Soar with Your Butterfly Garden

by Charlie Nardozzi

asclepias milkweedasclepias milkweed

Butterflies gathered on a Milkweed flower

While I love to design perennial gardens to provide constant color from spring until fall, you can add even more interest, color, and activity to your garden by selecting perennials that attract butterflies. Not only will you have the joy of watching them flit around your garden, you'll be creating a habitat to preserve these winged beauties.

The key to success is designing a butterfly garden with perennial plants and annual flowers that will provide blooms all season - which will offer nectar and leaves for the larval caterpillars to feed on. It's also helpful to create butterfly habitat, so plants and structures to provide shelter and water for butterflies.

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A Painted Lady Butterfly on Garden Phlox

Butterfly Attracting Perennial Plants

Butterflies are mostly attracted to bright colors such as red, orange, yellow and purple. Select full-sun loving perennials in these bright colors that will bloom throughout the growing season to give your butterflies a continual nectar source.

  • For early season blooms, try Super Star Coreopsis with its yellow flowers with a bright red center.
  • For mid-summer bloomers, try Echinacea Purpurea or Magnus Echinacea with striking magenta-colored flowers and textured center cones. Gaillardia's brght flowers are another great option - butterflies are sure not to miss these. (Plants are available seasonally!)
  • For late summer and fall flowers, grow some butterfly bushes. These shrubs are hardy to USDA zone 5 and consistently produce 3- to 5-foot tall and wide shrubs - and true to their name, butterflies flock to these fragrant shrubs. Tall garden phlox are also a late summer/fall butterfly favorite. 
  1. Phenomenal Lavender, Lavandula x intermedia

    Phenomenal Lavender has it all: exceptionally tolerant of both high heat and harsh winter, this easy-to-grow lavender even shows resistance to the effects of humidity. Highly fragran...

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    Phenomenal® Lavender Lavender Phenomenal® PP#24193 Lavandula x intermedia Phenomenal PP#24193
    As low as $13.98 Sale $9.09
    Per Plant - 3" Pot
    Phenomenal Lavender has it all: exceptionally tolerant of both high heat and harsh winter, this easy-to-grow lavender even shows resistance to the effects of humidity. Highly fragrant with concentrated essential oils, Phenomenal's spikes of purple-blue flowers attract butterflies and bees to the garden. Edible, deer-resistant and fast-growing, this silver-leafed lavender has left all other new introductions in the dust! (Lavandula x intermedia) PP#24193
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  2. Pink Echinacea Magnus, Echinacea purpurea, Coneflower

    'Magnus' Coneflower has vibrant pink, ray-like flowers that surround deep-orange center cones, attracting plentiful pollinators to the garden throughout the summer. Leaving the spent...

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    Magnus Echinacea Purple Coneflower Magnus Echinacea purpurea Magnus
    As low as $8.98 Sale $5.84
    Per Plant - 3" Pot
    'Magnus' Coneflower has vibrant pink, ray-like flowers that surround deep-orange center cones, attracting plentiful pollinators to the garden throughout the summer. Leaving the spent stems and flowerheads in place to overwinter will also attract birds. Coneflowers are notably tough native plants and 'Magnus' is no exception, withstanding drought, clay, humidity and harsh winter conditions without complaint. Easy to grow, this plant is a great choice for beginner and experienced gardeners alike. (Echinacea purpurea)
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  3. Butterfly and Hummingbird Pre-Planned Garden Hero

    Butterflies and hummingbirds both rival the complex beauty of flowers - plant attentively and you can have all three! Our Butterfly & Hummingbird Garden takes the guesswork out of at...

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    Butterfly and Hummingbird Pre-Planned Garden
    $254.98 Sale $165.74
    Per Garden of 21 Plants
    Butterflies and hummingbirds both rival the complex beauty of flowers - plant attentively and you can have all three! Our Butterfly & Hummingbird Garden takes the guesswork out of attracting these beloved pollinators, with magnetic colors and nectar-rich blooms that work together to provide the perfect habitat.
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  4. Black Eyed Susan Goldsturm, Rudbeckia in bloom in perennial garden

    'Goldsturm' Black Eyed Susan brings a burst of showy color to the full-sun garden. Golden yellow, daisy-like petals surround nectar-rich, brown center 'buttons' set atop deep green f...

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    Goldsturm Black Eyed Susan Black Eyed Susan Goldsturm Rudbeckia fulgida Goldsturm
    As low as $9.98 Sale $6.49
    Per Plant - 3" Pot
    'Goldsturm' Black Eyed Susan brings a burst of showy color to the full-sun garden. Golden yellow, daisy-like petals surround nectar-rich, brown center 'buttons' set atop deep green foliage. Unbothered by most pests, poor soils, drought and humidity, 'Goldsturm' is easygoing and the perfect addition to flower arrangements and pollinator gardens. Deer resistant and long-lasting. (Rudbeckia fulgida)
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Butterfly Attracting Wildflowers

To ensure constant color and food for your butterflies, plant some annual wildflowers such as zinnias or cosmos amongst your perennial flowers.

It's not just about growing flowers with blooms and nectar for the adults to feed. Caterpillars need food, too. Grow caterpillar-loving plants nearby such as willow, black cherry, parsley, and fennel for adults to lay eggs on and the caterpillar young to feed.

I have milkweed growing in my meadow for the monarch butterflies to use. Milkweed is a host plant for Monarchs - an essential plant for all stages of their growth. 

Do not spray any pesticides in your butterfly garden or on host plants. In the butterfly garden, you want to see leaf damage. It means you have larval butterflies (caterpillars) and the adults are not too far behind.

  1. Giant Swallowtail Nectar Seed Collection

    Plant our Giant Swallowtail Nectar Collection to attract giant swallowtail butterflies – and other pollinators – to your garden. This easy-to-grow collection provides a source of...

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    Giant Swallowtail Nectar Seed Collection
    $19.95 Sale $16.96
    Per Collection of Packets
    Plant our Giant Swallowtail Nectar Collection to attract giant swallowtail butterflies – and other pollinators – to your garden. This easy-to-grow collection provides a source of nectar-rich blooms and host plants for this butterfly species. Zinnia, Sunflowers, Swamp Milkweed, Rue and Showy Goldenrod provide blooms year after year. These varieties will thrive in almost any sunny spot in the garden or meadow.
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  2. Painted Lady Nectar Seed Collection

    The Painted Lady Nectar Collection attracts gorgeous painted lady butterflies to your garden with a variety of pollen-rich and host plants that are necessary to their survival. This ...

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    Painted Lady Nectar Seed Collection
    $19.95 Sale $16.96
    Per Collection of Packets
    The Painted Lady Nectar Collection attracts gorgeous painted lady butterflies to your garden with a variety of pollen-rich and host plants that are necessary to their survival. This easy-to-grow collection features one biennial (Hollyhock) and four perennials (Liatris, Joe-Pye Weed, Ironweed and New England Aster) that offer up a source of food and habitat for painted lady butterflies.
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  3. Monarch Nectar Seed Collection

    The Monarch Nectar Seed Collection makes it easy to do your part in helping the monarch population by creating a monarch waystation in your own backyard. This easy-to-grow collection...

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    Monarch Nectar Seed Collection
    $19.95 Sale $16.96
    Per Collection of Packets
    The Monarch Nectar Seed Collection makes it easy to do your part in helping the monarch population by creating a monarch waystation in your own backyard. This easy-to-grow collection features a variety of nectar-rich varieties that monarchs rely on and need to survive. Zinnia, Wild Bergamot, Purple Coneflower and two varieties of Milkweed provide food, shelter and breeding grounds for monarchs in your own backyard.
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Butterfly Habitat

Your butterflies will need other features in your yard in order to stay around and be happy.

  • Plant evergreen shrubs or deciduous shrubs such as lilacs close to the butterfly garden. They will use the shrubs as protection from wind and weather, a hiding place from predators, and a place to rest between feedings. 
  • Have a water source, such as a bird bath, or even a small bucket sunk in the ground filled with pebbles, sand and water, for the adults to drink from.

With a little planning and choosing colorful perennials, you'll create a butterfly garden that will be filled with color and activity all summer long.

Happy Gardening!


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