• Our favorite butterfly plants

    by  • June 8, 2018 • Sierra Foothills

    Wow! Butterflies love these plants!

    Grow any of these for instant results and each is matched with the perfect plant combinations for color and growing conditions. Many are easy to grow from seed!

    Butterfly bush, or Buddleia means instant butterflies,...really!

    Butterfly bush, or Buddleia means instant butterflies,…really!

    Butterfly Bush, Buddleia

    Butterfly bush is a full sized bush, 8-10′ tall, that’s covered in butterflies all summer long. An easy-care shrub, it has fragrant flowers in shades of blue, purple, and white. Look for ‘Royal Red,’ a purple with a red ‘eye.’ It’s especially beautiful with rich dimensional color.

    Here’s a hint: At the end of the season, prune it back to about 2 feet. Since it never loses old blossoms, you have a brand new bush each Spring. Grow it with: Mexican sunflower; this annual’s bold orange flowers look great against just about any butterfly bush.

     

    Phlox

    Phlox bears beautiful clusters of red, pink, lavender, salmon, or white blooms throughout the summer. Their lovely scent delights our noses as much as their nectar delights hungry butterflies.

    Grow it with: Purple coneflower — the two plants thrive in the same growing conditions and visually complement each other.

    Anise Hyssop, Agastache

    There are lots of reasons to grow anise hyssop: It’s super heat and drought tolerant, deer and rabbits leave it alone, it blooms for weeks in late summer, and butterflies love it. Plus it’s a great cut flower. Grow it with: Black-eyed Susan for a dazzling blue-and-yellow combo of easy-care plants.

     

    Butterfly Weed, Asclepias tuberosa

    Grow a butterfly weed and you’re sure to have Monarchs!  The adults drink nectar from the plant’s summertime orange flowers, and the caterpillars eat the plant’s leaves.

    Here’s a hint: Add variety to your garden with other milkweeds, such as annual bloodflower or tall swamp milkweed.  Grow it with: Liatris, another long-blooming perennial that Monarch butterflies love to visit.

     

    Aster dumosus 'Prof. Kippenberg' attracts honey bees as well!

    Aster dumosus ‘Prof. Kippenberg’ attracts honey bees as well!

    Aster

    A top plant for the fall garden, aster is a heavy bloomer with colorful flowers in shades of blue, purple, pink, red, and white. Aster does double duty: The blossoms supply nectar for fall butterflies, and Pearl Crescent caterpillars feed on the plant’s leaves.  Grow it with: True geranium — this spring- and summer-blooming perennial develops bright red fall foliage that looks great with colorful aster flowers. Here’s a hint: Look for newer named varieties of asters; they’re often more disease resistant and compact. The taller varieties can become invasive in our area if given too much water.

     

    Purple Coneflower, Echinacea

    There are lots of reasons to grow purple coneflower if you have a sunny spot. A wide range of butterflies love sipping its nectar; the plant is very heat and drought tolerant, it’s a perfect cut flower, and it blooms almost all summer long. Grow it with: Anise hyssop for a combo that will give you pretty bouquets and tons of butterflies for weeks in summer.

     

    Jane Krauter's Salvia, planted for hummingbirds

    Jane Krauter’s Salvia, planted for hummingbirds, also attracts swallowtails

    Salvia, sage

    There’s a salvia or sage for every garden: some are tall, others are short. Some have blue or purple blooms, and others have red, orange, or pink flowers. While you might have trouble picking a salvia, the butterflies won’t — they’ll reliably flock to it every summer.  Grow it with: Coreopsis for a long-blooming, no-fail blue-and-yellow combination.

    Lantana

    Colorful lantana blooms all summer long in glowing shades of lavender, pink, red, orange, yellow, cream, and white. The versatile plant looks perfect in containers or beds and borders. The butterflies will agree — lantana is a perfect addition to your garden. Grow it with: Zinnia; the two look beautiful together and will lure an endless stream of butterflies to your garden.

    Pentas

    An all-around garden champion, pentas bears clusters of star-shaped blooms in bright shades of pink, red, and white. It loves hot conditions, holds up to drought pretty well, and is a sure bet for attracting butterflies and hummingbirds in need of a snack.  Grow it with: Angelonia for an easy-growing combo that looks smashing all season.

    Passionflower, Passiflora incarnata

    Passionflower, Passiflora incarnata

    Passionflower, Passiflora incarnata

    Hardy passionflower is one of the most exotic vines you can grow. It’s also one of the best for butterflies as a variety of them drink its nectar. It’s a host plant for several types of butterflies, as well.  Grow it with: Black-eyed Susan vine for a charming blue-and-yellow combo of quick-growing vines.

    Mexican Sunflower, Tithonia rotundifolia

    This plant is big and bold — and perfect for butterflies. Enjoy this easy-care annual’s nonstop display of big orange flowers all summer long.  Grow it with: South American verbena, Verbena bonariensis,…the plants look amazing together and like the same growing conditions.  Easy to grow from seed.

     

    South American Verbena, Verbena bonariensis, shown here with Mule's ears.

    South American Verbena, Verbena bonariensis, shown here with Mule’s ears

    South American Verbena, Verbena bonariensis

    This plant is a perfect cut flower — but don’t worry about using it in bouquets. The more you cut, the more it blooms, so there will always be a supply of the lavender-purple blooms for butterflies to enjoy, too.  Grow it with: Yarrow, which has flat clusters of blooms in a rainbow of shades. Like South American verbena, it’s heat and drought resistant, so it’s a cinch to grow.

    Zinnias are easy for containers, and can be grown easily from seed!

    Zinnias are easy for containers, and can be grown easily from seed!

    Zinnia

    Just about everyone loves zinnia, which is why it’s a favorite of butterfly gardeners, cottage gardeners, and beginning gardeners. It blooms in an almost endless range of colors and looks great all summer long.  Grow it with: Fennel, which has a ferny texture that looks perfect against the bold zinnia blooms.  Easy to grow from seed.

    Joe-Pye Weed for a butterfly garden

    Joe-Pye Weed for a butterfly garden

    Joe Pye Weed, Eupatorium

    Create towers of flowers with big Joe Pye weed, which can grow more than 6 feet tall. If you don’t have that much room, don’t worry — types such as ‘Little Joe’ stay smaller. Either way, both you and the butterflies will love the big clusters of dusty-pink flowers that appear from midsummer to fall.  Grow it with: South American verbena for an easy-care combination no butterfly can resist.

    Black-eyed Susans, or Rudbeckia hirta shown here. There are many varieties and all attract butterflies!

    Black-eyed Susans, or Rudbeckia hirta shown here. There are many varieties and all attract butterflies!

    Black-Eyed Susan, Rudbeckia

    Black-eyed Susan is just as perfect for bouquets as it is for butterflies. This tough perennial blooms in late summer with big, yellow, daisy-shaped flowers.  Grow it with: Purple coneflower for a classic prairie-style combination. Easy to grow from seed.

    Fennel

    Bronze fennel is a great plant for adding texture to the garden. It’s also a surefire way to attract Swallowtail butterflies, whose caterpillars munch on the fennel’s ferny foliage.

    Here’s a hint: Fennel can self-seed aggressively in the garden; keep it under control by cutting off most of the flowers as they fade. Leave a few flowers to produce seed to keep the plant coming back in your yard.

    Airy Coreopsis tinctoria or Plains Coreopsis, easy from seed...

    Airy Coreopsis tinctoria or Plains Coreopsis, easy from seed…

    Coreopsis

    This award-winning perennial will reward you — and the butterflies — with little yellow flowers over rich green, ferny foliage for much of the summer.

    Here’s a hint: Shear the plant back with hedge clippers after a flush of blooms start to fade; it’ll spring back and bloom again. Easy to grow from seed.

    Coreopsis 'Jethro Tull'

    Coreopsis ‘Jethro Tull’

    Many of these plants are easy, easy to grow,..many from seed and as a bonus, they also attract other pollenizers like honey bees!  Joy!

    About

    Sue Langley, a passionate gardener and photographer lives and gardens with her husband and Corgi, Maggie on 7 acres just south of Yosemite, Zone 7 at 3000 feet. She also manages the Flea Market Gardening Facebook page and website.