Butterfly garden plants

Monarch ButterflyAttracting butterflies in general to your garden isn’t difficult however, if you want to attract specific butterflies so you can observe the caterpillars and possibly a new butterfly emerging from the Chrysalis, you’ll need to do some research.

There are many different flowers, trees and shrubs that attract adult butterflies for nectar, however many butterflies require a specific plant for the “Host” plant.  This is the only plant the the butterfly will lay eggs on and will supply the food for the caterpillar.  A Monarch Butterfly, for example, uses the milkweed for it’s host plant.  You may not want milkweed in your garden but why not?  A few plants in the back of your garden work great.  If you’ve never seen the beautiful Monarch caterpillar, your in for a treat.  Here’s a bit of information about the Monarch that you may not know.  The milky substance in the milkweed is toxic to animals.  It can make a cow sick and that’s why farmers don’t like it in their fields.  But for the Monarch, it serves as a defense against birds.  

There should be three parts to a butterfly garden – nectar source, host plants and shelter.  For a nectar source, it’s best to choose flowers that bloom at different times during the season.  It’s especially important to have late summer blooming nectar flowers so the butterflies can load up on energy for their migration trip.  The old true heirloom varieties are good choices because some of the modern hybrids are bred for bigger, showier flowers and not necessarily for nectar. Host plants are ones that certain butterflies use to lay their eggs.  Some provide nectar for the adults and also food for the caterpillar.  Tall trees or shrubs will provide a sheltered place where butterflies can roost at night or escape from bad weather.

Plant your butterfly garden in a sunny spot and provide rocks for a place that butterflies can bask in the sun.  Butterflies bask to heat up their wing muscles for flight.  You should also provide a water source such as a small fountain or water dish.


Here’s some butterfly garden plants you can try if you’re just starting a butterfly garden.  If you already have a flower garden that includes some of these, you may want to consider adding some of the host plants or additional nectar plants to increase your butterfly population.  Don’t forget to keep an eye out for caterpillars and some Chrysalis! 

Annuals                                                                                                                Perennials

Sweet Alyssum – both host & nectar                                             Yarrow – nectar       

Cosmos – nectar                                                                       Hollyhock – both host & nectar            

Dianthus – nectar                                                                      Chives – nectar
Globe Amaranth – nectar                                                            Columbine – nectar
Sunflower – nectar                                                                    Milkweed – both host & nectar                                               
Heliotrope – nectar                                                                    Asters – nectar
Lantana – nectar                                                                       Tickseed (coreopsis) – nectar
Nicotiana (Flowering Tobacco) – nectar                                         Ice Plant – nectar
Starflower – nectar                                                                    Hardy Dianthus – nectar
Annual Phlox – nectar                                                                 Coneflower – nectar
Salvia – nectar                                                                          Fleabane – nectar
Mexican Sunflower – nectar                                                         Joe Pye Weed – nectar
Nasturium – both host & nectar                                                   Blanket flower – nectar
Verbena – nectar                                                                      Daylily – nectar
Zinnia – nectar                                                                         Bush clover – both host & nectar
                                                                                             Blazing Star – nectar

Herbs                                                                                    Flax – Host

Chives – nectar                                                                        Lupine – Host
Dill – host                                                                                Bluebells – nectar
Fennel – host                                                                           Beardtongue – nectar
Lavender – nectar                                                                    Russian Sage – nectar
Mint – nectar                                                                           Perennial Phlox – nectar
Catmint – nectar                                                                      Black-eyed Susan – nectar
Parsley – host                                                                          Pincushion Flower – nectar
Sage – nectar                                                                          Stonecrop – nectar
Thyme – nectar                                                                       Speedwell – nectar
Trees & Shrubs
Butterfly bush – nectar
Blue Mist Spirea – nectar                                                           
Dogwood – host
Hawthorne – host
Ash – host
Chockberry – host
Willow – host
Lilac – nectar
Vibernum – both host & nectar 
                                                                                                   Dutch Gardens, Inc. 
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