Plants for the Butterfly Garden

The clever gardener will encourage butterflies to visit their gardens not only because they are beautiful, but because they are important plant pollinators for flowers and food as well. In fact, insects are responsible for pollinating 80% of all the flowering plants on earth (the last 20% is courtesy of bats, birds, and wind).

Attracting butterflies to your yard and garden is a simple task when you have a handful of ideal plants on the menu. The perfect garden devoted especially to the flying flowers will offer two types of plants to complete their lifecycle: plants that offer adult butterflies food and strength and plants that offer infant butterflies (larva) food that will get them to adult stage.

However, because larval food plants are often specific to individual species, the plants listed here are those which are predominately nectar sources for a wide variety of butterfly species (although, some may be larval food for a few of them, as well). If you’d like to take your butterfly garden a step further by growing plant species that fulfill the appetites of butterflies in their larval stage, your local wildlife authority should have a list available of butterflies that frequent your area.

This is by no means an exhaustive list; you’ll find hundreds of plants that attract them. The following butterfly plants are not only especially enticing to butterflies, but they’re easy to grow, to boot.


Monarch butterfly emerges from its chrysalis.


Plants for a Butterfly Garden

Glossy abelia (Abelia × grandiflora) – Makes a wonderful garden shrub or pruned hedge. Glossy abelia is a semi-evergreen that grows to over 5 feet tall. It likes full sun (or light shade) and well-draining soil. Light pink flowers show up all summer to early fall. Zones 5–9.

Aster (Aster spp.) – Aster is a hardy perennial that grows 2 to 3 feet tall. It enjoys full sun and well-draining soil. Blooms show up late summer through fall, usually in white or lavender. There are other species that bloom with red, purple, and pink flowers. Zones 3–9.

Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia spp.)Rudbeckia is a hardy perennial plant that grows 2½ to 3½ feet tall. It likes full sun and well-draining soil. Golden yellow flowers with a dark center show up midsummer to fall. Zones 3–9.


Fountain butterfly bush (Buddleia alternifolia, Zones 6-9) in the foreground and ‘Climbing American Beauty’ rose (Zones 5–9) on the archway. Photo: courtesy of Phillip Oliver.

Butterfly bush (Buddleia spp.) – Buddleia is a deciduous shrub that can grow 8 to 15 feet tall. It likes full sun and can tolerate just about any soil type. Lavender or purple flowers show up from midsummer to early fall. Zones 5–10.

Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) – Asclepias is a hardy perennial that grow 3½ to 4 feet tall. It likes full sun and well-draining (even sandy) soil. Orange flowers show up in the summer. Zones 8a–11.

Heliotropium arborescens ‘Fragrant Delight’. Photo: Jennifer Benner.

Heliotrope (Heliotropium arborescens) – Heliotrope is a tender perennial plant that grows 1½ to 4 feet tall. It enjoys sun or light shade and well-draining soil. Deep violet to white flowers show up late spring to summer. Zones 9a–11.

Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium spp.) – Joe Pye weed is a hardy perennial plant that grows 2 to 3 feet tall. It likes full sun or light shade and moist soil. Pink and rose flowers show up in late summer to fall. Zones 4–9.

Lantana (Lantana camera) – Lantana is a half-hardy shrub that can grow to 6 feet tall. It likes full sun and well-draining soil. Red, orange, and yellow flowers show up in the summer and much longer in mild climates. Zones 8–11.


Lavender with bees.


Lavender (Lavendula angustifolia) – English lavender is a small shrub that grows 1 to 3 feet tall. It likes full sun and well-draining soil. Lavender or purple flowers show up all summer. Zones 5–9.

Spike gayfeather (Liatris spp.) – Liatris is a hardy perennial plant that grows 2 to 3 feet tall. It enjoys full sun and tolerates all kids of soil. Pink-purple to lavender flowers show up midsummer through fall. Zones 3–8.

Phlox (Phlox paniculata) – Phlox is a hardy perennial that grows 2 to 6 feet tall. It enjoys full sun to light shade and moist soil. Lilac, purple, scarlet, white, or salmon blooms show up all summer. Zones 4–8.

Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) – Echinacea is a hardy perennial that grows 2 to 4 feet tall. It enjoys full sun and well-draining soil. Rose-purple flowers with a raised dark eye show up midsummer to fall. Zones 3–8.


The red flowers of Sedum spurium (Dragon’s blood stonecrop, Zones 3–8) backed up by purple Lavandula angustifolia ‘Hidcote’ (English lavender, Zones 5–8), Liatris spicata ‘Kobold’ (blazing star, Zones 3–8), and a dark-leaved Physocarpus opulifolius (ninebark, Zones 2–8).


Stonecrop (Sedum spectabile) — Stonecrop is an annual that grows 1½ to 2 feet tall. She enjoys full sun or light shade and well-draining soil. Pinkish to rosy-red flowers show up late summer to late fall.


An acadian hairstreak takes nectar from a swamp milkweed, which is a common weed.


Tips for Planting a Butterfly Garden

  • Plant your butterfly garden in a sunny location. Most butterflies can only fly when their body temperature reaches 85°F to 100°F, and most butterfly plants need full sun anyway.
  • Butterflies rely on color to find their next meal. Plant flower species en masse (in groups), if possible.
  • Choose various species according to their bloom time. Grow flowers that bloom during different times of the season so that you can feed and enjoy butterflies for as long as possible.
  • Plant a mixture of annual and perennial butterfly plants.
  • Skip the pesticides in the garden. These chemicals do not differentiate between bad guys and good guys.


View Comments


  1. MYSeaside 03/15/2019

    To add more life and beauty to your garden, introduce plants and flowers into it that attract butterflies. First of all, I want to write that there are certain plants that attract butterflies, they are easy to care for, and they are attractive to the garden. Learn that it is important to choose also host plants that will provide a home for butterfly larvae (caterpillars) and nectaric plants that provide food for butterflies. First, read and study what types of butterflies are characteristic of your region or buy essays with all the advice. Observing for several days and using the field guide for butterflies will help you in this matter. By the way, if there are monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) in your area, they are very easy to attract. The grouper-red mentioned above or the tropical grouper (annual in colder climates) are excellent host plants for them. Asclepias tropical can be grown from seed in winter.

  2. User avater
    simplesue 07/09/2019

    A wonderful article, I enjoyed it, but doesn't Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) have a zone of 4-9? I'm growing it and it came back the next spring- after winter. Butterflies make the garden so magical.

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