I know of at least two good reasons to try to attract butterflies to my garden: First, it’s good for the health of these pretty, beneficial insects to have plentiful food supplies and plants on which to lay their eggs.
Second, butterflies are so lovely in a garden: Fluttering around plants, they add colour and movement and almost a magical element to our flower beds, ponds and other features. They remind us gardeners that we are creating a living, growing environment for some of nature’s most delicate creatures.
So, how do we do that? How can we bring butterflies into our garden?
The good news is that it is really just a matter of ensuring our gardens contain plants that butterflies like – in fact, need. Once the plants are in and flowering, the butterflies will do the rest.
Butterflies are a diverse family and each species favours certain plants for collecting nectar (feeding) and certain plants for laying eggs. Monarch butterflies, for example, rely on milkweed for laying their eggs; their caterpillars only eat milkweed. Gardeners who want to help out this threatened species can do nothing better than plant a patch of milkweed (and prepare to be vigilant for “volunteers” appearing around the garden). Seeds are widely available.
But for feeding butterflies – giving them the energy they need for migration and reproduction – there are a number of plants that will look good in any garden and provide nectar to a wide variety of butterfly species. Here’s a dozen to consider:
1. Garden phlox (Phlox paniculata): Will attract clouded sulphurs, European cabbage butterflies, silvery checkerspots, and all kinds of swallowtails.
2. Blanket flower (Gaillardia): A “plant and ignore” flower. Once established it will push out blooms right to frost. Attracts whites, and swallowtails.
3. Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa): Both a nectar source and a host plant for caterpillars. Coppers, hairstreaks, fritillaries, swallowtails, spring azures and monarchs.
4. Goldenrod (Solidago canadensis): Don’t confuse this with ragweed. This is not an allergen-producing plant. Great fragrant yellow flowers appear in summer and continue through autumn. Checkered skippers, American small coppers, clouded sulphurs, pearl crescents, gray hairstreaks, monarchs, giant swallowtails, and all manner of fritillaries.
5. New England aster (Aster novae-angiae): Prolific flowers late in the year, which coincide nicely with the monarch migration. Buckeyes, skippers, monarchs, painted ladies, pearl crescents, sleepy oranges, and spring azures.
6. Joe-pye weed (Eupatorium purpureum): Joe-pye weed is one of my favourite perennials. Will reach nearly 6 feet but I’ve sheared it in half in June for a more compact plant in bloom later. Joe-pye weed is an all-purpose backyard habitat plant, attracting all kinds of butterflies, as well as bees and hummingbirds.
7. Blazing star (Liatris spicata): Also known as blazing star, gayfeather, liatris, and button snakeroot. Butterflies (and bees) love it no matter what the name. With showy purple spikes of flowers
8. Tickseed (Coreopsis verticillata): Its yellow flowers attract smaller butterflies, like skippers and whites.
10. Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’: You can’t keep butterflies off this sedum. American painted ladies, buckeyes, gray hairstreaks, monarchs, painted ladies, pearl crescents, pepper and salt skippers, silver-spotted skippers, and fritillaries.
12. Bee Balm (Monarda): A plant named bee balm would be expected to attract bees, but it’s just as good at attracting butterflies. Checkered whites, fritillaries, melissa blues, and swallowtails all visit bee balm.
Remember that plants for butterflies should be in a sunny part of your garden. The folks at Satellite Gardens can help you find the right one for your garden.
Happy gardening. See you at Satellite.