Gardening for Butterflies
Butterflies are living art in the garden. These winged beauties add color and motion, not to mention playing an invaluable role as pollinators. Unfortunately, I’m seeing fewer butterflies, especially monarchs, in my gardens. It’s eerie. Let’s each make a commitment to take at least one step to creating more butterfly-friendly landscapes.
In addition to incorporating some of the plants listed in this blog, the following tips will also make your gardens a highly favored ‘landing strip’ for butterflies:
- Choose a sunny spot sheltered from wind for your garden. If your property is an open area, create a wind barrier with small trees or a fence. A location near a wild meadow is even better, providing a greater diversity of plant material.
- Site the garden near trees and shrubs that provide shelter at night as well as in bad weather.
- Don’t use pesticides!
- Don’t put bird feeders or birdbaths near the garden!
- Provide early, mid and late blooming nectar sources.
- Accept the fact that there will be some foliage damage from the butterfly’s caterpillar stage. If you can’t stand looking at some leaf chomping, switch your focus to the butterfly that just fluttered by your head. Some perennials relished by the caterpillars are Hibiscus, Milkweed (Asclepias) and Parsley.
- Create ‘water puddles’. Butterflies can’t drink from open water. They ‘sip’ from surface moisture on the ground or stones. All you need is a shallow spot where water puddles or make a ‘fountain’ by sinking a pail or bucket filled with wet sand in the ground.
Some plants that butterflies love to visit:
Butterfly Bush (Buddleia) 4’ – 10’ tall. Full sun. Late summer, fall bloomer. Purple, pink, white or yellow flowers. Plant these in well drained soil (not clay!) and in a location that is sheltered from wind. Zone 5
Gayfeather (Liatris) 18” – 4’ tall. Full sun. Summer bloomer. Rosy-lavender or white flowers. Gayfeathers are bold, spiky perennials that mix-up the flower shapes in gardens. They hate wet soil, so site accordingly. ‘Kobold’ is the shortest of all the cultivars and earliest to greet butterflies. L. punctata is an American Plains native and the most drought tolerant of all Gayfeathers. Gayfeathers flower from the top down so they can be easily pruned for weeks of great looking flowers. Zone 3
Aster (Aster) 12” – 4’ tall. Sun to Part Sun. Fall bloomer. White, purple, pink, red or lavender flowers. Asters celebrate the cooler fall weather with blasts of blooms. Butterflies gladly join the celebration by dining on their nectar-laden flowers before their long migratory trip. The Woods series is very resistant to mildew, a fungus that can cause some Asters to get ratty lower stems. Zone 3
Catmint (Nepeta) 8” – 36” tall. Sun to Part Sun. Summer bloomer. Lavender, purple, white, pink or blue flowers. Some of my favorites are ‘Blue Wonder’ (15”- 20”), ‘Snowflake’ (12”- 15”), ‘Walker’s Low’ (24”- 36”), ‘Little Trudy’ (10”-12”) and ‘Six Hills Giant’ (2’- 3’). Shear back Catmints in mid-summer for a neater appearance and second round of flowers. Zone 3
Sedum 3” – 36” tall. Sun to Part Sun. Summer, fall bloomer. Brick red, pink, white, yellow or purple-pink flowers. Sedums are ‘chameleons’. They can be ground-hugging summer bloomers or tall, upright ‘broccoli’ plants that flower in fall. Pinch back taller cultivars in early July for shorter, stiffer stemmed, blooming plants in fall. Zone 3
Yarrow (Achillea) 3” – 40” tall. Sun. Summer bloomer. Yellow, red, pink, white, peach or multi-colors. Yarrows are sensational, summer blooming, heat busters. I’ve found the Seduction series to be unparalleled as far as their length of bloom and color. ‘Strawberry Seduction’ (red with gold centers), ‘Yellow Seduction’ (canary yellow) and ‘Saucy Seduction’ (rosy-pink) are winners. ‘Pomegrante’ is another winner with deep red blooms. ‘Moonshine’ has a soft, gray feathery foliage and dense gold flowers. It is a good mid-border pick at 18” – 24”. ‘Coronation Gold’ is taller at 40” with greener foliage. Yarrow is one of those plants that truly needs full sun not to flop. Zone 3
pictures courtesy of Prides Corner Farms