Because butterflies need a mix of host and nectar plants to survive, butterfly gardens also provide a wonderful cornucopia of beauty for the gardener. Annuals, perennials, trees, and shrubs that flower at different times of the year are the best choices. While butterflies are particular about the host plant species their caterpillars will feed on, they are less choosy about the nectar plants they feed on as adults.
The best location for a butterfly garden is an open sunny space. Placing trees and shrubs on the outskirts of the garden (without shading much of the garden) provides a welcomed butterfly escape or shelter from high winds and storms. Here is a list of great plants for butterflies, which provide a range of sizes and flower colors as well host and nectar plant options. A butterfly garden is the perfect type of garden for you to be creative and do what works for you. If you have food and shelter for the butterflies, they will be happy.
1. Dutchman’s pipevine ( Aristolochia macrophylla , Zones 4–8): Pipevine swallowtail host plant
2. Tropical milkweeds ( Asclepias curassavica and cvs., Zones 8–11): Monarch host plant
3. Pawpaws ( Asimina triloba and cvs., Zones 5–9): Zebra swallowtail host plant
4. Redtwig dogwoods ( Cornus serica and cvs., Zones 3–8): Spring azure host plant
5. Bronze fennels ( Foeniculum vulgare and cvs., Zones 4–9): Eastern black swallowtail host plant
6. Tulip trees ( Liriodendron tulipifera and cvs., Zones 4–9): Eastern tiger swallowtail host plant
7. Parsleys ( Petroselinum crispum and cvs., Zones 5–9, grown as annual): Eastern black swallowtail host plant
8. Garden rues ( Ruta graveolens and cvs., Zones 4–10): Eastern black swallowtail and giant swallowtail host plant
9. Calendulas ( Calendula officinalis and cvs., annual): Blooms in spring and fall
10. Stonecrops ( Hylotelephium , Petrosedum , Phedimus , and Sedum spp. and cvs., Zones 3–11): Blooms in late summer to fall
11. Lantanas ( Lantana spp. and cvs., Zones 7–11): Blooms in summer to fall
12. Blazing stars ( Liatris spp. and cvs., Zones 3–9): Blooms in summer
13. Alyssums ( Lobularia maritima and cvs., annual): Blooms in spring and fall
14. Bee balms ( Monarda spp. and cvs., Zones 3–9): Blooms in late spring to summer
15. Pentas ( Pentas lanceolata and cvs., Zones 10–11): Blooms in summer
16. Black-eyed Susans ( Rudbeckia spp. and cvs., Zones 3–9): Blooms is summer to fall
17. Goldenrods ( Solidago spp. and cvs., Zones 2–8): Blooms in summer to fall
18. Asters ( Symphyotrichum and Eurybia spp. and cvs., Zones 3–8): Blooms in fall
19. Marigolds ( Tagetes spp. and cvs., Zones 2–11): Blooms in summer to fall
20. Zinnias ( Zinnia spp. and cvs., annual): Blooms in summer to fall
Eric Perrette is a lead horticulturist at Powell Gardens in Kingsville, Missouri, and has expertise in native butterflies and their habitats.
Learn more about plants for butterflies and pollinators: