Butterfly gardening


The following is a list of plants which we’ve found great in attracting butterflies to a garden. Some other things that are important for getting butterflies in your garden are sunlight and wind protection. Sunlight is good for most of these plants as well. Try to plant in an area that is protected from the wind. Some butterflies also like a damp area or puddle. Also, remember that butterflies and caterpillars are insects, so be careful in the use of pesticides.

Top Perennials for a butterfly garden-

Agastache "Blue Fortune"- Compact habit, 2-3'. Selected for its profusion of long lasting, deep blue flower spikes, that appear from July to September. Fragrant hyssop foliage. Prefers average dry locations. This is a butterfly magnet!

Asclepias- All members of this family are very good for bringing butterflies to your garden. The best known is the Butterfly Weed (A. tuberosa). The orange summer flowers are attracting to butterflies and this is also a host plant for Monarch caterpillars. This 2’ plant needs good sun and good drainage.

A. incarnata- Swamp Milkweed is another summer blooming native. Reaching about 40", this is tolerant of moist to wet areas. We have two forms, "Ice Ballet"- a long lasting white selection, and "Soulmate"- a great pink form.

Asters- There are a number of different asters which are good for attracting butterflies. Most are late summer to fall bloomers, preferring good sun and good drainage, but demanding little else. The New England Aster(A. novae-angliae) "Purple Dome" also blooms in Sept.- Oct. but is more compact(18-24") and has dark purple flowers.Aster X Frikarti "Moench" is a long blooming (June- Oct.) blue aster that reaches 24-30".

Coreopsis vert. "Moonbeam"- 1992 Perennial Plant Assoc. Plant of the Year, this 18" thread leaf type has pale yellow flowers all summer long.

vert. "Zagreb"- Another long blooming thread leaf type, this has a more compact habit(15") and clear yellow flowers.

tripteris- These 6-8’ plants are sturdy and stand up well with many butter yellow 2" single daisies July- Sept. Birds love the seeds and good butterfly attractor.

Echinacea purpurea- Coneflowers Like sun and average to dry soils. " Magnus"- Rose-pink form(3’). "Bright Star"- This 2-3' long lived perennial has rose-pink daisy-like flowers from July to September. Good butterfly attractor. "White Swan"- A white flowering form of "Bright Star".

Eupatorium- Most members of this family of native plants are good butterfly attractors. Most prefer average to moist soils and sun to part shade. Best known are E. "Bartered Bride" (White Joe Pye Weed)- a 6-8’ plant with white flowers from July to September, and E. maculatum "Gateway" (Joe Pye Weed)- a 5-6’ plant with huge red flower clusters from July to September. Less known is E. coelestinum (Hardy Ageratum)- a good cut flower with blue flowers in Sept.-Oct., this 2-3’ plant prefers an average to dry spot and sun to shade conditions. 

Heliopsis "Ballerina"- One of the best False Sunflowers with a compact(3') habit. The semi-double flowers attract butterflies from June through September. "Summer Sun"- Golden flowers June through August on a 3-4' plant.

Nepeta- The Catmints bloom all summer and are of no interest to cats. They prefer a well drained, sunny location. N. "Walker’s Low"(2’) is a prolific bloomer with bluish purple flowers April to Oct. N. siberica "Souvenier D’Andre Chaudron" is a hardy selection(2-4’) with blue flowers for most of the summer.

Rudbeckia- Black-eyed Susan's or Coneflowers like sun to part shade areas with good drainage.

fulgida var. fulgida- Smaller flowers than "Goldstrum" but longer blooming, going from mid-July to October. 2-2.5’ with shiny green foliage.

fulgida "Goldsturm"- One of the best varieties, large deep yellow daisy-like flowers with a black cone center in July- September on nicely branched 2' fulgida .

maxima- "Great Rudbeckia" is fairly new to cultivation, huge powder blue leaves make up to 2'-3'foilage and in June and July spikes to 6' bear large deep gold coneflowers. Likes sun and deep moist soils but will take an average garden soil well.

nitida "Autumn Sun"- The Greenheaded Coneflower likes sun and an average to moist soil. The lemon-yellow flowers with lime green cone attract Tiger Swallowtails and other butterflies from July to September. This 5'-8' grower can be cut back July and kept at 3'-4' in flower.

lacinata "Goldquelle"- Shaggy double yellow flowers from August to frost(3').

subtomentosa- Sweet Coneflower has clear yellow daisies with brown-black centers. Good cut flower with 30-36" stems. Long blooming in late summer. Anise scented.

Salvia nemerosa "Blue Hill"- True blue flowers from June to September. Compact habit to 15 " and very floriferous.

"Snow Hill"- White form of the above.

vertcillata "Purple Rain"- This new salvia is covered lush, smoky purple flower spikes from June- Sept.. Reaching 24", it is happy in full sun or part shade.

Scabiosa "Pink Mist"- Full sun and good well drained soil will bring many pink pincushion flowers from May to frost. Attracts butterflies and gets 12-15". "Butterfly Blue" is a lavender blue form of equal merit.

Sedum- Most like sun and well drained areas.

"Autumn Joy"- Pink rounded flower clusters begin in July and change to red by Sept. and Oct. Loves hot and dry spots(2'-3').

sieboldii-Silver blue scalloped foliage with clusters of light pink flowers in late Sept. and Oct.. Good ground cover for daylilies.

spectalibis "Brilliant"- Lavender pink flowers in August and September(2').

Veronica (Speedwell) sun preferred, heat and drought tolerant. "Goodness Grows"- Blue spikes to 15" April to October on this good groundcover.

"Red Fox"- Another good groundcover with 15" pink spikes from May to July.

Other perennials to consider- Achillea, Centranthus, Chelone, Daylilies, Geranium maculatum, Helianthus, Liatris, Lupine, Phlox, Solidago

Tender Perennials- The following are perennials which may not be hardy enough to make it through our winters. They are still such great performers it is well worth using them as an annual.

Gaura lindheimeri- White butterfly-like flowers on red stem appear on this 2-3’ plant almost every day from June to frost.

Rudbeckia hirta- "Indian Summer"(2-3’) and "Toto"(12-15") are two very good varieties of these Black Eyed Susans.

Salvia x. gregii ‘Maraschino’-This is a nearly ever blooming variety with scarlet flowers that are loved by butterflies and hummingbirds. This has proved to be surprisingly hardy in our area and we are almost ready to call it a perennial,

Verbena ‘Homestead Purple’- Velvety purple flowers mid-spring until mid-fall on low dark green foliage. We prefer to sell this plant as an annual as it’s perennial status is disputed. Still a great plant!!!

‘Sissinghurst’- Deep pink groundcover form with flowers all summer long.


Top annuals for attracting butterflies- Cleome, Cosmos, Impatiens, Marigolds, Nicotiana, Salvia, Tithonia (Mexican Sunflower), Zinnias.

Best shrubs for a butterfly garden- Abelia- In our area, this is usually a deciduous shrub which reaches 4-6’ and blooms from July until frost. Its white to pale pink flowers show nicely against the bronze-green foliage and can attract all types of butterflies. It prefers full sun with protection from wind in a rich, moist, well-drained soil,, but are also quite shade tolerant.

Buddleia- No butterfly garden would be complete without one of the Buddleia. These 4-6’ shrubs are treated like perennials and should be trimmed to the ground each spring. They bloom best on new wood. They prefer good sun and good drainage. There are several colors and varieties to chose from. All bloom from midsummer to frost. Some favorites are "Pink Delight", "Black Knight" purple), and "White Profusion". The Brooklyn Botanical Gardens handbook "Butterfly Gardens" reports the white varieties as the best for attracting but all seem to do an excellent job.

Clethra (Summersweet)- White or light pink (C. rosea) blooms show in July to August on this easy to grow shrub. It likes sun to shade and can tolerate a wide range of soil conditions, reaching up to 8’ and more. A dwarf form, "Hummingbird", is available.

Herbs to use for a butterfly garden- Chives, Hyssop, Lavender, Mountain mint( Pycnanthemum incanum), Oregano (esp. O. ‘Herrenhausen’- Ornamental Oregano)

Butterfly gardening Drought Resistant Plants Great Underused Plants A Cutting Garden