Butterflies are beneficial insects. They pollinate during the day while flowers are open and they have a better color perception than bees (and humans). A butterfly can see and pollinate red flowers, while bees cannot. They also find their nectar by being able to see ultraviolet light which makes flower markings very distinct to them.

One of the most simple ways to attract butterflies to your garden, is to plant flowers that produce the nectar that butterflies drink. Nectar is the butterfly’s main source of food. To raise butterflies in your garden it is important to grow the plants that caterpillars eat.

A butterfly garden needs:

  • Host plants for caterpillars
  • Nectar plants for adults
  • Abundant sunshine
  • Wet sand or mud puddles in shady nooks
  • Shelter from high winds
  • An environment kept healthy through the absence of insecticides
  • Baby butterflies (caterpillars)

Placing caterpillar foods into your garden will greatly increase your chances of attracting unusual and uncommon butterflies.

Plants that provide food for caterpillars

  • Milkweeds (Asclepias syriaca, A.incarnata, A.speciosa)
  • Passion Vine (Passiflora spp.)
  • Hollyhocks (Alcea rosea)
  • Wild Senna (Cassia spp.)
  • Pipevines (Aristolochia)
  • Carrot (Daucus carota)
  • Parsley (Petroselinum crispum)
  • Dill (Anethum graveolens)
  • Wild Lilacs (Ceanothus spp.)
  • Wild Plums and Cherries (Prunus spp.)
  • Buckthorns (Rhamnus spp.)
  • Ashes (Fraxinus spp.)
  • Hop-tree (Ptelea trifoliata)
  • Aspens and Willows (Salix spp.)
  • Poplars (Populus spp.)
  • Sage (Artemisia spp.)
  • Poplar (Poplus spp.)
  • Wild Lime (Zanthoxylum)
  • Citrus (Ruta spp.)
  • Carrot (Daucus carota)
    • Carrot tops in blossom are especially attractive to butterflies.
  • Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)
    • Parsleyworms, the beautiful caterpillars that transform into swallowtail butterflies love fennel.
    • Consider adding a small patch of fennel to your garden. Let the fennel grow year-round, allowing several generations of swallowtail butterflies to benefit from it.
  • Parsley (Petroselinum crispum)

Adult butterflies

Adult butterflies love nectar from flowers. The more nectar you have in your garden, the more butterflies you will see. Some flowers contain more nectar and will be most effective in attracting butterflies. Flower color is also important to attracting butterflies. Butterflies are near-sighted and are more easily attracted to large stands of a particular color.

Tips to attract butterflies:

  • Adult butterflies, especially monarchs will stay in your garden for longer periods of time if you have plants for them to lay their eggs on.
  • Patches of plants that flower at the same time are more attractive to butterflies than a single plant with a few flowers.
  • Avoid or minimize the use of insecticides and herbicides.
  • Plant your flowers in sunny places and provide some rocks or stone walls where they can “bask” in the morning to warm up.
  • Provide a few sheltered areas, like shrubbery or brush piles to protect them from wind and rain, and provide caterpillars a nice place to pupate.
  • Plant more than one source of nectar. Planting a variety of nectar sources will encourage more than one type of butterfly to visit the garden.

Nectar bearing plants that usually attract adult butterflies. If budget is an issue, consider growing plants from seed.

  • Asters (Aster spp.)
    • Adult butterflies love the nectar and caterpillars eat their foliage.
  • Bee balm (Monarda)
    • A type of mint, bee balm nectar attracts several types of butterflies.
    • Swallowtail, Skipper, Sulphur, Mourning Cloak, Tawney Emperor and Monarch butterflies love the nectar.
    • As a bonus, depending on where you live, Red-throat Hummingbirds will also visit your garden.
  • Butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii)
  • Butterfly plant (Asclepias tuberosa)
  • Bush cinquefolia (Potentilla fruticosa)
  • Cosmos (Cosmos spp.)
  • Gaillardia (Gaillardia spp.)
  • Lilac (Syringa vulgaris)
  • Marigold (Tagetes spp.)
    • Tolerant to heat, marigold plants are a great way to attract butterflies to your garden.
    • Bees and ladybugs also love marigolds.
    • Marigolds repel unwanted insects (whiteflies, cabbageworms and tomato hornworms)
    • Use marigolds to protect your vegetables from rabbits and deer. They do not like the scent of marigold blossoms.
  • Ornamental thistles
  • Rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus nauseosus)
  • Sunflower (Helianthus spp.)
  • Sweet pea (Lathyrus odoratus)
  • Verbena (Verbena spp.)
  • Zinnias (Zinnia spp.)