Butterflies are one of the most amazing creatures. They have four distinct life cycle stages--egg, larvae, pupae, and adult. They go from egg to caterpillar then make it to adult as a butterfly. In order to plant a successful butterfly garden, you have to plant food plants, also known as host plants, and you must plant nectar plants for the adults.
The caterpillar feeds on the leaves of its host plant. Once it has eaten all it needs, it creates a protective cover called a chrysalis. Inside its chrysalis, it begins growing its wings. This takes numerous days depending on the species.
Gardening for butterflies is easier than you think!
Here's where the fun begins for you. First you need to learn what type of butterflies live in your area. You can do this by spending some time outdoors with a butterfly field guide or visiting Butterflies and Moths of North America I would also suggest you learn caterpillar identification. Mostly so you don't hurt them.
Butterfly gardens can be any size - a container, part of your flower beds, or in a wildflower area. Having many small flowers packed tightly in an area is very desirable to butterflies. To attract the widest variety of butterflies, a variety of colored flowers is best. Mass plantings of a flower type are more attractive than just one or two. You also need to compare bloom time for nectar flowers. Consider flowers that bloom in sequence. This is particularly important during summer when flower-visiting by butterflies is most frequent.
Butterflies are relatively weak fliers. When choosing a spot for your butterfly garden, look for a spot that has the least wind. If your whole yard is windy, plant several butterfly bushes or possibly large, dense perennials on the windward side of your butterfly patch, so that the butterflies can feed in peace on the flowers.
You will also need at least 5-6 hours of sun. Butterflies need warmth to fly. Speaking of warmth, they love to sun on rocks. Place a few flat rocks in your flower beds for them to rest on. Butterflies also need water just like we do. I suggest a small pan or tray of some type which you can add sand, dirt and water. This creates an area for them to puddle. Some butterflies are attracted to fermenting fruit, so I like to put over-ripe fruit in a small hanging bird bath. Red admirals and mourning cloaks may visit these (Be aware it could attract unwanted critters).
Adult butterflies are not as picky about their nectar plants. Caterpillars, on the other hand, are very picky when it comes to their host food. In many cases, caterpillars of a species feed on only a very limited variety. Bringing caterpillar foods into your garden can greatly increase your chances of attracting butterflies.
Plant your support for the disappearing pollinator population in your own backyard with our Northeast Pollinator Mix. This easy-to-grow blend is designed to provide food and habitat to northeastern pollinators throughout the length of the growing season. Annual and perennial wildflowers like New England Aster, Black Eyed Susan, Milkweed, Coreopsis and Cosmos provide pollen, nectar and shelter for hundreds of important species, including Monarch butterflies and native bees. Contains only 100% pure, non-GMO and neonicotinoid-free seeds, best for planting in CT, DE, ME, MD, MA, NH, NJ, NY, PA, RI, VT, WV, QC and the Eastern Townships. Guaranteed to grow.
Restore native habitat to the landscape by planting the Native Northeast Wildflower Mix. Containing 18 native wildflowers found throughout New England and the mid-Atlantic, including Spotted Joe Pye Weed, Butterfly Weed, Red Columbine and Wild Lupine, this colorful mix is incredibly easy to care for. Best for planting in: CT, DE, MD, MA, ME, NH, NJ, NY, PA, RI, VT, WV, QC and the Eastern Provinces. All of the seed we offer at American Meadows is non-GMO, neonicotinoid-free and guaranteed to grow.
A field of Lupine is an amazing sight, with spiky blooms of saturated indigo-blue that last from late spring to summer. Combine them with later-blooming flowers (like Shasta Daisy and Rudbeckia) for an extended season of color. Growing to be about 12-36” tall, Lupine is a great choice for the front of the meadow or garden bed. Extremely easy to grow and deer resistant, this perennial flower blooms year after year. Seeds are 100% pure, non-GMO, neonicotinoid-free and guaranteed to grow.
Our Midwest Pollinator Mix contains a blend of 20 wildflowers that provide crucial habitat and food for pollinators found in the midwest. Providing colorful season-long blooms in the first year and for years to come, this mix contains prairie perennials like Purple Coneflower, Butterfly Weed and Black-Eyed Susan, along with nectar-rich annuals like Red Poppy and Lemon Mint. Best for planting in: IL, IN, IA, KS, KY, MI, MN, MO, NE, OH, WI and Ontario. We’re proud to only sell 100% pure, non-GMO and neonicotinoid-free seeds, all guaranteed to grow.
Our Native Midwest Wildflower Seed Mix contains 21 wildflowers, including Prairie Aster, Blazing Star, Butterfly Weed and more, that are native to the Midwest. Planting native varieties helps provide local habitat for the pollinators in your area. With both annuals and perennials, this mixture will provide color in the first year and for years after. Plant in IL, IN, IA, KS, KY, MI, MN, MO, NE, OH, WI and ON for best results. All of the seed we offer at American Meadows is non-GMO, neonicotinoid-free and guaranteed to grow.
Versatile, drought-tolerant and easy-to-grow, Black Eyed Susan adds a cheerful splash of color to the summer landscape. A native plant that attracts a variety of pollinators, Black Eyed Susan pairs beautifully with other prairie favorites like Purple Coneflower and Butterfly Weed. Its adapatable nature makes it a great choice for poor soils and tough conditions. All of the seed we carry at American Meadows is non-GMO, neonicotinoid-free and guaranteed to grow. Biennial.
Wildflowers of any type are important to your garden. Not only will they bring a new aspect to your garden, but will also enhance the attraction for the butterflies. You may notice some of the flowers end in "weed". Weed is subjective. Butterflies need what we call "weeds" as part of either their host/food plant or nectar plant.
There are many plants to choose from. Below is a list of some reliable flowers.
Connie Etter is an American Meadows customer from Indiana, gardening in Zone 6. Connie not only loves to garden but also is a professional photographer and we are thrilled to accompany her blog with her own gorgeous photos.