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Start a Butterfly Garden: 10 Plants and Flowers to Start With

Monarchs and other butterflies rely on a number of plants and flowers for survival. Create your own butterfly garden with these blooms.

Written by
Jane Smart
Published

It’s time to rethink your planting practices. From invasive species to an uptick in temperatures, modern gardens are no longer a mere opportunity for home adornment—they’re a part of our collective ecosystem.

After all, the flowers in your garden provide essential nourishment for pollinators like bees and butterflies. And with the monarch butterfly’s recent addition to the endangered species list comes an opportunity to revamp your garden to encourage their continued survival. 

Monarchs and other butterflies rely on a number of native flowers for sustenance. Unfortunately, the ravages of climate change are making these food sources scarce—which is where you come in! Like butterflies themselves, the plants that attract them are beautiful, so there's no need to sacrifice your garden's appeal.

These 10 butterfly plants and flowers will keep your garden gorgeous with the added benefit (visual and ethical) of feeding the monarchs. Use the map below as a guide to decide which of the plants in this guide will thrive in your area.

10 Butterfly Plants and Flowers for Your Butterfly Garden

1. Milkweed

Thrives In: Zones 4-9

Milkweed is an essential plant for monarchs in particular. The flower is the butterfly's host plant, meaning that it is the food source for the insect in its larval form. Monarch caterpillars eat only milkweed leaves, absorbing chemical compounds that will protect them in later life.

Whether you live along the monarch's migration corridor or simply see one from time to time, if you want to help save the iconic butterfly, planting milkweed is an easy way to help.

2. Coneflower (Echinacea)

Thrives In: Zones 3-4

Commonly known as Echinacea, coneflower is beloved by butterflies—one varietal is actually known as "Butterfly Kisses." Far from delicate, the plant thrives in full sun and harsh cold and is also drought and humidity tolerant, making it a striking and hardy perennial.

3. Lantana

Thrives In: Zones 8-11

Lantanas are heat-resistant, require little water, and are a siren song for butterflies. Fans of all things colorful will also gravitate to the lantana, as each bloom boasts an ombré palette of tiny tubular flowers. In addition to butterflies, expect bumblebees and birds, who feed on the fallen seeds.

4. Pot Marigold (Calendula)

Thrives In: Zones 2-11

Pot marigold (or calendula) is something of a superstar in a butterfly garden. Aside from making for a lovely cut-flower option, pot marigold is easy to grow, edible (just sprinkle some petals onto a salad for an extra-peppery flavor), and a food source for butterflies.

5. Black-Eyed Susan

Thrives In: Zones 3-10

Black-Eyed Susans are a great option for hot climates and provide a sturdy platform for butterflies to rest as the feed. The plants reseed readily and have the capability to tolerate dry soil for several weeks, making them a supremely sustainable choice.

6. Aster

Thrives In: Zones 3-8

Nectar can be hard to come by as summer wanes. Fortunately, asters are late-blooming, providing butterflies with essential energy late in the season and well into fall.

The purple perennial is a favorite of monarchs throughout migration—and because preserves and prairie land that house them are dwindling, planting your own patch is a huge help.

7. Sea Holly

Thrives In: Zones 4-8

Sea holly is an eye-catching option for every butterfly garden. The at-times metallic perennial plant blooms in summer and fall, does well in sandy (or generally poor) soil, and is drought tolerant. And while the flower will attract bees and butterflies, deer and rabbits have no desire to eat it.

8. Sunflower

Thrives In: Zones 4-9

The sunflower is a go-to for humans and butterflies alike. These tall, joy-inducing flowers provide seeds for us and the birds, nectar for butterflies, and ample leaves for caterpillars.

Pro-tip: Plant alongside other butterfly-attracting flowers to help prevent copious caterpillar damage.

9. Goldenrod

Thrives In: Zones 2-8

Goldenrod blooms in the fall, making it a vital option for mid-migration monarchs. As it turns out, a wide variety of essential insects rely on goldenrod. If you see it growing wild, leave it be. And if you feel compelled, plant some more!

10. Sedum

Thrives In: Zones 3-11

Another fall snack for monarchs, sedum is a must for your butterfly garden. The plant is drought tolerant and can grow upright or as ground cover, making selecting an option that's perfect for your plot an easy feat.