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. Purple Echinacea purpurea, Coneflower

    Echinacea purpurea, or purple coneflower, produces long-lasting mauve pink to purple daisy-like flowers. Coneflower is one of the finest native perennials, attracting all types of bu...

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    Purple Coneflower Coneflower Echinacea purpurea
    As low as $10.65 Sale $9.59
    Per Plant - 3" Pot
    Echinacea purpurea, or purple coneflower, produces long-lasting mauve pink to purple daisy-like flowers. Coneflower is one of the finest native perennials, attracting all types of butterflies, birds and bees to your garden. This easy to grow coneflower is tough, withstanding both drought and cold temperatures. (Echinacea purpurea)
  2. Eastern Monarch Refuge Plant Collection

    Our Eastern Monarch Refuge Plant Collection makes it easy to plant beautiful Monarch Butterfly habitat in your garden. Milkweed is the essential host plant for Monarch caterpillars, ...

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    Eastern Monarch Refuge Plant Collection Monarch Refuge Plant Collection for the East
    $61.32 Sale $48.44
    Per Collection of 6
    Our Eastern Monarch Refuge Plant Collection makes it easy to plant beautiful Monarch Butterfly habitat in your garden. Milkweed is the essential host plant for Monarch caterpillars, and Joe Pye Weed, Aster, and Bee Balm offer nectar to adult Monarchs and other pollinators from spring through fall. Resilient native perennials will naturalize, spreading each season to expand the benefit of your habitat garden.
  3. Lesser Catmint, Calamintha nepeta ssp. nepeta with yellow butterfly

    Calamintha creates a serene, inviting space with clouds of tiny white blossoms and dense, finely textured foliage that releases a rejuvenating minty fragrance. Flowering from earl...

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    Calamintha Lesser Catmint Calamintha nepeta ssp. nepeta
    $11.99 Sale $9.59
    Per Plant - 3" Pot
    Calamintha creates a serene, inviting space with clouds of tiny white blossoms and dense, finely textured foliage that releases a rejuvenating minty fragrance. Flowering from early summer until fall, Calamintha attracts a host of pollinators. Drought tolerant plants spread gently and will drape over the edges of containers and rock walls, softening hard edges as a lovely filler, edging plant, or groundcover. 2021 Perennial Plant of the Year. (Calamintha nepeta)
  4. Anise Hyssop close up of purple flowers with visiting pollinator, Blue Giant Hyssop, Agastache foeniculum

    Anise Hyssop is a native perennial that keeps you in fragrant pollinator heaven from mid-summer to fall. With a sweet licorice-mint fragrance, long lasting pale purple flowers, and a...

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    Anise Hyssop Anise Hyssop, Blue Giant Hyssop Agastache foeniculum
    As low as $11.99 Sale $8.99
    Per Plant - 3" Pot
    Anise Hyssop is a native perennial that keeps you in fragrant pollinator heaven from mid-summer to fall. With a sweet licorice-mint fragrance, long lasting pale purple flowers, and an easy-to-grow nature, this is a pollinator powerhouse favored by bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. Its leaves make a delicious tea too! Deer and rabbit resistant. (Agastache foeniculum)

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.
  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.
  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 $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.

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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