Here are some favourite plants for attracting butterflies, in no particular order. Choices are based on ease of growing (hardiness, ease of maintenance) and most importantly their effectiveness in attracting our winged friends.
Bloomerang Lilac (reblooming Lilac Syringa x)
This is one of the earliest bloomers, before traditional lilacs, and the Black Swallowtails feast on it!
Unlike traditional lilacs, it reblooms, for a total of 3-4 bloom periods each season.
In 2014, an early, heavy, killing frost hit, killing many nectar plants. The Bloomerangs bloomed again after the frost and were a great source of nectar for many butterflies.
The photo above, featuring migrating Monarchs, was taken in October.
Monarda (aka Bee Balm)
This is well loved by numerous butterflies, bees, insects and draws the hummingbirds in better than any feeder!
It’s easy to grow, fills in nicely and can be easily transplanted. Move the new little ones that pop up each spring to spread the red, pink and purple cheer around the garden. Or grow it in pots to draw the butterflies and hummingbirds. Then transplant to the garden in the fall, to enjoy again next year. It has the delightful aroma of bergamot (Earl Grey tea).
Liatris (Blazing Star), planted for the first time, in 2014. The butterflies are in love! Another late bloomer, it’s a great nectar flower for the fall Monarchs. This is another one that is easy to maintain and transplant. It’s filled in quite nicely this year.
Butterfly Bush (Buddleia)
Planting of the Butterfly Bush is controversial because in some areas it can be quite invasive, taking over wetlands. Here in Zone 5a, it is not at all invasive and this has to be babied to ensure that it will make it through the winter. With luck and good mulching and pruning, this bush grows taller and fuller each year. The largest ones are about 2 metres tall. Butterflies and bees flock to them. They come in a variety of colours; white and deep purple seem to be the most common. If purchasing one, check the zone label carefully. Do a little reading on their care- mulch for winter, prune in spring- and give the Butterfly Bush a try, if you’re looking for a good magnet for butterflies, hummingbirds and bees.
Cone Flowers (Echinacea)
Cone flowers are a staple in butterfly gardens. With a long blooming period (July-frost), they provide a good, lasting source of nectar for butterflies, bees and others. Cone flowers come in all sorts of colours and price points. For durability and hardiness, you’ll find the purples and whites to be the winners. The ones with a more snowball like appearance, and less common colours, tend to be less hardy than the purples and whites. Cone flowers also come in a variety of heights, so you can add dimension to your garden.
Black Eyed Susans (Rudbeckia)
A favourite in many gardens because of the cheery appearance and long blooming season, Black Eyed Susans are another easy to maintain nectar plant. These gems transplant with ease and need little maintenance other than a bit of dead-heading. They bloom until hard frost and have nice sturdy stalks and make a nice addition to cut flower arrangements. They also love to reseed themselves, so be on the lookout for new plants not too far from the original, in the spring.
Some people are surprised to see this fall gem as a butterfly friendly plant, but it truly is! Monarchs will often rest on the sedum, sipping nectar, for long periods. It’s a true favourite with bumble bees. Sedum adds a splash of colour and unique dimension to your garden. It winters well and provides great beauty and spot for birds to rest, in your winter garden, too.
Phlox come in many colours and many heights and provide a bright splash of colour to the summer garden. They’re somewhat delicate and may need to be staked or tied up to protect from high winds. Hummingbirds and butterflies love the phlox.
Joe Pye Weed
Another magnet for butterflies and pollinators, Joe Pye Weed blooms from late July to hard frost. Tall, with sturdy stalks and pretty pink flowers, the Joe Pye Weed adds great dimension to butterfly habitats.
Nasturtium is both a great host and nectar plant. This is an annual, planted from seed. There are several varieties and colours and they come in both a climbing vine style and compact plant of about 25cm. Both the leaves and flowers are edible, and make a great addition to salads for a splash of colour, with a slightly peppery taste.
A butterfly garden would not be complete without milkweed! The perfect nectar and host plant for the Monarch Butterfly, milkweed comes in many varieties. These photos depict Common Milkweed, that which you often see growing along the side of the road and in meadows. Thankfully, milkweed has been removed from the list of noxious weeds, in Ontario. Milkweed is the ONLY plant upon which Monarchs will lay their eggs, and is the ONLY source of food for Monarch larva (caterpillars). Common milkweed is quite invasive, and some butterfly gardeners elect to grow it in confined areas, pots etc. We avoid letting it go to seed but cutting it back mid season, thus not allowing pods to form, and harvesting the few pods we allow, quickly before they become windblown. Other varieties such as Swamp Milkweed are not invasive. Others such as Tropical are not hardy in our zone and must be grown from seed every year. This year, we have grown 4 varieties from seed and will add some pictures when they are in flower.
Monarchs seem to prefer small, lush milkweed to lay their eggs upon, so we clip back some of our milkweed in early July, at various heights. This encourages new growth. On other plants, we clip the flowers to encourage new floral growth. The scent of milkweed in bloom is breathtakingly decadent to butterflies!
Dill (and members of the parsley family)
Dill and members of the parsley family are favourites with Swallowtails for hosting eggs and larva. The photo above depicts Black Swallowtail caterpillars. To avoid predator wasps, clip your dill before it flowers.