12 Best Flowers for a Butterfly Garden

Butterfly Garden Plants

Creating a garden that attracts butterflies is like painting a living canvas with fluttering wings of every color.

I find it incredibly rewarding to see these graceful visitors enjoying the blooms in my garden. Not only does a butterfly garden provide a vibrant spectacle, but it also supports local ecosystems by providing habitats for these important pollinators.

Selecting the right flowers is crucial for a flourishing butterfly haven, as different species have preferences for nectar and foliage.

Native Flower Favorites

In my experience, butterflies gravitate towards native plants because these species have co-evolved with the local butterfly populations. By incorporating natives into my garden, I help ensure that butterflies find familiar and suitable sources of food and habitat. Here’s a list of native flower favorites that I’ve found to be exceptionally attractive to butterflies:

  • Milkweed (Asclepias spp.): Essential for monarch butterflies as it’s the only plant on which they’ll lay eggs.
  • Joe-Pye Weed (Eutrochium purpureum): Its towering flowers are a butterfly magnet, especially for swallowtails.
  • Black-Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta): Its bold, yellow blossoms give a cheerful look and attract a broad range of butterflies.
  • Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa): Its unique purple blooms are great for attracting various nectar-feeding insects, including butterflies.

Nectar-Rich Varieties

Nectar is like a high-energy drink for butterflies, so picking the right nectar-rich flowers is key. I want flowers that provide a bounty of nectar throughout the growing season. The flowers listed below are not only nectar-rich but also tend to be hardy across many planting zones:

  • Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea): A staple in my butterfly garden, it’s beloved by many butterfly species for its plentiful nectar.
  • Pentas (Pentas lanceolata): It blooms profusely, and its flower clusters are perfect landing pads for butterflies.
  • Sunflower (Helianthus annuus): Its large, flat blooms are ideal for feeding and are a hit with many butterfly species.
  • Zinnia (Zinnia spp.): Bright and easy to grow, zinnias are excellent for attracting butterflies with their long-lasting blossoms.

Creating Sunny and Shady Spaces

In my butterfly garden, I designate areas where sunlight can reach early in the day, allowing butterflies to warm up. I incorporate elements like pavement, rocks, or exposed soil that absorb heat to provide additional warmth.

When planting, I opt for groupings of three to five plants to create eye-catching drifts of color that are easily visible to butterflies. I’m careful to select a mix of plants that ensure blooms throughout the growing season, providing constant nectar sources.

  • Make sure to include:
    • Open, sunny spots for warming up
    • Shaded areas for cooling down
    • Groupings of nectar-rich plants

Incorporating Puddling Areas

Butterflies often engage in a behavior known as “puddling,” seeking out moist areas to consume water and essential minerals.

To cater to this, I incorporate shallow puddles or sand patches that can be kept moist. A simple way to create this is by burying a shallow dish or arranging flat stones with a slight depression to hold water.

  • Key components for puddling areas:
    • Shallow dish or depression in stones
    • Regularly add water to maintain moisture
    • Optional: sprinkle salt or mineral supplements

Must-Have Perennials for Butterflies

In my experience, cultivating a garden that butterflies can’t resist involves choosing the right perennials. These flowers not only provide essential nectar but also support the lifecycle of these winged beauties.


Milkweed (Asclepias spp.) is the cornerstone of any butterfly garden, particularly if you’re keen on attracting monarchs. It’s their exclusive caterpillar host plant and serves as a nectar source for various butterfly species. I find that a mix of different milkweed species offers the best support.


Echinacea, commonly known as coneflower, is a magnet for butterflies due to its large, nectar-rich blossoms. Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) is a favorite in my garden, attracting a flurry of pollinators from spring to late summer.

Joe-Pye Weed

Lastly, Joe-Pye weed (Eutrochium purpureum) stands tall in my garden with its dusty pink flower clusters. Butterflies find it irresistible, and I often spot them gathering nectar from its blooms in the late summer and fall.

These perennials are my go-to plants for ensuring butterflies are regular visitors to my garden. They’re hardy, they offer a burst of color, and most importantly, they provide the resources these creatures need to thrive.

Annuals That Attract Butterflies

In my experience, annuals are a fantastic addition to any butterfly garden. They’re easy to grow and bring vibrant colors while providing essential nectar. Here are a few of my favorites that are sure to attract a flurry of butterfly activity:


Marigolds are not just vibrant and cheerful, they emit a fragrance that deters pests and attracts butterflies. I recommend planting Tagetes for a garden alive with color and activity.

  • Bloom Time: Spring until frost
  • Colors: Yellow, orange, red
  • Care: Low maintenance; full sun and well-drained soil


Zinnias are like a magnet for butterflies with their bright blossoms. As an annual, they’re quite the showstopper and a nectar-rich choice that I always make sure to include in my garden.

  • Bloom Time: Summer to early frost
  • Colors: Pink, red, orange, yellow, white, and green
  • Care: Full sun; water regularly; avoid wet foliage


Sunflowers towering above the garden not only create a stunning backdrop but they also offer a rich source of nectar and seeds. I’ve watched countless butterflies, and even birds, visit these sunny blooms.

  • Bloom Time: Summer
  • Colors: Yellow, but also available in red and brown
  • Care: Full sun; well-drained soil; supportive stakes for tall varieties

Top Shrubs for Butterflies

In my experience, certain shrubs are excellent for attracting butterflies to the garden. They offer both nectar for adult butterflies and serve as host plants for their caterpillars.


Buddleia, commonly known as the butterfly bush, is a magnet for butterflies due to its abundant and sweetly scented blooms. I recommend planting it in well-drained soil, and in a sunny spot to encourage a full season of flowers.

  • Sunlight: Full sun to partial shade
  • Soil: Well-drained
  • USDA Hardiness Zones: 5 to 9
  • Features: Long blooming, available in various colors


The fragrant Lilac blossoms are irresistible to butterflies and add a splash of color, typically in hues of purple and white, to the garden. Ensure it’s planted where it can receive plenty of sun to get the best blooms.

  • Sunlight: Full sun
  • Soil: Fertile, well-drained
  • USDA Hardiness Zones: 3 to 7
  • Features: Fragrant flowers, spring blooming

Herbs Butterflies Love

Creating a butterfly-friendly garden requires incorporating plants that cater to their needs. In my experience, certain herbs are not only useful for cooking but also excellent for attracting these beautiful pollinators.


Lavender, with its soothing fragrance and purple blooms, is a perennial favorite among butterflies. I always find these plants buzzing with activity, as the rich nectar and vibrant color seem irresistible to them. Planting lavender is fairly simple; it thrives in well-drained soil and full sun, making it a hardy addition to any butterfly garden.


Another herb that I’ve noticed butterflies are fond of is fennel. Its feathery foliage makes for a striking presence in the garden, and swallowtail caterpillars, in particular, enjoy feasting on its leaves. Fennel can grow quite tall, so I make sure to provide ample space for it in my garden.


Oregano is a fantastic choice for a butterfly garden—it’s a hardy herb that requires minimal care and attracts a variety of butterflies when it flowers. The tiny blossoms cluster together, creating a perfect landing platform for butterflies to enjoy the nectar. I usually snip a few stems for my kitchen while leaving plenty for my winged visitors.

Caring for a Butterfly Garden

When I create a butterfly garden, my main goals are to foster a safe environment for the butterflies and ensure they have everything they need to thrive. Here’s how I take care of my butterfly garden:

Avoiding Pesticides

I steer clear of pesticides entirely in my butterfly garden. These chemicals can be harmful to butterflies, as well as other beneficial insects. Instead, I opt for natural pest control methods, such as encouraging beneficial insects, like ladybugs, that feed on aphids. Physical barriers, like netting, can also prevent pests without harming my winged visitors.

Providing Water Sources

Butterflies need water but they can’t drink from large, deep bodies of water. So, I provide shallow water sources for them. I’ll fill a shallow dish with sand, add a pinch of salt, and keep it moist. This mimics the puddles butterflies seek out in nature. I place these dishes at ground level around my garden to offer a safe spot for butterflies to quench their thirst.

Maximizing Butterfly Visitation

To ensure your garden is a butterfly haven, it’s crucial to focus on both the variety of plants and the timing of blooms. Let me guide you through achieving a constant flutter of activity in your garden.

Plant Diversity

Variety is the spice of life, and that holds true for butterflies as well. In my butterfly garden, I strive for a range of plant species to cater to different butterfly preferences. I include:

  • Nectar-rich flowers: Such as Purple Coneflower (Echinacea) and Lantana.
  • Host plants for larvae: Including Milkweed (Asclepias spp.) and Fennel.

By integrating both nectar and host plants, I ensure butterflies have reasons to visit and stay during their life cycles.

Flowering Schedule

To maintain a steady stream of visitors, I’ve arranged my garden so that at least a few plants are in bloom throughout the season. Here’s how I plan it:

  • Spring: Arrowwood Viburnum (Viburnum dentatum) starts the season with its bloom.
  • Summer: Echinacea (purple coneflower) and Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) are in their full glory.
  • Fall: Marigolds and Sage continue providing sustenance as others phase out.

By carefully selecting plants with staggered blooming periods, I’ve made sure there’s always something to offer my winged guests.

Expanding Your Butterfly Garden

When I look to expand my butterfly garden, my primary focus is on adding plants that serve as food sources and breeding grounds for various butterfly species. Diversity is key, as different butterflies are attracted to different types of flowers.

Firstly, I make sure to include plants that bloom at different times of the year to provide a steady food supply. Here’s how I organize my garden additions:

  • Spring Bloomers: I like to plant milkweed and lilacs, which are fantastic early bloomers for attracting springtime butterflies.
  • Summer Bloomers: Coneflowers and black-eyed Susans are my go-tos for keeping the garden vibrant in summer.
  • Fall Bloomers: Sedum and goldenrod are excellent for offering late-season nectar.

Another crucial aspect is the structure of the garden. I create clusters of each plant type to make it easier for butterflies to spot their preferred blossoms:

Bloom SeasonPlants to Add
SpringMilkweed, Lilacs
SummerConeflowers, Black-eyed Susans
FallSedum, Goldenrod

Lastly, I incorporate host plants for caterpillars. I tend to select native plants like fennel and willow because they are already adapted to my local climate and soil conditions, which means they’ll be easier for me to care for and more beneficial for the caterpillars. Italicize them when you create a list, that’s my little trick to remember to check on their specific needs regularly.

With these strategies, I aim for a garden that is not only visually stunning but also a haven for many butterfly species.

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