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What is this To help gardeners understand which plants will grow well for them, the entire USA has been segmented into ‘Plant Hardiness Zones’.

Planting a Garden with Wings

Close up for a butterfly

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.

Black Swallowtail Butterfly

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.

Monarch on flower

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.

Wildflowers for Attracting Butterflies >> View All

  • Northeast Pollinator Wildflower Seed Mix

    Starting at $14.95

    Per 1/4 Pound

  • Southeast Pollinator Wildflower Seed Mix

    Starting at $14.95

    Per 1/4 Pound

  • Monarch Butterfly Wildflower Seed Mix

    Starting at $15.95

    Sale: $13.56

    Per 1/4 Pound

  • Rocket Larkspur Seeds Lilac Spire

    Starting at $15.95

    Per 1/4 Pound

  • Midwest Pollinator Wildflower Seed Mix

    Starting at $14.95

    Per 1/4 Pound

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.

Favorite Nectar Plants:


Favorite Host Plants:

Butterfly Type Favorite Host Plants Nectar Needs
Black Swallowtail Larval: Parsley, Dill, Fennel, Carrot Leaves, Queen Anne's Lace
Buckeye Butterfly Larval: Snapdragon
Comma Larval: Nettle, Elm Rotting Fruit & Sap
Gulf & Variegated Fritillary Larval: Passion Flower Vine
Great Swallowtail Larval: Citrus Trees, Prickly Ash
Great Spangled Fritillary Larval: Violet, Passion Flower Vine
Monarch Larval: Milkweed And Butterfly Weed
Mourning Cloak Larval: Willow, Elm, Poplar, Aspen, Birch, Hackberry Rotting Fruit & Sap, Butterfly Bush
Painted Lady Larval: Daisies, Hollyhocks
Pipevine Swallowtail Larval: Dutchman's Pipevine
Red Admiral Larval: Nettle Rotting Fruit And Sap
Tiger Swallowtail Larval: Cherry, Ash, Birch, Tulip Tree, Lilac
Viceroy Larval: Willow, Poplar, Apple Rotting Fruit & Sap

Remember, do NOT use pesticides in your garden!

Connie EtterConnie 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.

4 thoughts on “Planting a Garden with Wings”

  • Norma

    I have always loved flowers, birds and butterflies, so when we bought our house four years ago, I went to town planting things that would attract butterflies, birds and bees. The first milkweed I tried was tropical milkweed I got from a monarch group. I loved the red and yellow flowers, but no luck. Then I got orange butterfly weed. Still no luck. This was in addition to all the plants you listed above that I planted, plus lantana - which they love and you should add too your list - and sunflowers that grow all over my yard from bird seed. In doing monarch research I found that they seemed to prefer swamp milkweed above all others, so this year I ordered 15 bare root plants from American Meadows and man, the monarchs came and I actually raised a few caterpillars to butterflies! I had a "flock" of eight painted ladies on my Echinacea. The best was watching a tiger swallowtail for 45 minutes on the Echinacea. I took pics and video and posted them on a swallowtail FB page. That's where I learned about eastern black swallowtail host plants. I ran to my local nursery and to my great excitement, found two tiny caterpillars on their organic fennel. I bought an enclosure and raised about ten of them, releasing the last one this past Saturday. With the exception of milkweed, I had no idea about host plants for other butterflies and learned a lot online, especially from FB groups. I still have monarchs coming that love the sunflowers.

    • Amanda

      Hi Norma,

      What a wonderful story! We're so happy that the Monarchs loved our Swamp Milkweed. It sounds like you are really having fun with planting different varieties for butterflies, and we're thrilled at your success. Keep up the good work! - Amanda

  • Lisa Sharp

    Thank you for this information! You have put it all together in such a clear fashion that it can be easily referred to and employed as I choose my flowers for next year's gardens.

    I have so many different plants and gardens and now I'm getting a little overwhelmed. I know I need to downsize next year. (I'm over 50 and my back can only be bent over for so long ... and pulling up anything with established roots can create a REAL "pain in the neck"!)

    Some people, after seeing my gardens, ask me what I use for fertilizer and pesticides. I use NONE of either. My fertilizer composted horse manure from my mom's horse, and EVERY THING I can compost from the kitchen with all kinds of fruits and vegetables (it's a lot easier to use it since I put everything through the food processor before it goes in the compost barrel), and dried grass and shredded newspapers, etc., etc. It is a real pleasure. The only thing I use for pests is bags to catch Japanese beetles. I have to figure out what to do with plant mildew and whatever bug is chewing up the new climbing roses I planted this year (that have never touched the other roses).

    Anyway, I don't do anything fancy, just "old school". But I am always looking for ways to attract and feed honey be and butterflies, so thank you! BTW, it is the beginning of November, and I saw a monarch butterfly in a garden today! (It's a very warm fall, even in New York.)

    • Amanda

      Hi Lisa -- Wow it sounds like you have your hands full (in a good way)! We're glad this blog is helping you to further your cause in attracting and feeding pollinators. It's such important work and we're happy to help! - Amanda

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