Attracting Butterflies

Published On: March 27th, 2020

attracting butterflies to your garden yard zannah crowe

Attracting Butterflies

Everyone loves butterflies and attracting butterflies is ever popular. However, a surprising number of people loathe baby butterflies (i.e. caterpillars). We can’t have one without the other!

By selecting plants that are favored as both nectar sources for adults (butterflies) as well as food sources for “babies” (caterpillars) you can create an oasis for these delightful creatures in even the smallest urban space.

Here are some ways we can help butterflies:

  • Provide host plants for caterpillars. See the list below.
  • Minimize the use of pesticides. It is possible to control destructive pest insects while still preserving our butterflies and beneficial insects by carefully timing and targeting your pesticide applications and opting for organic control options. Start by reading our article on Insect, Disease & Weed Control, then let our knowledgeable staff help you select the appropriate treatment for your garden insect pests.
  • Plant for a season-long bloom for adult butterflies that feed on flower nectar. Try to plan for a sequence of blooms to provide for your winged visitors throughout the season. Late and early season nectar sources can be the most valuable since at either end of the growing season nectar sources may be more difficult to find. See the list below.
  • Provide a small moist/wet sand or soil area for butterflies. Adult male butterflies exhibit a behavior called puddling, in which they gather – sometimes in large numbers – on muddy soil or wet sand. While this behavior is not entirely understood it is believed that the butterflies are utilizing the minerals in the wet soil in some way that benefits successful reproduction.

Following is a list of some of the plants for attracting butterflies (both immature & adult):

Nectar Sources for Attracting Adult Butterflies

Plants marked with an *asterisk are plants rated by Stokes Nature Guides as Top Ten Nectar Source.

Perennials for Attracting Butterflies

  • Yarrow (Achillea)
  • Ornamental Onion (Allium)
  • Milkweed/Butterflyweed (*Asclepias)
  • *Aster
  • Butterfly Bush (Buddleia)
  • Coreopsis
  • Purple Coneflower (Echinacea)
  • Joe Pye Weed (*Eupatorium)
  • Blanket Flower (Gaillardia)
  • Daylily (Hemerocallis)
  • Gayfeather/Blazing Star (*Liatris)
  • Lily
  • Lobelia
  • Beebalm (Monarda)
  • Catmint (Nepeta)
  • Beardtongue (Penstemon)
  • Phlox
  • Obedient Plant (Physostegia)
  • Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum)
  • *Rudbeckia
  • Sedum
  • Cup Plant / Compass Plant / Rosin Weed (Silphium)
  • Goldenrod (Solidago)
  • Ironweed (Vernonia)

Annuals for Attracting Butterflies

  • Floss Flower (Ageratum)
  • Cosmos
  • *Lantana
  • *Pentas
  • Marigold
  • Mexican Sunflower (Tithonia)
  • Nicotiana
  • Petunia
  • Verbena
  • Zinnia

Trees & Shrubs for Attracting Butterflies

  • Maple (Acer)
  • Birch (Betula)
  • Butterfly Bush (Buddleia)
  • Button Bush (Cephalanthus)
  • Dogwood (Cornus)
  • Deutzia (Deutzia)
  • Bush Honeysuckle (Diervilla)
  • Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus)
  • Ninebark (Physocarpus)
  • Plums, Cherries (Prunus)
  • Sumac (Rhus)
  • Spirea (Spiraea)
  • Lilac (Syringa)
  • Viburnum
  • Weigela

Food Plants for Attracting Caterpillars


  • Milkweed/Butterflyweed (Asclepias)
  • Aster
  • False Indigo (Baptisia)
  • Wild Senna (Cassia)
  • Turtlehead (Chelone)
  • Hops Vine (Humulus)
  • Lupine
  • Malva
  • Mint
  • Sedum


  • Beans
  • Cabbage
  • Carrot
  • Cleome
  • Dill
  • Fennel
  • Nasturtium
  • Parsley
  • Peas
  • Violets/ Pansies

Trees & Shrubs

  • Birch (Betula)
  • Hawthorn (Crataegus)
  • Aspen (Populus)
  • Cherry (Prunus)
  • Willow (Salix)
  • Lilac (Syringa)