Spring is the perfect time to plant butterfly garden plants, which are vital for enticing these useful, gorgeous insects. Butterflies are pollinators, and an essential part of the ecosystem. They pollinate 90% of the plants around them, and feed other animals as well. Whenever the butterfly population drops in an area, the result is devastating.
Without butterflies, the animals that eat them can diminish, and plants become more susceptible to disease. Furthermore, tons of plant species—including food crops—would die out. By growing a butterfly garden, full of beautiful plants that attract and feed these wonderful insect allies, you’re taking an active role in conservation!
Read on to discover my favorite choices in butterfly garden plants.
1. Butterfly Bush (Buddleja davidii)
This is by far one of the best butterfly garden plants for your garden. Butterfly Bush is a large, fast-growing plant that the insects can’t ignore. It’s easy to care for, and the shrub will offer sweet-smelling blue, purple, or white flowers during the summer.
Note that this bush will grow quite large. Expect it to reach up to a 15-foot spread and 10-foot height, so you’ll need to cut back the plant in the fall or early spring for the best results. Plant yours in a bright spot with moist soil, and offer sunflowers as a companion plant.
2. Phlox (Phlox paniculata)
If you’re looking for a groundcover to fill some space in your butterfly garden, phlox is a great option. This low, sweet-smelling plant spreads red, white, purple, or pink blooms all summer. Look for a disease-resistant variety for best results, and plant in a bright location with moist soil.
3. Coneflower (Echinacea spp.)
Also known as Echinacea, purple coneflowers are some of the best at attracting butterflies to your garden. These perennials bloom all summer, and you can grow them either in a low-growing flower bed, or in a large butterfly garden with companion plants like phlox or anise hyssop.
Grow this plant easily in zones 3-9, with a full-sun location and well-draining soil. It’s drought and disease resistant, and butterflies actively seek out its nectar. In addition, you can use this plant to brew an herbal tea that has immune-boosting properties. (Echinacea purpurea and Echinacea angustifolia are best for this purpose.)
4. Lantana (Lantana spp.)
This plant’s flower clusters come in varying hues, making it a great eye-catcher for the garden. This annual is perfect as an accent piece, in a container garden, or as low hedge along the border of your butterfly garden. It not only attracts butterflies to your yard, but is also very tolerant of the summer heat.
5. Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa)
Also known as milkweed, butterfly weed is perfect for attracting Monarch butterflies, which will lay their eggs on the plant’s leaves and feast on the nectar. However, all types of butterflies love this plant, and you’ll notice caterpillars forming their cocoons all over it. These plants come in a wide range of colors, depending on the variety. Grow it in bright sun with moist, well-draining soil.
6. Sunflowers (Helianthus spp.)
Sunflowers—especially Mexican sunflowers—are perfect annuals for a pollinator garden. They’re easy to care for as long as they receive plenty of bright sunlight, and they grow up to 6 feet tall. While many sunflowers hold yellow flowers, the Mexican variety boasts orange blooms. Furthermore, they’re great companion plants for other butterfly-friendly plants, such as butterfly bush and purple verbena.
7. Black-Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)
Common in North America, black-eyed Susan was one of the first domesticated wildflowers. The golden flowers appear similar to daisies, and grow quickly during the summer with bright sun and well-drained soil. Plus, it makes a great companion plant for other butterfly-loving plants like passionflower and echinacea.
8. Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium purpureum)
A well-known plant for attracting butterflies to the garden, Joe Pye Weed also offers some medicinal cures for people. It’s a large plant that can grow up to 6 feet tall, and it’s perfect for a border wall along the outside of your butterfly garden. This perennial comes in late-season varieties that will bloom clusters of pink flowers all season, and they grow best with moist soil and lots of sun.
9. Aster (Aster spp.)
Asters are well-known herbaceous perennials, and come in a wide array of colors. The aromatic flowers appear daisy-like, bringing a nice touch of color to any garden. They will bloom during the late summer and into Autumn as long as they receive plenty of sunlight, and if you don’t have a large space to offer, there are compact and disease resistant varieties available.
10. Salvia (Salvia pratensis)
Also known as meadow sage, Salvia pratensis is heat and drought tolerant, making it easy to grow. Its flowers grow in tall spikes or purple or white, and the fragrance and nectar they produce are irresistible for both butterflies and hummingbirds. All Salvia varieties require a bright location with well-draining soil and will grow best in zones 4-9.
11. Zinnia (Zinnia elegans)
A fan favorite among butterflies and people alike, perky little zinnias come in a wide array of colors. You can easily mix and match varieties and color schemes to create a stunning collection in your garden, as long as you have well-draining soil and lots of sun. This annual will grow to varying heights, depending on the type you plant, and they work well with fennel as a companion.
12. Blazing Star Flowers (Liatris spp.)
If you’re looking for a gorgeous perennial to bloom from late June to Autumn, look no further. This plant comes in shades of purple, pink, or white. It grows up to 3 feet tall, and the blooms appear similar to bottle brushes. They also make great companion plants for butterfly weed, as Monarch butterflies enjoy the flowers. Plant in a bright spot with moist soil for the best results.
13. Lavender (Lavandula spp.)
Lavender is a beloved perennial known for its blue-purple flowers, and is beloved by gardeners and butterflies alike. This plant comes from the Mediterranean, so it’s heat and drought resistant. You can grow it indoors or out, and it requires full sun and well-drained soil that’s never moist.
Plant Lavender in the spring or in the fall as long as you have a taller plant nearby to add protection from the cold and snow.
14. Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)
A type of butterfly weed, swamp milkweed offers a good mix to appeal to a variety of butterflies. This plant in particular is a vital food source for Monarch caterpillars, though many other types of butterflies love it for its nectar as well. There are over 100 varieties of this plant to choose from, and you can grow it in zones 3-8. Just note that swamp milkweed prefers moist soil and bright sun.
15. Verbena (Verbena officinalis)
Butterfly-friendly and beautiful, verbena is a butterfly garden all on its own. The flowers are typically purple, and they will grow as quickly as you can cut them and make a nice bouquet. Expect the plant to grow up to 6 feet tall, spanning 2 feet wide in zones 7-10. You can also grow verbena in colder zones as annuals, but offer plenty of bright light.
16. Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis)
Cardinal flowers are native wildflowers in the United States and Canada, and grow best in moist, shady locations. Their showy, bright red blooms and strong scent will attract butterflies, hummingbirds, and birds from miles around you.
The plant also has some medicinal uses, and can be used to make an herbal tea to aid stomach aches, colds, fevers, and headaches. However, cardinal flowers are toxic in large quantities, so take care.
17. Penta (Pentas lanceolata)
Penta’s star-shaped flowers attract scores of butterflies and hummingbirds. Expect these plants, with their lush green foliage, to grow as large as 3 feet wide and 4 feet tall. They need a bright location with well-draining soil, and they’re best in zones 10-11, although you can grow them as annuals in colder zones as well.
18. Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata)
This flower is hardy and exotic, and the vine can spread up to 10 feet long. Butterflies adore the blue blooms and nectar, and you can expect to find caterpillars in the vegetation. Passionflowers are also excellent additions to a medicinal herb garden.
Grow these flowers in zones 6-9, in a full-sun location with well-draining soil.
19. Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)
Completely edible, fennel appears like a fern with small yellow blooms. It pairs well with zinnias or Queen Anne’s lace, and adds some texture to any butterfly garden. Most noteworthy, swallowtail butterflies and their caterpillars are fans of this plant.
Just remember: because it’s known to self-seed, you’ll need to cut back its flowers to prevent it from taking over the garden. Grow it in zones 4-9, and select a bright, moist location for the best results.
20. Goldenrod (Solidago spp.)
Goldenrod is a perennial that comes with clusters of yellow blooms, offering a nice touch of color during the late summer months. It’s another plant with well-known healing properties, and most people with seasonal allergies won’t suffer from its pollen.
Grow this plant in a moist location with full sun, sowing the seeds directly into the soil outside during the late fall. These plants’ seeds need a cold winter to help them spring to life when the sun returns.
21. Chocolate Cosmos (Cosmos atrosanguineus)
With chocolate-scented maroon (nearly black) flowers, this plant is a delightful addition to the garden. Chocolate cosmos is rare today, although it originates from Mexico and attracts tons of butterflies.
It’s easy to grow as a border in your outdoor butterfly garden, or in containers on your porch so you can appreciate its scent (and easily move it indoors before the freeze). This species does best in moist, well-draining soil located in a sunny spot.
22. Sea Holly (Eryngium maritimum)
If you have a hot, dry location, this is one of the best butterfly garden plants for you. It’s low maintenance, drought-resistant, and striking to look at. These plants will grow to around 4 feet tall, and they can grow well in partial sun as well.
23. Hollyhocks (Alcea spp.)
Perfect for cottage gardens, hollyhocks come in around 60 different species and can reach 9 feet tall in a full-sun location. These plants require moist, rich soil that drains well, and problems may come up if the soil dries out too much between watering. Expect them to only last around 2-3 years, and make sure you water the plants from below for the best results.
Remember, the butterflies you attract to your garden should only be observed: never touch their wings or attempt to catch them! It’s also a good idea to learn the main differences between a butterfly caterpillar—which you want to see in a butterfly garden—and a pest caterpillar.