that everyone loves but also as Catmint which is the more sophisticated and prettier varieties.
Coneflowers are one type of flower that come up on just about every list of plants for butterflies, and for good reasons. Popular with all the right bugs and butterflies, flowers are lovely and last for a long time. The plants are easy to grow and come back with no fuss.
Heck you can even dig up the roots and make echinacea drops which help when you're getting a cold by boosting immune system.
Coneflowers are not aggressive but will grow without any fuss, and without trying to take over your garden, not that I'd mind. You can keep the seeds and plant them. Bees are also attracted to coneflowers.
Liatris grows from a small bulb and comes back every year. In the spring it's one of the plants the big box stores sell in little paper bags in their front displays.
I've had many different varieties and some are more attractive to the butterflies than others but they all attracts them. Sometimes in huge numbers. Link to liatris bulb seller on Amazon Purple BLAZING STAR (10 Bulbs), BUTTERFLY Plant, LIATRIS, PERENNIAL
In the fall the lovely goldenrod come and they attract many species of butterflies like magnets. Not only is it a favourite of the migrating monarchs but bees and other pollinators love it. Around here it grows wild and comes back every year. I've planted some in my gardens and they seem easy to look after.
It gets a bad rap for producing lots of pollen and in fact it's the ragweed that is to blame. Ragweed flowers at the same time and is not so visible as the goldenrod which people see and associate wrongly with the sneezing.
Bee Balm, Bergamot, Monarda
Even if Bee balm was only grown for the lovely hummingbird moths it would be worth having it around but it also attracts lots of other pollinators in particular the carpenter bees that look like huge bumble bees.
Not only do the insects like it but hummingbirds will visit the bee balm.
There are many different varieties. They can be split from the roots or grown from seed. In my garden they start looking a bit raggedy by the end of the summer, but even then they continue to flower and attract the butterflies.
Sunflowers, Jerusasem Artichokes
Who doesn't love a sunflower? There are many varieties and all the ones I've tried attract butterflies, bees and other pollinators. After the plants have made their seeds the birds take over.
The jerusalem artichoke are a native sunflower that produce huge stems easily 8 feet high in my garden. Not only do they have the flowers in the fall but you can dig up the tuber and they are tasty. Here is a link to my page on growing Jerusalem Artichokes
Many popular herbs such as Oregano, Sage, lavender, dill and fennel, savories, basil, mints, borage
In my garden, the butterflies and the honey bees line up to get to the oregano. It's a tough little plant that will keep you in oregano herb and butterflies all summer long. Plant it where you can control it because it has ambitions of taking over the world.
Lavender pays the rent by smelling heavenly and attracting butterflies in droves. It is not very hardy at my zone 5b. I killed a few before I found a plant that was willing to live here. It helps to protect them with a bit of extra mulch in the fall.
Chives makes lovely flowers and tasty addition to food. Many butterflies, bees and other pollinators will happily visit.
Just about all the herb flowers are attractive to the butterflies and they will check out dill, sage, the savories, basil, borage, any flowering mint, flowering chives and other onions. Don't cut the flowers off when you see your herbs starting to bloom!
Fennel is a favourite of the black swallowtail butterfly. The adult likes the flowers but the caterpillars can't get enough of the leaves. The caterpillars will also eat parsley, dill, and queen anne's lace which attracts lots of adult butterflies on its own. Many of these plants attract the many species of wasps that feed on pollen. These wasps are amazing in controlling garden pests. They should be encouraged.
Daisies, Asteraceae, aster-sunflower family
Dasies are members of a large family that includes sunflowers, asters, coreopsis, argyranthemum, black eyed susans and rudbeckia. There are many different varieties and the traditional types are brilliant at attracting butterflies.
Asters and rudbeckia get their fair share of butterflies through the summer
I don't know of any butterfly that can resist checking out my lantana plant. I only have the one. Because it can't survive the winter I have to bring it in come frost. It sort of survives the dark months and in February starts flowering in it's sunny window.
Swallowtails seem to love the lantana. Maybe they know they look beautiful on them. Lantana is not particularly hard to grow and seems to thrive on a system of benevolent neglect. I forget to water it and I think it appreciates the mildly dry conditions. Flowers are lovely as the change colours from yellow to orange.
Sedum, stonecrop, crassulaceae
Stonecrops is a general term for a large genus of flowering plants generally called sedum or stonecrop. They often find their way in stone gardens and can live in quite dry conditions. They like the sun though.
Goldmoss stonecrop gets a steady flow of visitors as does a pink variety. The sedum which blooms later in the summer and fall is one of the most visited fall flower I have second only to the goldenrods.
Many plants attract butterflies
Many other plants attract butterflies in my yard here are a few.
Cardoons are like giant thistles, in the same family as artichokes. At 5 feet tall and large they are not for everyone, but there is a steady flow of winged visitors. These triffids looks great with the also large canna lilies (which attract lots of hummingbirds). In my garden they've come back for several years. Link to my page on Growing Cardoons
At the other end of the size spectrum, forget me nots are popular with bees and butterflies. They can be invasive in some areas but here in Southern Ontario they have not shown any willingness to spread. This lot came in the Cheerio butterfly seed mix, a couple of years back.
Anemones are a newcomer in my garden and seem to attract a steady flow of bees and butterflies. The cosmos are one of my favourite, lovely flowers with an feathery foliage and popular with the butterflies.
Cleome or spider flower is an odd one, it grows to about 3-4 feet on prickly stems. It gets a steady supplies of insects and in particular the hummingbird moth. It reseeds in my garden and flowers all season.
I've planted white clover in my lawn and the white flowers are very popular. This only works if you don't mow them down when they are in flower but the clover is only about 6 inches high so I mow around the patches till the clover has flowered. It builds up the soil too. I also have the larger purple clover in the garden and it is just as popular.
These white yarrows are not yet in full bloom but they bring in their share of butterflies. These are native plants but many coloured varieties have been developed. I have yellow and pink and they all seem popular.
I'm told that Phlox, Verbena and Salvia are also popular with butterflies but I don't have any in my garden so I can't speak for them. They certainly make lovely flowers.
At first I found zinnias disappointing in the butterfly department. They were lovely but no bees, no butterflies, NADA. Then the yellow center of the flower actually started really flowering and all of a sudden the butterflies came and spent long minutes checking them out.
I grow the zinnias from seed and find that the germination rate is not spectacular, so if you want to grow these flowers plant more than you need. It helps to soak the seeds in a low concentration of peroxide and water overnight before planting.
The zinnias come in lovely gaudy colours and attract not only lots of butterflies but also bees. You can just see the little center flowers on the pink flower.
Siberian Squills and other early Bulbs
In the early spring, there is not much for the bees and butterflies to eat. In my yard, and my neighbours, little Siberian Squills carpet the ground with their bright blue flowers.
From morning till night they are covered with honey bees and whatever butterflies have managed to come out.
Siberian Squills are easy to grow. You plant a bulb in the fall and from then on it comes back every spring. The bulbs multiply and the little plant produces seeds. After a couple of weeks the flowering is done and eventually the foliage dies back and there is no trace of them all summer. A lot of beauty for 2 weeks and food for the bees and butterflies when there is little else. link to Amazon supplier of Squills Siberian Squill - 50 Bulbs - Scilla siberica - 7/8 cm Bulbs
Many of the early spring bulbs also attract butterflies and bees.
Planting for Butterflies
If you want butterflies in your yard you need lots of flowers. When you choose plants choose varieties that attract butterflies. The traditional varieties are often better than new modern hybrids. Don't get discouraged. It takes a few years to build up the flowers and the butterfly populations.
Don't spray insecticides, you know roundup causes cancer, and besides you would be killing your butterflies.
This beautiful white admiral butterfly is checking out the Pokeweed. I tolerate a few plants in my yard because they make lovely flowers that are popular with many insects and the berries are eaten by birds. They are mildly poisonous for humans so don't eat them. Mourning doves seem to like them though.
To get butterflies, you need caterpillars so don't be too harsh if you see them in your plants.
This caterpillar, munching on a pussy willow tree, will become a lovely white admiral butterfly later. He is coloured to look like bird droppings to discourage birds from eating him. You wouldn't know it just looking at him.
I plant more cabbage family plants in my vegetable garden than I need and allow some to be eaten by caterpillars. I like the lovely white butterflies that come from the green caterpillars. These caterpillars are one of the favourite food of many of the birds around so they are always patrolling the garden. I take the caterpillars off the collard greens but leave them on some of the other cruciferous plants such as kale, brussel sprouts and broccoli. Once the broccoli heads have been harvested the plant does not produce much so the butterflies can have it. The caterpillars also attract some of the wasps and keeps them coming. The wasps are a great help keeping the garden pest free.
In the fall and in the spring, be slow in cleaning up the rubble. Many insect cocoon overwinter in the dead grass and stems, so give them a chance to come out in the spring before raking them off. I put my dead stems and raked up leaves in a shallow bin and eventually shred them. By this time any butterfly will have had a chance to come out.