Several kinds of butterfly plants attract Monarch butterflies, milkweed being crucial for their survival. Other plants, such as zinnia, golden rod, bee balm, or lantana, will provide additional nutrients for adult Monarchs.
Creating a Butterfly Garden with the right plants
There are many non-native and native plants that are nectar rich, acting as a nectar source not just for butterflies but for other natural pollinators, such as hummingbirds or bees — the crucial one being milkweed.
If you want Monarch butterflies, planting milkweed is a must. Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) and swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) are a great choice. Common milkweed is a native herbaceous perennial and the only plant family serving as Monarchs’ host plant. The butterfly’s larvae feed exclusively on milkweed leaves.
These plants grow quickly and abundantly, so plant them about 18 inches apart. Know that this flower produces milkweed seed pods that split when ripe and scatter around. Since containing the milkweed might be your main concern, you want to remove these seeds before they are ripe.
Common milkweed likes full sun and grows best in an open area. As with many other plants, well-drained soil gives optimal results and helps prevent rot. Luckily, common milkweed tolerates rocky conditions and infertile soil. Overwatering can lead to the development of lethal fungi. There’s no need to fertilize milkweed plants.
2. Butterfly Weed (Asclepias Tuberosa)
This is a type of milkweed; therefore, a must if you wish to attract Monarch butterflies. Still, it’s slow to start and may take a few years to bloom. Once it does, its bright orange flowers will provide enough nectar and pollen for the butterflies.
You can plant it from seeds directly in the garden, which doesn’t require much care. This plant likes sandy, dry soil and dry conditions. Full sun area is the best choice, together with neutral to slightly acidic pH level soil. It will thrive in zones 3 to 9 and does not require additional fertilization.
Being another kind of milkweed, butterfly weed produces large seed pods that disperse on the wind. Make sure to break those off to prevent plant invasiveness.
3. Butterfly Bush
The butterfly bush is a deciduous shrub with wonderful flowers in various colors. This plant is easy to grow and requires minimal care. It’s known to thrive even in polluted urban areas. Ensure medium moisture and a full sun location. A pH level from 6.0 to 7.0 is ideal.
Still, this plant is considered invasive, a non-native species that pushes out native plants. Check with your local agricultural extension office if you’re unsure about planting it. Zones 5 to 9 are ideal for planting it.
4. Blood Flower (Mexican Butterfly Weed)
Bloodflower (Asclepias curassavica) is native to the Caribbean and Central and South America. It’s one of the most beautiful varieties of milkweed, with gorgeous orange, yellow, and red flowers. Blood flower is easily grown from seed and is a popular choice for butterfly gardens.
This is a low-maintenance plant that remains evergreen in zones 9 to 11. It likes well-drained soil and a full sun location but can tolerate shady areas of your garden. Remember to water it occasionally to keep the consistent moisture.
Unfortunately, this flower brings up several warnings. Recent research has shown that blood flowers can be a host for Ophryocytis elektroscirrha, a parasite that weakens the Monarch butterfly populations. Additionally, it may harm the butterfly’s migration pattern, as many prefer to stay and feed on the plant rather than migrate. Luckily, you can follow plenty of pruning instructions to ensure the safety of Monarch butterflies.
5. Zinnia Flowers
Zinnias are super easy to grow, as they bloom quickly and heavily. These flowers produce blooms until the first frost occurs. Zinnias are annual plants, so they’ll only grow and produce seeds for one year. If you want them growing the following year, you have to plant them again.
Luckily, Zinnias can be started from seed indoors and then be transplanted while they’re young. They like full sun areas of up to 8 hours of sunlight and are adaptable to most soil conditions, but the ideal pH should range from 5.5 and 7.5. If you add humus, expect quicker growth.
These flowers are sensitive to frost, so check your local frost dates to see when the cold days will pass. The temperature should be at least 60°F (16°C) for the plants to grow.
6. Miss Molly Bush
Miss Molly bush is a unique butterfly bush and a perfect addition to any summer garden. It’s fragrant and attracts both butterflies and hummingbirds. It’s a non-invasive plant with an impressive bloom that lasts for several months until late fall.
Plant it in full sun or an area with at least 6 hours of sunlight. Plan for good soil drainage, as its roots are sensitive to rot. Don’t plant this flower in the fall — spring and mid-summer give better results.
7. The Mexican Sunflower
Mexican sunflowers are daily-like, orange or yellow, with yellow centers. Its blooms last until fall. What’s more, this plant is great for beginner gardeners — it doesn’t need much care after it starts growing.
Plus, their nectar-rich shallow flowers provide enough food resources to satisfy pollinators, which is why this plant is great for a butterfly garden.
Plant the Mexican sunflowers in full sun, as light and warmth are crucial for their growth. Good drainage is important, but these flowers don’t require too many supplemental fertilizers. Add some sand and rocks to help the drainage and avoid root rot. Still, average air humidity is best.
8. May Night Salvia
May night salvia plants are known for their purple flowers. They’re suitable for all climates, low maintenance, and are disease-free. This salvia will start to bloom in late May. While it attracts butterflies, bumblebees, and honey bees, it has a strong smell that deters deer, rabbits, and similar creatures.
Full sun is a must, and well-drained soil guarantees a healthy plant. The USDA planting zones 4-8 are ideal for growing this plant. Plus, they require little fertilizer.
9. Blue Porterweed
Blue porter weed (Stachytarpheta jamaicensis) is a wildflower typically found in disturbed areas. It flowers during summer (year-round in Florida) and is a great addition to the butterfly garden. This flower is a host plant for Tropical buckeye and a nectar source for:
- Clouded skipper
- Gulf fritillary
- Red admiral
Humans can also use this plant. You can eat raw flowers or use the flower spikes as a spice for soups. Luckily, this plant is drought tolerant and handles poor soil, so you shouldn’t have issues with it.
There are over 100 species of goldenrod flowers, and about 8 are cultivated as perennial garden plants. They’re tall and slim, with fluffy golden flowers and spikes in various shades of yellow. These will bloom in late summer/fall.
You can plant it from seeds, or a potted nursery starts in the fall or spring. In just a few months, you will have a full-size plant that requires little maintenance, a sunny location, and a little watering. Remember that many species are aggressive spreaders that can quickly take over a garden.
Lantana is known for round clusters of tiny, brightly colored flowers that come in yellow, orange, pink, red, blue, or purple. This plant often has a mix of two colors in one cluster. They’re evergreen and classified as shrubs.
Lantanas like full sun but may tolerate some afternoon shade. It requires well-drained soil with a neutral pH. If you notice the blooming has stopped, water it more. Adding one fertilizer in the early spring should be enough.
This is another plant considered invasive in several US states, including Arizona and Florida. If you’re uncertain whether you should plant it, consult your local extension office.
12. Black-eyed Susan
The black-eyed Susan vine is easy to care for. Plant it in rich, well-drained soil in a sunny area. Give it some structure to cling to, and the vines will tangle themselves around it. You will get blooms in May.
This plant doesn’t like sitting in soggy soil, but it also doesn’t like it to be dry. Use mulch around it to keep to soil moderately moist and cool the roots. If you live in plant hardiness zones 10 or 1, check with local authorities on whether you’re allowed to plant this vine, as it’s considered invasive.
13. Purple Coneflower (Echinacea)
Purple coneflower will grow in USDA hardiness zones 3 to 9 and may take a couple of years to produce blooms. You can plant it from seeds or grow them via stem cutting, but with less success. Full sun is a must; this plant will grow best in neutral pH soil. However, ensure the soil is not mucky and add a bit of compost to the mixture when planting.
Even though they’re listed as drought-tolerant, these plants will do much better with regular watering. Go with daily just after planting, and later give them 1 inch of water weekly. Purple coneflower will thrive in hot and dry climates but will manage slight humidity fluctuations. Avoid too much supplemental fertilizer.
Asters are great flowers with a blue or purple daisy-like appearance. You can grow them from seeds, but it may take several years to grow fully. Plant in the full sun, as too much shade can cause fewer flowers.
Give it a loamy, slightly acidic soil with a pH of 5.8 to 6.5. Water it until it’s done with blooming, but keep the soil moist, not saturated. Asters like cooler temperatures and can manage near-freezing temperatures.
This is a slow-growing plant and may take up to 3 weeks to get started from seeds. It likes soggy, clay-type soil that’s not too fertilized. Plant it in partial shade, but give it full sun if you want more blooms.
This is another plant that’s beneficial for people. It can be used as a homeopathic medicine to relieve pain in muscles and limbs. It also helps reduce fever and soreness in the chest.
16. Bee Balm
Bee balm is another lovely plant that will attract butterflies and hummingbirds to your garden. It loves full sun to partial shade and grows best in moist soil. These plants will spread aggressively, so you must take care of the spread.
Bee balm likes hot, dry climates and rich and moist soil, with a pH of 6.0 to 7.0. Maintain the right watering frequency in the first year after planting. A standard practice of 1 inch of water per week will work well.
Liatris is a long-blooming perennial wildflower native to eastern North America. It belongs to the aster family of plants but has unusual blossoms. You can plant this flower from potted nursery starts or root structures.
Liatris requires little care. Plant it in full sun, as these prairie plants love warmth and light. Luckily, it will grow in any soil, but quick drainage is essential to prevent root rot. Water them well after planting and provide an additional 1 inch weekly during hot months. Liatris needs more water in its first year.
18. Joe Pye Weed
This plant is a late-blooming wildflower native to eastern and central North America. Its range extends to the Great Plains. Joe Pye weed is another low-maintenance plant with fragrant blooms. However, it needs enough space for its height and spread. These plants love well-watered soil, so make sure you water them enough.
Joe Pye weed will grow best in full sun and partial shade, yet too much shade can cause diseases. It tolerates different soil conditions and almost all pH levels. Slow-release granule fertilizer in the spring can help new growths.
What to pay attention to
There are some things to keep in mind. Some of these nectar plants are so powerful they’ll keep the butterflies around even during fall migration. This can harm their behavior and life cycle. Some are also on the list of invasive plants, so you’re legally not allowed to plant them.
Then, you should pay attention to what the plants need. Most of the plants that attract butterflies like full sun, and their bloom lasts for months, yet some will require soggy soil that isn’t suitable for other plants.
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Mileva is a friendly butterfly and nature lover. She enjoys spending time outdoors and getting to know different types of insects, animals and plants. She’s always curious and learning new things, and she shares her love of nature on Butterfly Hobbyist.