What to Plant in a Butterfly Garden

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A butterfly garden may look quite different from a conventional garden. Its plant leaves are eaten by caterpillars, its flowering plants aren't traditional, showy varieties and grasses are allowed to overgrow it to provide shelter and protection for butterflies. Trees feed many butterfly larvae; try to include at least one tree in your butterfly garden. Grow shrubs as butterfly shelters and breeding grounds, and include flowering plants to provide nectar. Native plants are often the most attractive to butterflies.

Tip

  • Place flat rocks in your garden so that butterflies can sun themselves, and provide muddy puddles for their drinking water.

Trees for Windscreens

Trees are essential for butterfly gardens. They screen wind, which discourages butterflies, and provide shelter. Black hawthorn (Crataegus douglasii) provides butterfly-attracting, white, early-summer flowers and grows sheltering thickets of suckers. Hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 3 through 9, black hawthorn grows 10 to 25 feet tall and wide and has thorns.

Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana) features long clusters of white, spring flowers that draw butterflies, and it grows 20 to 30 feet tall and 15 to 20 feet wide. It is hardy in USDA zones 2 through 7.

Black hawthorn and chokecherry also produce fruit that attract birds and other wildlife.

Native Shrubs

Shrubs are long-term butterfly habitats, and some offer nectar-producing blooms. For example, arrowwood viburnum (Viburnum dentatum) features flat clusters of white flowers that appear in late spring. The blooms are followed by blue-black fruit. Arrowwood viburnum grows 6 to 10 feet tall and wide, and is hardy in USDA zones 2 through 8. It is a North American native shrub that suffers from few pests or diseases.

Yellow bells Gold Star (Tecoma stans Gold Star) offers bright-yellow, tubular flowers from early summer through fall. Hardy in USDA zones 9 through 11, it grows 3 to 5 feet tall and 2 to 4 feet wide. The species plant yellow bells is native to Arizona, New Mexico and southern Texas.

Flowering Perennials

Perennial plants return year after year and feed butterflies and their larvae. Flowering perennials include scarlet bush (Hamelia patens), which features tubular, orange-red or red blooms that attract butterflies and hummingbirds. It blooms all year and grows 10 to 15 feet tall in its hardiness range, USDA zones 9 through 10. Elsewhere, it blooms during summer and grows 1 to 3 feet tall. Scarlet bush is also called firecracker shrub, Mexican firecracker and Texas firebush.

Another flowering perennial that draws butterflies is blue false indigo (Baptisia australis). It bears spikes of indigo-blue flowers in late spring and grows 3 to 4 feet tall and wide,. A native of the eastern United States, blue false indigo is hardy in USDA zones 3 through 9.

Flowering Annuals

Butterflies feed on many kinds of flowering annual plant species. One is cornflower (Centaurea cyanus), which offers butterfly-attracting, purple-blue, pink or white blooms from late spring through summer. The plant grows 1 to 3 feet tall and 1 to 2 feet wide. Cornflower is invasive in some U.S. locations. Removing its seed heads before they release their seeds will help prevent that problem.

Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis), also called spotted touch-me-not, is an annual that attracts butterflies, hummingbirds and birds. It provides orange or orange-yellow flowers during summer and grows 2 to 5 feet tall and 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 feet wide.

Tip

  • Avoid weeding or spraying pests in a butterfly garden. Butterflies rely on wildflowers and are harmed by pesticides.

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