Want to bring butterflies to your backyard? Butterflies need good sources of nectar, and these twelve perennials are butterfly favorites. If you plant it, they will come.
Butterfly gardens should be planted in a sunny area of your yard, because butterflies like to bask in the warmth of the sun and need to stay warm to fly. All of these perennials do well in the sun.
1. Garden Phlox (Phlox paniculata)
Garden phlox may be old school gardening, but the butterflies don’t seem to care. With clusters of fragrant flowers on tall stems, garden phlox offers nectar in summer and fall. Plant Phlox paniculata and expect visits from clouded sulphurs, European cabbage butterflies, silvery checkerspots, and all kinds of swallowtails.
2. Blanket Flower (Gaillardia)
Blanket flower is a “plant and ignore” flower. It’s drought tolerant and can handle poor soil conditions. Once established, it will push out blooms right to frost. Few butterflies will roll up their proboscises and flutter away from this one. Look for sulphurs, whites, and swallowtails once this one flowers.
3. Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa)
A few plants go by the name butterfly weed, but Asclepias tuberosa deserves the name like no others. Monarchs will be twice as happy when you plant this bright orange flower, since it is both a nectar source and a host plant for their caterpillars. Butterfly weed starts slow, but the flowers are worth the wait. Better get a field guide for this one, because you might see coppers, hairstreaks, fritillaries, swallowtails, spring azures, and of course, monarchs.
4. Goldenrod (Solidago canadensis)
Goldenrod’s gotten a bad rap for years now, simply because its yellow blooms appear at the same time as the sneeze-inducing ragweed. Don’t be fooled, though—Solidago canadensis is a worthwhile addition to your butterfly garden. Its fragrant flowers appear in summer and continue through autumn. Butterflies that nectar on goldenrod include checkered skippers, American small coppers, clouded sulphurs, pearl crescents, gray hairstreaks, monarchs, giant swallowtails, and all manner of fritillaries.
5. New England Aster (Aster novae-angiae)
Asters are the flowers you drew as a child, many-petaled blossoms with a button-like disk in the center. Any variety of aster will do, really, when it comes to attracting butterflies. New England asters are great for their prolific flowers late in the year, which coincide nicely with the monarch migration. Plant asters to see buckeyes, skippers, monarchs, painted ladies, pearl crescents, sleepy oranges, and spring azures.
6. Joe-Pye Weed (Eupatorium purpureum)
Joe-pye weed is great for the back of your garden beds, where at nearly 6 feet in height, it will tower over lesser perennials. While some gardening books list it Eupatorium as a shade-loving plant of wetland areas, it can find a way to survive just about anywhere, including a full sun butterfly garden. Another late season bloomer, Joe-pye weed is an all-purpose backyard habitat plant, attracting all kinds of butterflies, as well as bees and hummingbirds.
7. Blazing Star (Liatris spicata)
Liatris spicata goes by many names: blazing star, gayfeather, liatris, and button snakeroot. Butterflies (and bees) love it no matter what the name. With showy purple spikes of flowers and leaves that appear like clumps of grass, blazing star is an interesting addition to any perennial garden. Try adding a few white varieties (Liatris spicata ‘alba’) to a butterfly bed for more contrast. Buckeyes are frequent visitors to this perennial.
8. Tickseed (Coreopsis verticillata)
Coreopsis is one of the easiest perennials to grow, and with little effort you’ll get a reliable show of summer flowers. The variety shown here is threadleaf coreopsis, but really any coreopsis will do. Their yellow flowers call smaller butterflies, like skippers and whites.
9. Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)
If you want low maintenance gardening, purple coneflower is another great choice. Echinacea purpurea is a native prairie flower of the U.S., and a well-known medicinal plant. Large purple flowers with drooping petals make excellent landing pads for larger nectar seekers, like monarchs and swallowtails.
10. Stonecrop ‘Autumn Joy’ (Sedum ‘Herbstfreude’)
It’s not the showy, colorful perennial you picture when thinking of butterfly gardens, but you can’t keep the butterflies off the sedum. With succulent stems, sedum almost looks like a desert plan before it blooms late in the season. Sedums attract a variety of butterflies: American painted ladies, buckeyes, gray hairstreaks, monarchs, painted ladies, pearl crescents, pepper and salt skippers, silver-spotted skippers, and fritillaries.
11. Black-Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia fulgida)
Another North American native, black-eyed susans bloom from summer to frost. Rudbeckia is a prolific bloomer, which is why it’s such a popular perennial and an excellent nectar source for butterflies. Look for larger butterflies like swallowtails and monarchs on these yellow flowers.
12. Bee Balm (Monarda)
It might be obvious that a plant named bee balm would attract bees, but it’s just as good at attracting butterflies. Monarda spp. produces tufts of red, pink, or purple flowers on the tops of tall stems. Be careful where you plant it, as this member of the mint family will spread. Checkered whites, fritillaries, melissa blues, and swallowtails all visit bee balm.
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