Photo credit: Ajith Kumar
While some regions of the country are still battling cold weather and miserable conditions, gardeners everywhere are beginning to plan their summer gardens. Some gardeners are planning out their vegetable plots, others are dreaming of herbs and flowers, all to harvest and enjoy in savory summertime meals. But some gardeners are planning a different kind of a garden. A garden that is a gourmet meal for the eyes and heart instead of the stomach. Those gardeners are preparing for the arrival of butterflies in all their delicate, rainbow-hued majesty.
A butterfly garden, despite it's overflowing beauty, isn't as hard as it looks to grow and maintain. But it does require some forethought. To create an effective butterfly garden -- one butterflies from all over your region will flock to -- it’s important to plan ahead. You can’t simply throw some seeds onto the ground and expect the lacy-winged insects to just show up. There are five primary concerns that you need to address before you start picking out the blooms that will grace your garden.
- Butterflies are attracted to reds, yellows, oranges, pinks, and purples. And they’re a little picky about the kind of flower they like. They prefer flat-topped blooms or blossoms that grow in clusters.
- The butterflies in your region prefer the native plants of your region. You may find some absolutely gorgeous non-native species, but your butterflies will likely pass them over for wildflowers by the side of the road. Check here for a listing of native plant species in your region.
- You want to plan for a continuous bloom cycle throughout the season. If all of your flowers bloom at once, your butterflies will feast. But, when those blossoms die off and there is nothing to replace them, your butterflies will seek more colorful pastures.
- Don’t forget the babies! Make sure that you plant species that provide a host site for the growing caterpillars. Those hungry little worms will need a lot of food as they grow, and they don’t always eat from the same plants as their mature counterparts. For a list of plants that caterpillars enjoy munching on, check here.
- Butterflies spend a lot of time drinking nectar, but they also need a place to rest. Place a few flat stones in bright, direct sunlight where your winged friends can sun themselves. You’ll also want to provide wet sand or mud for them to drink from. You can do this in a sand-filled birdbath or in shallow pans on the ground.
Once you’ve addressed these five concerns, you can start picking out the plants that you want to enjoy over the next few months and in years to come. Most butterfly-attracting plants are perennials that will return year after year, but you may want to enhance your garden with an annual or two. Wading through the endless books and resources on potential plants could take you days, so we’ve pulled together the Top Ten Plants for Your Butterfly Garden and have even thrown in a bonus! (Please Note: This list is focused primarily on US Zones 6a-10. If you live outside of that hardiness range, please research your plants before investing in this project. If you aren’t sure what zone you are in, check out this great resource!)
Photo credit: mbkestell
Anise Hyssop - Zones 4-10 - This purple flower makes a bright addition to both your garden and your home as it’s a perfect cut flower. As a late blooming flower, it will help you create the continuous bloom cycle that butterflies need, but be careful because it can grow up to 5 feet tall!
Photo credit: Tim Sackton
Black-Eyed Susan - Zone 4-9 - This easily-recognized wildflower can be seen along roadsides all across America during the summertime, and butterflies simply adores these blooms. They are a hardy plant that can grow up to 6 feet tall, so make sure you plan for that height!
Photo credit: tdlucas5000
Butterfly Bush - Zones 5-9 - This hardy shrub can grow to be a monster (up to 10 feet tall and 15 feet wide), so it makes a wonderful backdrop for your new garden. The blooms are clustered and come in hues of blue, purple, and white.
Photo credit: OakleyOriginals
Butterfly Weed - Zones 4-9 - A few of these orange blooms are sure to bring the king of butterflies -- Monarchs -- into your garden. The caterpillars love the leaves, and the adults can’t get enough of the sweet nectar. These plants are considerable smaller than the Butterfly Bush, only reaching 3 feet tall and 1 foot wide. This makes them a perfect mid-range plant for your garden plan.
Photo credit: Takashi .M
Coreopsis - Zones 3-8 - Finally, a low-growing plant for the foreground of your garden. Light yellow blossoms and a thick foliage attract butterflies all season as long as you maintain it! It only grows to be about 18 inches tall, so it shouldn’t overpower it’s neighbors!
Photo credit: Johnathan Nightingale
Echinacea/Purple Cone Flower - Zones 3-9 - Another very recognizable bloom, this purple flower also looks great in a vase. Butterflies enjoy the wide, long-lasting blooms, but plan carefully because they can grow to 5 feet in height!
Photo credit: TANAKA Juuyoh (田中十洋)
Lantana - Zone 10 (or use as an annual in cooler climates) - A continuous bloomer with varieties in reds and pinks, oranges and yellows, lavenders, and whites and creams, you’re sure to find the perfect shade to compliment the other blooms in your garden. Only slightly taller than the Coreopsis, Lantana grows to be about 3 feet tall, making it another great addition to the mid-range of your butterfly garden.
Photo credit: Ted
Passion Flower - Zones 6-9 - This bloom looks far more exotic than it is, and it will quickly become both a show piece and a conversation starter! While all of the other plants on our list are grounded, the Passion Flower is a climber and can climb to heights of 10 feet!
Photo credit: titanium22
Phlox - Zones 4-8 - Another butterfly-attractant with clustered blossoms, this tall plant comes in shades of reds and pinks, lavenders, and white. It will grow to about 4 feet tall, and it has a delightful scent as it grows.
Photo credit: Samantha Forsberg
Zinnia - Annual - As the only true annual on our list, these beautiful blooms are worth the yearly effort. Since they are available in countless colors, you’ll be able to create the perfect color scheme to delight your new friends. With consistent blooms throughout the summer, you’re sure to have butterfly visitors snacking on these. And, at only 3 feet tall, they won’t dominate your garden.
And 1 Bonus -
Photo credit: Sarah
Fennel - Zones 4-9 - What fennel lacks in color, it makes up for in appeal. It’s an excellent source of food for those baby caterpillars that will be crawling around, and it provides a beautiful leafy green background for the bright colors that you’ll be enjoying. It can grow tall - up to 6 feet - and it spreads easily, so you’ll want to keep it under control. But the added benefit of having this edible plant will make it worth the effort!
While there are many other blooms that butterflies will flock to, theses are sure winners for your garden. Get planting now, so you can enjoy a few months of beauty and lightly beating wings!