Attract Butterflies for More Flowers and Joy

January 9, 2019
Attract Butterflies-Painted Lady Butterfly-Magnus Manske, Wikimedia Commons

A Painted Lady Butterfly is drawn to this flower.

Photo by Magnus Manske, Wikimedia Commons

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A couple days ago I spotted the first Monarch butterfly of the season on a dandelion. 

Of course, I didn’t have a camera near and missed a perfect photo opportunity.  Indigenous butterflies are early this year, like the dandelions, due to this strange warm spring that is about six weeks premature.

Monarchs and Painted Ladies are two native butterflies that pollinate flowers, blueberries and apple trees in my region.

Yesterday, I visited the new Nicholas Conservatory in Rockford, IL, because they are releasing thousands of butterflies weekly to pollinate their flowering plants, including orchids, thumbergia and even hyacinths.  Painted Ladies were everywhere, and so were the Monarchs.  These delicate pollinators landed in my hair and on my hands and clothing.  It was a fairy tale experience with all the vividly-colored creatures fluttering everywhere.

I snapped this photo of a Monarch at Nicholas Conservatory as Painted Ladies settled in my hair and on my sweater sleeves. It was magical!

I have butterflies in my garden, but I’ve set out to attract more.  This is the time of year to start seeds and seek perennials and annuals that draw pollinators.

Plant type and color are important: Adult butterflies are attracted to red, yellow, orange, pink and purple blossoms that are flat-topped or clustered and have short flower tubes.  They seek nectar to fuel their transition from egg-layer to cocoon to caterpillar to butterfly again. 

A Painted Lady was attracted by the hyacinth’s purplish color and short nectar tubes at Nicholas Conservatory.

Plants That Attract Butterflies

These common garden plants will feed butterflies through all their life stages.

  • Aster
  • Bleeding heart
  • Buddleia (butterfly bush)
  • Bee balm
  • Butterfly weed (and other milkweeds)
  • Clover
  • Columbine
  • Coneflower
  • Delphinium
  • Honeysuckle
  • Lobelia
  • Penstemon
  • Phlox
  • Salvia
  • Weigela
  • Zinnia


Bleeding hearts are one of many common garden flowers that will attract and nurture all kinds of butterflies.

See more plants that attract butterflies.

Plant nectar sources in the sun.  Butterflies only feed in the sun.  Choose a place that receives mid-morning to mid-afternoon sun.  Or plant nectar-rich flowers in the vegetable garden.

Outlaw insecticides.  Ones like malathion, Sevin, and diazinon were created to kill all insects.  Don’t use these chemicals in or near the butterfly garden or better, anywhere on your property. Even organic ones, such as BT (Bacillus thuringiensis), are lethal to butterflies during the caterpillar stage.

My garden is pesticide-free and I let everyone know it is. That’s why I have hundreds of butterflies. 

Feed butterfly caterpillars. If you don’t “grow” caterpillars, there will be no adults. Include caterpillar food in your garden.  Doing so can greatly increase your chances of attracting unusual and uncommon butterflies. Landscape trees like ash, black cherry and willow are good choices, as are apple trees and blueberry bushes.  Monarchs need milkweed, though.  Most butterfly caterpillars never cause the leaf damage associated with some moth caterpillars such as bagworms, tent caterpillars or gypsy moths.

Provide a place for rest.  Butterflies need sun for orientation and to warm their wings for flight. Place flat stones in your garden to supply space for butterflies to rest and soak up the sun.

Give them a place for puddling.  Butterflies often gather on wet sand and mud to “puddle,” drinking water and extracting minerals from damp puddles.  Make a puddle with coarse sand in a shallow pan and place it in the soil of among the nectar-rich flowers. Make sure to keep the sand moist.

About This Blog

A lifelong gardener shares the endless lessons she’s learned from her garden over the years, in hopes of making your own gardening just that much easier! Read along for advice, photos, and more.

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HELP......I planted a tiny bit of SITM 20 years ago. It has COMPLETELY taken over my gardens and nothing I do seems to kill it. I have kept it under control until knee surgery 5 years ago knocked me out of gardening as much as I need/want too. What do you recommend I do to get rid of this EVIL plant..!! Thanx so much for any ideas......


The recommended practice for getting rid of this aggressive plant is to apply an herbicide in the spring, when new foliage is developing. Older leaves are typically resistant to herbicides. Consult with a local garden center to find an herbicide that is right for your garden. 

Snow On The Mountain -- killing

Repeated sprays in late spring and early summer of Tri-Mec herbicide have killed most of the invasive patch along 2 of my gardens. Spraying Glyphosate herbicide has also helped kill this very invasive aggressive plant. Applications began 5 years ago. Every year there is less and less to kill back. It is somewhat resistant to the herbicides and not every underground root gets killed so continued attention to its eradication is required.

stones upon which to rest

I have old cinder blocks from a building project that I have painted. Are those okay to use as a warming stone for my traveling butterflies?

Warming Stones

Yes, those would work fine!

I have mostly lantana and and

I have mostly lantana and and day Lily s in my yard.I have noticed that only the lantana that is pink and yellow are always covered in butterflies. They don't touch the orange lantana.They don't seem to like the orange Lily s.

You are so very lucky--it

You are so very lucky--it sounds like you may have a Black Swallowtail caterpillar snacking on your Italian Parsley. I'm willing to share to have these beauties in my garden (they'll lay eggs to create MORE beautiful butterflies :)

I would add Penta and Lantana

I would add Penta and Lantana to (nectar)butterfly plants. 'My' Monarchs and Queens especially like a bright yellow lantana. Happy to say my butterfly weeds have been stripped to bare stems, and just now making new leaves for the next feast. I visited daily with several caterpillars eating 'weed'next to my porch bench, watching them get bigger and fatter. One was kind enough to hang his or her cacoon on a pot rim just a foot away from my seat, so am watching carefully, hoping i will be there to watch the amazing sight when it breaks free, and fluffs the new wings. Oh, and some black with thin white stripes caterpillars (don't know what type they are)are absolutely ravishing my Italian parsley plants (they don't seem to like the curly kind), so I have atarted some more seeds of that for them. If they have eyes on the pot of parsley on my kitchen windowsill, I'll have a stern talk with them, but they aren't hurting the parsley outside, as it is sending up new shoots already. It seems in general in my Houston neighborhood more Monarchs, and that smaller solid orange one than last spring. I was worried after last year's months of awful heat and long, absolute, drought, but it has been cooler and wetter so far, and seems this summer won't be quite so bad as last.


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