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. Monarch Magnet Garden Hero Image

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

    Learn More
    Monarch Magnet Pre-Planned Garden Monarch Magnet Pre-Planned Garden
    $153.32 Sale $114.99
    Per Garden of 18 Plants
    If you plant our 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. This Pre-Planned Garden comes with a garden layout map to make planting easy.
  2. 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...

    Learn More
    Phenomenal® Lavender Lavender Phenomenal® PP#24193 Lavandula x intermedia Phenomenal PP#24193
    As low as $10.65 Sale $7.99
    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
  3. Hidcote English Lavender

    ‚Hidcote‚ is a compact English Lavender that grows only 18-24 inches tall, with highly fragrant, deep purple-blue flowers. Excellent for both fresh and dried bouquets, th...

    Learn More
    Hidcote English Lavender English Lavender Hidcote Lavandula angustifolia Hidcote
    As low as $6.65 Sale $4.99
    Per Plant - 3" Pot
    'Hidcote' is a compact English Lavender that grows only 18-24 inches tall, with highly fragrant, deep purple-blue flowers. Excellent for both fresh and dried bouquets, this lavender attracts bees and butterflies but repels deer and rabbits. Perfect for hot, dry sites and drought tolerant once established. Great choice for container plantings. (Lavandula angustifolia)
  4. 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. ...

    Learn More
    Eastern Monarch Refuge Plant Collection Monarch Refuge Plant Collection for the East
    $79.99 Sale $59.99
    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. Joe Pye Weed, Black Eyed Susan, 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 and beauty of your habitat garden.

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.

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!


© 2022 AmericanMeadows.com All rights reserved