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.

painted lady butterfly on garden phloxpainted lady butterfly on garden phlox

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. Catmint Walkers Low, Nepeta faassenii

    'Walker's Low' Catmint is known for its easy going nature - it can thrive in a variety of soil and sunlight scenarios, though it does prefer things on the sunny, dry side. Beautiful ...

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    Walker's Low Nepeta Walker's Low Catmint Nepeta faassenii Walker's Low
    As low as $9.98 Sale $8.99
    Per Plant - 3" Pot
    'Walker's Low' Catmint is known for its easy going nature - it can thrive in a variety of soil and sunlight scenarios, though it does prefer things on the sunny, dry side. Beautiful purple flower spikes appear in early summer and continue to bloom and release their sweet fragrance for up to 3 months. Very showy and very low maintenance, 'Walker's Low' is a great choice for planting in swaths, lining walkways, or adding to pollinator gardens. Deer resistant. (Nepeta faassenii)
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  2. Monarch Magnet Garden Hero Image

    If you plant a Monarch Magnet Perennial Garden, they will come! This brilliant arrangement includes vital Butterfly Weeds that are the growing Monarch’s only food source, as well a...

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    Monarch Magnet Pre-Planned Garden Monarch Magnet Pre-Planned Garden
    $219.98 Sale $135.99
    Per Garden of 18 Plants
    If you plant a Monarch Magnet Perennial Garden, they will come! This brilliant arrangement includes vital Butterfly Weeds that are the growing Monarch’s only food source, as well as six essential nectar plants favored by the adult butterflies. Attract monarchs and bring a vibrant dose of color and beauty to your yard.
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  3. 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 $9.98 Sale $8.49
    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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  4. Spicy Orange Creeping Thyme, Thymus citriodorus Spicy Orange, close up of lavender-pink flower spikes

    As its name suggests, 'Spicy Orange' Creeping Thyme is a beautiful perennial herb with a fragrance reminiscent of spiced citrus. Delicate lavender-pink flower spikes top the evergree...

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    Spicy Orange Creeping Thyme Spicy Orange Creeping Thyme Thymus citriodorus Spicy Orange
    As low as $13.98 Sale $8.99
    Per Plant - 3" Pot
    As its name suggests, 'Spicy Orange' Creeping Thyme is a beautiful perennial herb with a fragrance reminiscent of spiced citrus. Delicate lavender-pink flower spikes top the evergreen foliage in early summer, attracting pollinators. Its low-growing habit is perfect between stepping stones where it can handle light foot traffic, along the front of a border, or in a container. (Thymus)
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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 $18.96
    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 $18.96
    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...

    Learn More
    Monarch Nectar Seed Collection
    $19.95 Sale $18.96
    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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