How to Encourage Butterflies to Visit Your Garden

Updated on August 3, 2018
Diane Lockridge profile image

Lockridge is an avid reader who enjoys learning about beautiful things in the garden. Among other things, she has worked with a florist.

Beautiful, blue morphofalter butterfly.
Beautiful, blue morphofalter butterfly.

Good gardeners understand the benefits of pollinators in their yard. Pollinators help spread pollen and increase the yield of crops. According to the USDA, most plants need an external pollinator because the plant can’t pollinate itself.

Butterflies also increase the beauty of a garden. Sure, looking at a pretty plant is nice, but observing a butterfly move from plant to plant around the garden adds another dimension to the gardening experience.

Remember, if you want to attract butterflies to your garden. you’ll have to start by attracting caterpillars first. That means planting things in your garden that both caterpillars and butterflies will appreciate. Keep in mind that caterpillars eat leaves, whereas butterflies sip on nectar. Most importantly, avoid using pesticides. Although it may rid your garden of pests, the chemicals will likely kill butterflies and caterpillars as well.

Select good host plants for caterpillars, and consider what type of caterpillars (and therefore butterflies) you want to attract to your garden. Some caterpillars will feed from a variety of plants, whereas others will only feed from a specific plant. For example, pearl crescent caterpillars feed from asters.

Butterfly visiting a cluster of asters.
Butterfly visiting a cluster of asters.

What Should You Plant to Attract Butterflies?

Don’t just plant individual plants hoping that the butterflies will find it easily. Provide a big target of color for butterflies to find by planting large groups of the same bloom together. Select plants that will bloom at varying points in the season, so butterflies will always have something to feed from.

Considering adding a few of the following natural butterfly attracting plants below:

Agapanthus

This tall, bright blue, and showy flower stands tall above its bright green foliage. This plant blooms in the late summer, and its color and multiple flowers per tall stalk are perfect for butterflies.

Aster

This daisy-like bloom is a favorite of butterflies and bees alike. It blooms in the late summer and autumn and is available in a variety of colors.

Black-Eyed Susan

Butterflies aren’t the only insect attracted to black-eyed Susans—bees also love this plant! It’s a great wild flower to add to your garden for an informal look.

Blazing Star Flower

Looking for an interesting bloom with height in the garden? Consider adding the blazing star flower. This plant produces white or purplish-pink spikes that reach up to 3 feet tall!

Butterfly visiting a purple butterfly bush.
Butterfly visiting a purple butterfly bush.

Butterfly Bush

The butterfly bush is irresistible to butterflies. Not only are they attracted to the bright color, but they appreciate the large cluster of blooms on which to perch. Plenty of blooms means plenty of nectar from which the butterflies can sip.

Butterfly Weed

The butterfly weed is a type of milkweed, and unlike the name suggests, plenty of other pollinators (such as bees) also like this plant. Since the plant blooms early in the spring, it’s a nice addition to the garden. Be sure to plant it in large groupings, and mark the area with a stake so you don’t mistakenly dig up the area.

Coneflower

The coneflower, also known as echinacea, is a simple, but beautiful flower that blooms later in the summer months. Plant this bloom in the front of other taller plants.

Lavender

You aren’t the only one who likes the smell of lavender. Butterflies also like this plant. It’s also a great plant for beginning gardeners, as it is drought-resistant and can tolerate heat well.

Phlox

Phlox is a low-growing perennial that tends to spread out. Not only do butterflies love this plant, but it’s great if you have young children in your house. They can get a good look at butterflies on their own level.

Multiple butterflies visiting the same bloom.
Multiple butterflies visiting the same bloom.

Pot Marigolds

Everyone loves a quick-growing and long-lasting flower. Pot marigolds deliver, with a bloom lasting up to eight weeks long during the summer. The bright yellow petal attracts butterflies like crazy.

Milkweed

Since monarch caterpillars only feed from milkweed, it’s a good idea to include it in your garden, even if you aren’t planning on specifically attracting monarchs. Other butterflies also like milkweed, but it’s a must for the monarchs specifically. This bright pink clustered flower is pretty on its own, even if you aren’t planning a butterfly garden.

Salvia

Hummingbirds and butterflies both like nectar from the tall, spiked blooms of the salvia plant. This plant is available in whites and purples.

Sedum

Sedum is a hardy succulent available in both low-growing and taller varieties. Their flowers form early in the year and remain blooming until winter.

Sunflowers

Butterflies are attracted to colors such as yellow, and nothing screams “yellow” more than the traditional sunflower. Sunflowers also come in a range of colors and are relatively simple to tend. You’ll be sure to find a color and size of sunflower perfect for your garden.

Butterfly Tips

Not all caterpillars will turn into butterflies though, so some caterpillars in your garden may actually be pests.

A variety of plants at different heights and colors are sure to encourage a range of different kinds of pollinators to visit your garden.

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