Butterfly gardens

Q: My children and I want to plant a butterfly garden. Can you suggest flowers that will attract butterflies?

A: Butterflies frequent sunny, protected sites where nectar flowers abound. They avoid windy, exposed sites. Many native plants are valuable for butterfly gardens. Serious butterfly gardeners consider not only nectar plants to attract butterflies in their graceful adult stage, but also plant host plants for the larvae or caterpillar stage. Butterfly gardeners allow for feeding and damage caused by the caterpillar stage in order to complete the life cycle. Gardeners should refrain from using insecticides that may be harmful to visiting butterflies, bees and other pollinators. Some plants for attracting butterflies include:

Yarrow, Achillea
Butterfly weed, Asclepias
Butterfly bush, Buddleja
Red valerian, Centranthus
Coneflower, Echinacea
Globe thistle, Echinops
Blanket flower, Gaillardia
Gayfeather, Liatris
Beebalm, Monarda
Black-eyed Susan, Rudbeckia

You may also want to consider hosting a complete butterfly or moth life cycle with plants such as these:

  • Dill or parsley — Both are host plants for purple swallowtail butterflies. Plant enough for you and the caterpillars to feed on.
  • Milkweed — It is a host to monarch butterflies.
    Cabbage, broccoli and Brussels sprouts — These are the preferred hosts to white cabbage butterflies. Leave one or more plants untreated with insecticide for the insects.
  • Tomatoes — Tomatoes are hosts to hornworm sphinx moths, which are fairly large and attractive in the adult stage. By the time they start to defoliate the tomato plants, you may be tired of homegrown tomatoes. The parasitic wasps present as small larvae attached to the backs of the tomato hornworms are a natural biocontrol that endlessly fascinates children.