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Butterfly Plants

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Attract beautiful butterflies to your garden with gorgeous butterfly plants

Butterflies are such a delight and they can even help pollinate flowers, but they won’t just visit any old garden. If you want to attract butterflies to your garden you’ve got to provide food, water and habitat for the adult butterflies as well as the caterpillar larvae. By choosing butterfly-attracting plants and plants that their caterpillars like to munch on from this selection of butterfly plants, you’ll be well on your way to attracting an array of delightful butterflies to your garden.

How to attract butterflies to your garden

If you want to attract butterflies to your garden, follow these simple steps:

  1. Stop using pesticides. In particular, don’t use malathion, Sevin or diazinon as these are known to kill butterflies.
  2. Grow some native plants. Native butterflies have evolved to feed and lay their eggs on native plants so they’re often the best choices when it comes to butterfly-attracting plants.
  3. Grow plants that provide food for the adult butterflies. Growing native plants is important but you also have to make sure you’re growing the specific plants that butterflies like to feed from.
  4. Grow plants that feed the caterpillars. Butterflies will seek out plants that they need for food but they’ll also want to hang out around plants that will suit their larvae so you need plants for both life stages if you want continuously attract butterflies to your garden.
  5. Grow flowers with the right colors. Butterflies prefer bright colors, especially red, orange, yellow, pink and purple.
  6. Grow flowers that are the right shape. Butterflies need flowers that either have a short flowering tube or are flat at the top.
  7. Create butterfly zones. Butterflies feed in the sun so make sure you plant butterfly-attracting plants in sunny spots. Placing attractive rocks in these spots will also give butterflies somewhere to rest. Importantly, butterflies need water to drink and they also enjoy ‘puddling’ where they fossick around in mud or damp sand. If you can include shallow dishes of water and damp patches of sand or mud in these zones, you’ll have created the perfect space for butterflies to hang out in.

Which plants and flowers are best for attracting butterflies?

So now you know how to attract butterflies to your garden, which plants should you grow? Here’s a list of butterfly-attracting plants and caterpillar host plants. In brackets next to each plant is the butterfly (or butterflies) that are most strongly attracted by the plant.

  • milkweed (Monarch butterflies)
  • gooseberry (Gray Comma butterflies)
  • blueberry (Henry’s Elfin butterflies)
  • grasses (Woodland Skipper butterflies)
  • lobelia (a wide variety of butterflies)
  • Japanese honeysuckle (Baltimore Checkerspot butterflies, Swallowtail butterflies, Hemaris difficult and Hemaris thysbe)
  • Echinacea (a wide variety of butterflies)
  • Touch me not (Netted Carpet Moth)
  • Bee balm Monarda (a wide variety of butterflies but especially Swallowtail butterflies)
  • Dove’s Foot geranium (Cacyreus marshalli, Brown Argus butterfly)
  • Siberian iris (a variety of butterflies)

Pro tip:

Milkweed is the only source of food for the monarch butterfly so grow this if you'd like to attract monarch butterflies.

Pro tip:

Caterpillars eat leaves. This may sound obvious but sometimes when people decide they want to attract butterflies to their garden, they overlook the fact that this means that caterpillars will chew holes in plant leaves. This can make certain plants or areas of your garden look a little untidy.

If this bothers you, there are steps you can take to overcome the issue while still attracting butterflies to your garden. For example, you can plant other plants that the caterpillars don’t like to eat in front of the caterpillar host plants so that no one can see the host plant. If you do this, just make sure you plant the butterflies’ food plants in full view so you have the best chance of seeing the butterflies.