Saturday, April 26, 2014

Creating An Inviting Butterfly Garden: 15 Recommended Plants

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail and Painted Lady Butterflies with Nectar Flowers
Creating a butterfly garden can be fun and rewarding.  For starters, fragrance and color are the two factors that attract butterflies and basically two types of plants are needed; host plants, those that caterpillars feed on, and nectar plants, those that are a food source for adult butterflies.  For example, the host plants for the of the eastern black swallowtail caterpillar are members of the parsley family; especially dill, fennel and carrots while the Monarch caterpillar thrives on Milkweed.  Nectar plants on the other hand include a variety of plants for your garden that will supply a food source and inviting habitat for once the mature butterflies develop.   I have comprised a list of fifteen recommended nectar plants hardy in zones 3-9 with descriptions to guide you in building your own butterfly habitat!
Echinacea purpurea 'Kim's Knee High'(Purple Coneflower)
Hardiness: Zones 3-9 
Height & Width: 18-24"
Growing Conditions: Full Sun in Moist, Well-Drained Soil 
Bloom Time: June-September
Rudbeckia fulgida 'Goldstrum' (Black-eyed Susan)
Hardiness: Zones 4-9 
Height & Width: 24" Tall & Wide 
Growing Conditions: Full Sun to Partial Shade, Moist Well-Drained Soil 
Bloom Time: July-September
Buddleia Lo & Behold 'Blue Chip' (Dwarf Butterfly Bush)
 Hardiness: Zones 5-9 
Height & Width: 3' Tall and Wide 
Growing Conditions: Full Sun, Moist Well-Drained Soil 
Bloom Time: Late Summer - Fall (July-September) 
Gaillardia Goblin (Blanket Flower)
Hardiness: Zones 3-9
Height & Width: 12-18"
Growing Conditions: Full Sun, Medium-Dry Soil
Bloom Time: June-Frost 
 Aster 'Woods Purple' (Michaelmas Daisy)
Hardiness:  Zones 3-8
Height & Width:  12" Tall & Wide
Growing Conditions:  Full Sun & Moist Well-Drained soil 
Bloom Time:  Fall (August -September)
Monarda 'Marshall's Delight' (Bee Balm)
 Hardiness: Zones 4-8 
Height & Width: 1-2' High By Wide 
Growing Conditions: Full Sun-Partial Shade, Medium-Moist Soil 
Bloom Time: July-August
Hyssopus officinalis (Hyssop)
Hardiness: Zones 4-10 
Height & Width: 5' Tall and 2' Wide 
Growing Conditions: Full Sun, Moist Well-Drained Soil 
Bloom Time: Late Summer (August-September)
Phlox paniculata (Tall Garden Phlox)
Hardiness: Zones 4-8 
Height & Width: 4' Tall,1' Wide
Growing Conditions: Full Sun, Well-Drained Soil 
Bloom Time: Mid-Summer (June-July)
Nepeta faassenii 'Walkers Low' (Catmint)
 Hardiness: Zones 4-8 
Height & Width: 2' High by 3' Wide
Growing Conditions: Full Sun-Part Shade, Medium Moist, Well-Drained Soil 
Bloom Time: April-September
Coreopsis 'Zagreb'
Hardiness: Zones 3-8 
Height & Width: 18-24 " 
Growing Conditions: Full Sun, Well-Drained Soil 
Bloom Time: All Summer (June-September)
Salvia nemorosa 'May Night' (Meadow Sage)
Hardiness: 4-9
Height & Width: 18-24"
Growing Conditions: Full Sun, Well-Drained Soil 
Bloom Time: End of May-July
Achillea 'Moonshine' (Yarrow)
Hardiness: Zones 3-9
Height & Width: 2-3' High by Wide 
Growing Conditions: Full Sun, Medium-Dry Soil 
Bloom Time: June-September
Perovskia atriplicifolia (Russian Sage)
Hardiness: Zones 5-9 
Height & Width: 3-5' High, 2-4 ' Wide 
Growing Conditions: Full Sun, Medium-Dry Soil 
Bloom Time: July-October
Liatris spicata (Gay Feather)

Hardiness: Zones 3-8 
Height & Width: 2-4' High, 1-2' Wide
Growing Conditions: Full Sun, Well-Drained Soil 
Bloom Time: July-August
Solidago (Goldenrod)
Hardiness: Zones 3-9 
Height & Width: 3' Tall by 3' Wide 
Growing Conditions: Full Sun, Sand/Loam Well-Drained Soil 
Bloom Time: Late Summer-Fall (August-October)
Monarch Butterfly on Buddleia (Photo: Richard Dressner)
All these plants have proven to be effective in luring butterflies to the garden and once your garden is established you will find that you have the same butterfly visitors on a daily basis. If you are looking to develop a full butterfly, wildflower or cottage style garden I would recommend choosing five to seven plants depending on the size of your space and combine both warm hues (reds, oranges, yellows, pinks) with cool hues (blues, purples, lavenders) as companion plants.  Group each of the same plant in masses for impact.  Another option is to choose a few varieties of nectar plants and place them in different locations throughout the garden.

Personally I have a combination of each.  In one section of the property I have several butterfly friendly plants in a cottage style perennial garden.  In other sections I have single focal point and mass groupings of dwarf butterfly bushes along with coreopsis, nepeta and salvia.  Depending on your location you may enjoy many species of beautiful butterfly visitors to your garden such as Swallowtail, Monarch and Painted Lady among others.   Your butterfly habitat can fit into any garden style you choose.  Simply select your favorite combination of host and nectar plants and the butterflies will be sure to come!


As Always...Happy Gardening!

Author: Lee@A Guide To Northeastern Gardening, Copyright 2014. All rights reserved.


  1. Thanks for this information, Lee. It's important that we grow plants that attract both butterflies and bees. Who would have ever thought they could be endangered? I have some of the plants you mentioned but not all. I think many of the others would look great in my garden and I would be helping Mother Nature. I'll start making my shopping list. Thanks again.

    1. Hi Astrid. I am trying to get as many of these as I can into my own gardens and am finding that more and more clients are looking to attract wildlife to their space. I find the dwarf butterfly bushes are great for attracting all sorts of butterflies and are compact enough to get several into the garden. I am glad this information helps. Thanks for stopping by!

  2. So many beautiful options!
    Thank you for sharing this information here, Lee.

    Have a wonderful weekend.

    1. You are welcome Lisa. I have received a lot of requests for this information from readers and was finally able to write a post about butterfly gardening and get the information out there. Thanks for commenting!

  3. Last year was a bit disappointing for butterflies. Hopefully this summer will be better. This is a great list of plants. I have most of the them, but could use to replace my Blanket flower which disappeared for some reason.

    1. The butterfly numbers were surely down last summer so we need to encourage them with the plants they feed off. Blanket flower can be short lived sometimes depending on how strong your original plant is but it is a beautiful perennial and butterflies like it!

  4. I have every one of your 15 recommended plants! I am proud of myself. I would add milkweed. P. x

    1. Excellent Pam. Milkweed is a must as well for the Monarch caterpillar. I mentioned it in the intro but unfortunately do not have a photo of it...something I'll have to work on! Thanks for visiting and commenting :)

  5. I’d love to have all of these plants, but unfortunately my garden is not a suitable place for sun loving plants! I have one Echinacea purpurea, but as you can imagine, it is not doing very well and is pathetically small after 7 years in the garden. But the butterflies do find my garden anyway, and last year was a very good year for butterflies over here in Britain.
    Thanks for your lovely photos and all the onfo.

    1. It is so nice to hear that you had a good year for butterflies Helene. There was a decrease in number last year so I am hoping they return to Long Island this summer. I have been adding more butterfly friendly plants to attract them and hopefully they will increase in number.


Thank you for visiting. I love reading your comments and knowing you have been here, and will try to reciprocate on your blog. If you have any questions I will try my very best to answer them. As always...HAPPY GARDENING!


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