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20 Plants to Make Your Backyard a Haven for Butterflies

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Attracting butterflies to your backyard isn’t just about adding a splash of color and movement to your garden; it also plays a crucial role in the local ecosystem by aiding in pollination and providing a habitat for these beautiful creatures.

This guide explores 20 plants that can transform your garden into a butterfly paradise, focusing on species that serve as essential hosts for larvae and bountiful nectar sources for adults.

1. Milkweed (Asclepias spp.)

Milkweed isn’t just another pretty flower; it’s a lifeline for monarch butterflies. As the sole host plant for monarch larvae, milkweed provides all the nutrients the caterpillars need to grow and thrive.

For gardeners, planting milkweed can contribute to the conservation of monarch populations, which are in decline.

Varieties like the common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) and butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) are particularly effective, thriving in well-drained soils and full sun.

2. Butterfly Bush (Buddleia davidii)

The aptly named butterfly bush attracts a variety of butterflies with its long, nectar-rich blooms. Available in shades ranging from deep purple to soft pink, it can be a stunning focal point in any garden.

However, it’s worth noting that in some regions, Buddleia is considered invasive, so check local guidelines before planting.

Pruning is essential to keep it under control and to promote more blooms, which in turn attract more butterflies.

3. Coneflower (Echinacea spp.)

Coneflowers are not only loved by gardeners for their beauty and resilience but also by butterflies for their ample nectar.

These daisy-like flowers come in a range of colors from bright pink to soft pale petals with a distinctive, raised central cone. They thrive in full sun and can handle drought, making them perfect for sustainable gardens.

Planting a group of coneflowers will provide a vibrant splash of color from early summer through fall.

4. Lavender (Lavandula spp.)

Lavender’s soothing fragrance is a draw not just for humans but also for butterflies. This hardy herb blooms in a profusion of purple spikes that provide plenty of nectar throughout the summer.

Plant lavender in well-drained soil and full sun to encourage the most vigorous growth. Its drought tolerance makes it ideal for rock gardens or border edges where its scent can be enjoyed up close.

5. Joe-Pye Weed (Eutrochium purpureum)

This tall perennial is a true butterfly magnet, particularly favored by the majestic swallowtail. Joe-Pye weed thrives in moist, rich soil, often growing to heights of six feet or more.

Its dusty pink flowers cluster into large, fluffy heads that bloom from mid-summer to fall, offering a prolonged feast for visiting butterflies.

6. Zinnias (Zinnia spp.)

Zinnias are perhaps some of the easiest flowers to grow, which makes them perfect for novice gardeners looking to attract butterflies. These bright, showy flowers come in almost every color imaginable and bloom profusely.

Plant zinnias in a sunny spot with well-drained soil and watch as butterflies and other pollinators flock to their vibrant blooms throughout the summer.

7. Lantana (Lantana camara)

Lantana’s clusters of small, multi-colored flowers are almost irresistible to butterflies. This robust plant can handle heat and drought, making it perfect for warmer climates or rock gardens.

It’s also suitable for containers, where it can be placed in strategic spots around a patio or deck to watch butterflies visit up close.

8. Salvia (Salvia spp.)

Salvia, or sage, offers a variety of species with tubular flowers that are perfect for butterflies. Ranging from deep blues to bright reds, salvia not only adds a pop of color to your garden but also provides a continuous source of nectar from spring to fall.

It prefers full sun and well-drained soil, and its vertical growth pattern makes it an excellent choice for background planting in a butterfly garden.

9. Sunflower (Helianthus annuus)

Sunflowers are not just beautiful and iconic; their large, seed-laden heads are excellent for attracting butterflies, particularly in late summer when other blooms may be waning.

These towering plants prefer full sun and can grow in less-than-ideal soil, making them easy for anyone to add to their garden. Beyond their beauty, sunflowers can also act as natural bird feeders in the fall.

10. Goldenrod (Solidago spp.)

Goldenrod has been unfairly blamed for hay fever, a misconception that overshadows its value in a butterfly garden.

In reality, this plant is a crucial late-season source of nectar for butterflies, particularly as other flowers begin to fade.

It thrives in full sun to partial shade and adapts well to a variety of soils, making it an easy addition for continuous bloom into the fall.

11. Aster (Aster spp.)

Asters are indispensable in the butterfly garden for their ability to provide nectar in the late season. These perennial flowers burst into bloom when many others are fading, ensuring that butterflies have a continuous source of sustenance as they prepare for migration or overwintering.

Asters come in a variety of colors including blue, purple, and pink, and thrive in full sun to partial shade.

12. Phlox (Phlox spp.)

Phlox’s vibrant and fragrant flowers make it a favorite among both butterflies and gardeners. This plant is particularly effective in attracting large numbers of swallowtail and monarch butterflies.

Garden phlox (Phlox paniculata) provides a profusion of blooms from summer into early fall, loves full sun, and prefers moist, well-drained soil.

13. Marigold (Tagetes spp.)

Not only do marigolds add a bright splash of orange, yellow, and red to the garden, but their strong scent also helps deter pests, making them beneficial companions for vegetable gardens.

These easy-to-grow annuals are versatile and can thrive in both beds and containers, offering nectar and color from spring until frost.

14. Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)

Fennel is a licorice-flavored herb that serves a dual purpose in the garden. It acts as a host plant for black swallowtail caterpillars while its yellow umbel flowers attract a variety of butterflies.

Plant fennel in full sun and well-drained soil. It can spread easily, so consider containing it in pots or designated areas.

15. Parsley (Petroselinum crispum)

Another culinary herb that doubles as a butterfly host, parsley is essential for attracting black swallowtail butterflies.

The caterpillars feed on the leaves, while the plant itself is unobtrusive and easy to grow in full sun or partial shade. Like fennel, parsley can be grown in containers or directly in the garden.

16. Passionflower (Passiflora spp.)

With its exotic and intricate flowers, passionflower is not only visually stunning but also a host plant for several types of butterflies, including the zebra longwing and gulf fritillary.

It’s a vigorous vine that prefers full sun and can be trained up trellises or fences to create a verdant, living screen.

17. Verbena (Verbena spp.)

Verbena is a prolific bloomer, offering clusters of small, nectar-rich flowers that attract a wide array of butterfly species.

Available in shades of blue, pink, white, and purple, verbena can be grown as both a perennial and an annual, depending on the climate. It thrives in full sun and well-drained soil, making it ideal for rock gardens and borders.

18. Hollyhock (Alcea rosea)

Hollyhocks are classic garden plants with tall spikes of large, colorful blooms that are particularly attractive to butterflies like checkerspots and painted ladies.

They prefer full sun and well-drained soil and can be used to create a dramatic backdrop in any garden setting.

Hollyhocks are biennials or short-lived perennials, but they often self-seed and come back year after year.

19. Dill (Anethum graveolens)

Dill is another herb that serves a dual purpose in the butterfly garden. It attracts caterpillars of the black swallowtail butterfly, who feed on the feathery foliage, and it also attracts adult butterflies with its yellow umbel flowers. Plant dill in full sun and provide it with well-drained soil.

20. New England Aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae)

To extend the flowering season in your butterfly garden, consider adding New England aster. This robust perennial is known for its profuse blooms in shades of purple and pink, which appear in late summer and fall, providing vital nectar resources as other plants begin to die back. It prefers full sun to partial shade and moist, well-drained soil.

Creating a haven for butterflies in your backyard involves choosing the right mix of plants that provide both nectar and host opportunities.

By incorporating these 20 diverse plants, you can ensure a vibrant, butterfly-friendly garden that contributes to the health of these essential pollinators. Start with a few varieties and gradually expand your garden to include a wider range of plants.

Remember, each plant not only helps sustain butterfly populations but also brings its own unique beauty to your garden landscape.

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