Your goal when planning landscaping around your home probably isn’t for the sole purpose of having a butterfly garden, but butterfly gardening may be something to consider. Perennials that attract caterpillars and other essential pollinators like bees and hummingbirds to your garden and make it a healthier environment.
Different butterfly species like the buckeye, checkerspot, and mourning cloak butterflies all have different tastes. If you long to attract butterflies, learning what plants they prefer to eat and lay eggs on is the first step to success.
Imagine the beauty of your garden when it fills with flowering perennials and butterflies of various shapes, sizes, and colors flying around.
- Flowering Plants for a Butterfly Garden
- Infamous Perennials that Attract Caterpillars – Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)-
- New England Aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae)
- Spicebush (Lindera benzoin)
- Mallow (Malva sylvestris) – A Perennial Butterflies Love
- Nettle (Urtica dioica)
- Butterfly Bush (Buddleja davidii)
- A Low Maintenance Perennial: Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa)
- Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)
Flowering Plants for a Butterfly Garden
The best butterfly gardens are those that appeal to every life stage of the butterfly, from egg to larvae, to chrysalis and adult. Caterpillars are hatched on and eat host plants, while nectar plants are the food source for adult butterflies. Each butterfly species has its preferred nectar sources they like to ingest.
Some caterpillars are picky and only eat one type of plant, so it’s crucial to do a little research if you have a particular critter in mind. If you choose the right plant, you catch adult females fluttering around, finding the perfect spot under the leaves to lay eggs.
After ten to 14 days, tiny larvae appear and begin feasting on the plant where they hatched. The caterpillar leaves the plant and forms a chrysalis where they begin their transformation into adulthood.
Infamous Perennials that Attract Caterpillars – Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)-
Milkweed is a monarch butterfly favorite and their sole food source, but the viceroy butterfly also enjoys consuming it. Milkweed plants grow two to three feet tall. The purple-tinted flowers bloom in the summer and look similar to lilac blooms.
Milkweed grows in dry or loamy soil that is well-draining. It doesn’t require water unless in a drought, and it self-seeds. Keep an eye out for yellow, black, and white striped caterpillars munching on the leaves and watch them grow into adults.
New England Aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae)
New England Asters have colorful fall flowers that bloom until the first frost. Once established, they are low maintenance and fill the air around your home with pleasant aromas. The gulf fritillary species loves to feed on this host plant.
Divide and fertilize New England asters in the fall and cut them back as far as you’d like in the early spring. Taller types of these flowers to attract butterflies reach up to five feet tall and may require staking. If planted in optimal conditions, they self-seed as well.
Spicebush (Lindera benzoin)
Spicebushes are aromatic shrubs that typically grow in forests, valleys, and swampy woodlands. Spicebush is hardy in zones four through nine. It reaches six to 12 feet tall and has emerald green leaves that turn bright yellow during autumn.
It only makes sense that the spicebush also attracts the spicebush swallowtail species. Plant spicebush in moist, well-draining soil.
This plant prefers full sunlight but also tolerates partial shade. Fertilize the plant every spring and prune after flowering to your desired shape and size.
Mallow (Malva sylvestris) – A Perennial Butterflies Love
Mallow is a host plant to the painted lady and hairstreak butterfly species. These are native plants to Europe but are also common in the United States and Canada. They are short-lived perennials but reseed themselves. Painted lady larvae have a bluish tint and lay on top of the leaves.
Mallow prefers full sun or partial shade and is tolerant of a variety of soil types as long as it has adequate drainage. Add compost to the ground when planting to promote more growth.
Nettle (Urtica dioica)
Stinging nettle plants are fascinating. Not only does the red admiral species feed on these annuals for beneficial insects, but they have been used to treat eczema, gout, joint pain, and anemia for centuries. It’s also edible. Nettle has light green leaves and stems covered in tiny hollow hairs.
Except for Hawaii, nettles grow in every state in the United States. They are exceptionally hardy and require plenty of room to grow. These plants like full sun or partial shade and tolerate any well-draining soil.
Butterfly Bush (Buddleja davidii)
The butterfly bush is a nectar plant for numerous butterfly species and a host plant for the tiger swallowtail. These are also flowers for birds like the hummingbird. They have long, tubular clusters of small flowers that bloom in the spring and summer.
The evergreen foliage keeps the plant looking beautiful while the flowers aren’t blooming. Plant a butterfly bush in a partly shaded or sunny area and well-drained soil.
Overwatering this plant causes root rot, so be careful. Butterfly bushes grow up to 12 feet high and 15 feet wide but tolerate extreme pruning if you desire it in a smaller size.
A Low Maintenance Perennial: Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa)
Gulf fritillary butterflies love butterfly weed. Some of its other names include Indian paintbrush, yellow milkweed, and orange milkweed. Ladybugs, beetles, and bees visit it as well.
The root of butterfly weed used to be brewed into a tea to treat upset stomachs. Butterfly weed has blooms of orange clusters and glossy leaves. This bright perennial grows up to two feet tall and self-seeds.
Keep it well watered throughout the first growing season, and it becomes very low maintenance after that. Hollyhock is another low maintenance perennial that tons of caterpillars, butterflies, and insects love.
Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)
Even if you intend to eat fennel yourself, you might catch black swallowtails paying a visit to these plants for bees and other flyers as well. Fennel plants are herbaceous perennials that attract caterpillars. They grow erect, hollow stems with feathery foliage.
Plant fennel in a sunny location toward the back of a well-draining flower bed. The foliage makes a stunning backdrop for other flowers. It prefers acidic soil and fertilization each year. Harvest the seeds as the flower heads fade so you can grow these annuals for butterflies next year.
Planting perennials that attract caterpillars is a great way to keep your garden healthy and welcome wildlife into your yard. The one downside to hosting caterpillars is that they eat the leaves of your plants, making them look less than ideal.
If you’re not interested in having caterpillars around your home, planting a coneflower, verbena, or a thistle plant attracts butterflies without them laying eggs. These perennials fill your property with pleasant smells, interesting textures, and loads of vibrant colors.
If you plan on planting some perennials that attract caterpillars in your flower beds, share these caterpillar host plants on Facebook and Pinterest.