Part of the fun of having a garden is all the critters that decide to drop in for a visit. Welcome guests at my home have included a wide range of butterflies, hummingbirds, earthworms, frogs, and spiders. Of course, I also had less-than-spectacular guests visit such as the crazy warbling bird who wants to sing at 4 a.m., the fabulous flying armadillo (well, he started it!) and the psycho possum that wanted to snack on our bulldog’s kibble. As is the case with any good host, I want to keep out those pesky freeloaders that eat everything and leave, without discouraging welcome visitors like butterflies. So if you want the fly guys to drop by for a visit, try adding some of these plants to your yard to help lure in the butterflies.
Brightly colored zinnias tend to be very popular with butterfly visitors in my yard. It’s probably because butterflies like what my art teacher in grade school used to refer to as warm colors: red, yellow, orange, pink. They also like purple! The National Wildlife Federation further describes the flowers that butterflies prefer as being “flat-topped or clustered and have short flower tubes.” Other butterfly approved annuals include nasturtiums, alyssum, and calendulas. Most garden centers sell all of these easy-to-grow plants.
However, there are some things to keep in mind when it comes to zinnias. Dwarf varieties tend to have smaller flowers not shorter stalks, which I learned to my chagrin several years ago. Zinnias also need to be planted in deep soil or they’ll quickly become top heavy and flop over. About 7 inches of soil is apparently good and less than 3 inches is bad. Gardeners may even want to plant the seeds a little deeper than they think they’ll should to avoid this problem.
Butterfly bushes (Buddleja species) come in many colors and they’re generally great at encouraging their namesakes to visit. However, they are considered invasive in some places, so plant with care. Wisteria also falls in this category. Butterflies like it, but turning it loose in your yard could be problematic.
Lantana is another plant that attracts its fair share of admirers, myself included. Butterflies, hummingbirds, and bees all regularly inhabit the plants in my yard. As far as plants go, this one is low maintenance. It can also be found at most garden centers for an extremely reasonable price. The only downside is how ubiquitous it is in places where it will grow.
Maypops (passionflowers), which do grow wild in some places, are another butterfly-approved perennial. If they aren’t already trying to take over your yard, they can be purchased at various online stores. Others perennials that butterflies like include lavender, echinacea, sage, yarrow, asters, and bee balm (Monarda).
Feed the Butterflies
Trees and shrubs that butterflies like such as wild black cherries, black oaks, aspens, and willows can be added to larger gardens, but might be out of reach of those with smaller yards or that strictly use containers for planting.
Gardeners might want to provide caterpillar food that includes common herbs such as mustard, fennel, bronze fennel, and dill. Just don’t be surprised if these guys strip your plants bare of everything but the stalk. It’s a good idea to make sure there is plenty for your family and for them if any of those herbs are a constant on your menu. However, according to this article, caterpillars even like some plants most people would consider weeds like nettles, thistles, and milkweed, but you might not want to plant those in the yard.
Butterflies are solar powered so it’s not surprising that they’re attracted to food sources located in sunny spots. Therefore, gardeners hoping to bring out the butterflies should make sure their new plant additions can handle a little heat. Using native specimens and following organic gardening practices are other good ways to bring these guys around for a visit. The National Wildlife Association has even more excellent tips that you can check out on their website and on this butterfly garden page.
As always, happy gardening!