Today’s Reader Question is from Sheryl in Rockville, Maryland:
I’d like some advice on planting a butterfly garden. I have a butterfly bush and its covered with butterflies in the summer. I’d like to expand the border to include other plants that they would like. Thanks for your help in advance.
Great question Sheryl! Butterflies are such fun to watch in the garden as they flit from flower to flower engorging themselves on nectar. Let’s take a look at some of the plants that they particularly enjoy and then we’ll look at some other items that you can add to entice them.
- Butterfly Bush (Buddleia davidii) – you already have the grandaddy of them all to attract butterflies. They come in many different colors including white, pink, yellow and purple. There are dwarf varieties that are as short as 3′ and taller varieties that can reach to 8′ tall.
Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa) – this plant often grows on the edges of ditches and needs dry soil. If you enjoy bright orange flowers, this is the plant for you. Just be aware that they are very late to emerge in the spring…it’s often May before they fully emerge from their winter dormancy.
- Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) – while it may be in the same genus as Butterfly Weed, its cultural requirements are completely different. While Swamp Milkweed will perform well in average soil, it is at home in wet conditions. Its blooms can be pink or white. Monarch butterfly larvae will completely strip the leaves from the plants but the reward of adult butterflies make it completely worthwhile.
- Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium dubium, E. maculatum, E. rugosum) – there are many different species of Eupatorium that butterflies adore. There blooms can be mauve pink, rose or white. Joe Pye Weed’s cultural needs are similar to Swamp Milkweed…they can tolerate average soils but thrive in wet conditions.
- Hardy Ageratum (Eupatorium coelestinum) – the same conditions as Joe Pye and Swamp Milkweed prevail with Hardy Ageratum. If you’re a fan of the little annual ageratum, you’ll love the tall blooms of this plant. They come in blue and white but they self seed like crazy so be sure that you want lots of them before you plant the first one.
- Catmint (Nepeta spp.) – butterflies adore catmint’s purple flowers. Catmint can range in size from 12″ to 36″ depending on the cultivar you select. Catmint is very long blooming.
- Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) – so much breeding has taken place with coneflowers that its mindblowing. It used to be that coneflowers were either white or pink…now they can be white, pink, orange, red, yellow or green. Regardless of the color, butterflies love them.
- Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) – parsley is an important larval food for butterflies so make sure you plant some clumps just for them. See my link for more information on parsley in general.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of perennials that attract butterflies but it is guaranteed to bring them in by the droves. Here are a few other ideas to keep them coming back for more.
- Plant a pot of mint and sit in the garden. Never, ever, never plant mint directly in your garden unless you want a garden of mint and mint only. The flowers are adored by our winged friends.
- Take a terra cotta saucer and fill it with sand. If you keep the sand moist, the butterflies will use it as a watering hole. If you’ve ever witnessed butterflies drinking from the sand along a lake or river, you can appreciate how much they enjoy these sips of salty water.
- Place a few large stones or concrete statuary in the garden so that the butterflies have a place to warm their wings in the early morning.
Sheryl, I hope that you can take these ideas and use them to enhance your butterfly garden. An added bonus of creating a butterfly garden is that bees and beneficials will find comfort in your landscape and help you keep your pest population in check. I’d love to hear from other Mid-Atlantic Gardening readers regarding plants that attract butterflies. Leave me a comment below or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Happy gardening!