Butterflies are like flying flowers, adding color and movement everywhere they go. Unfortunately, these beautiful insects are in trouble. Monarch butterfly populations are dwindling due to shrinking habitat. But there is plenty that gardeners can do to help ensure the health and safety of local butterflies.
Start by adding butterfly-friendly plants in your garden. Many flowering perennials provide butterflies with the nectar they need. Other plants support butterfliews in their larval (caterpillar) stage. Monarch caterpillars, for example, eat only native milkweed.
To turn your garden into a true butterfly sanctuary, add some of the native and adapted perennials described below. Butterflies will thank you, and you’ll enjoy how easy these plants are to grow and enjoy.
Butterfly Weed and Milkweed
Native milkweed, many species of which are called butterfly weed, is a must-have in every butterfly garden. It is the host plant of the monarch butterfly, and is an important source of food for other butterflies as well. Native milkweeds are easy to grow and come in a delightful array of colors.
Asclepias tuberosa ‘Western Gold’ butterfly weed is ideal for western gardens. It can tolerate heat and drought, and the large, bright golden-orange blooms attract many different species of butterflies from miles around. This is the perfect host plant for monarch butterfly caterpillars, and its nectar feeds other butterflies. Asclepias ‘Western Gold’ plants are available at HighCountryGardens.com.
An excellent choice for wetter climates is swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), a compact perennial that’s cold hardy up to USDA zone 3. Its cherry-pink flowers with white centers emanate a sweet vanilla fragrance that attracts a wide variety of pollinators. Swamp milkweed fits perfectly in smaller garden spaces, and like all native milkweeds, is a vital host plant to the monarch caterpillar. It’s also a great garden choice because it is deer resistant. Seeds are available at AmericanMeadows.com.
Who can resist the bright yellow spikes of native goldenrod? Certainly not butterflies and other pollinators. Rich in nectar, goldenrod is a great choice for butterfly gardens. It pairs beautifully with purple-flowering shrubs and perennials and has a long bloom time, from summer into fall.
‘Wichita Mountains’ Goldenrod is a great choice for backyard gardens. This new native Solidago variety has yellow flowers that resemble bottle brushes. It is extremely heat tolerant and more drought tolerant than other goldenrod varieties. Try planting it next to ornamental grasses, purple penstemon or coneflower for a striking combination. Plants are available from High Country Gardens.
Another variety, Stiff Goldenrod, features tall, upright flowers that are a magnet for bees and butterflies. Able to reach up to 5 feet in height, it makes a bold statement when in full bloom. Widely adaptable, Stiff Goldenrod is very heat-resistant. Seeds are available at AmericanMeadows.com.
Coneflower varieties (Echinacea) are very popular choices for butterfly gardens. Featuring lush green foliage and big beautiful flowers, these summer bloomers wow butterflies and people alike. Coneflower is an easy to grow, dependable perennial that provides an abundance of beauty without asking much in return.
The classic lavender-flowered purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) is a garden favorite and a butterfly magnet. It grows 2-3 feet tall in average, well-drained soil throughout USDA zones 3-8. Seeds are available from American Meadows.
To make a bold statement, add some of the newer coneflower varieties. Echinacea ‘Sombrero Sandy Yellow’ has the familiar shape of a coneflower, except its petals are yellow. This long-blooming new variety is vigorous, and the petals hold their color even in full, bright sun. Another yellow coneflower is Echinacea paradoxa ‘Ozark Coneflower.’ Its petals are sunshine yellow with large, distinctively coneflower centers. Plant Ozark Coneflower in groups of three to dramatize their impact in the garden. Plants of both of these yellow coneflowers can be found at HighCountryGardens.com.
The bold orange flower spikes of Pineleaf Penstemon (Penstemon pinifolius) are gorgeous. Its upright habit makes it perfect for viewing the hummingbirds and butterflies that are attracted to its nectar-rich flowers. This variety is available at HighCountryGardens.com.
For a penstemon with bright red flowers, try ‘Red Riding Hood.’ Bold, cherry-red spikes are formed on compact, upright foliage and act as magnets for hummingbirds and butterflies. Plants are available at AmericanMeadows.com.
Adaptable and very easy to grow, agastache (also called hyssop) is a flowering perennial that’s famous for its fragrant foliage and cheery flowers. All hyssops are magnets for pollinators and flower profusely throughout the summer. Agastache are extremely tough—capable of handling both heat and cold. As a bonus, all hyssop are deer and rabbit resistant.
‘Glowing Embers’ is a licorice mint hyssop, which is also aptly known as “hummingbird mint.” The licorice-scented foliage and red-orange flowers are a delight, and hummingbirds and butterflies love the rich nectar. ‘Glowing Embers’ has a compact, rounded shape, and is very heat and drought tolerant once established. It also thrives in containers – perfect for a sunny deck or patio. The classic Agastache rupestris (Licorice Mint Hyssop) has smoky orange and lavender flowers that pollinators love. Agastache rupestris loves hot and sunny conditions in well-drained soil. Both of these agastache varieties are available at HighCountryGardens.com.