Turn your backyard into your very own butterfly sanctuary.

By Jenn Sinrich
March 10, 2020
Getty / twomeows

Plants attract all sorts of insects, namely bees—but some draw butterflies, which is optimal for a flourishing garden. When a butterfly swarms a garden, it only has a few things in mind—food, shelter, sun, rest, or a host plant, says Todd MacLean, gardener and owner of Todd MacLean Outdoors in Palm Beach, Florida. "A host plant ensures that the butterfly and its caterpillar have ample amount of food to survive and thrive," he says. "To find these plants, butterflies rely on their acute sense of smell, using receptors in their antennae, feet, and tongues that detect the right host plant in a garden." In other words, when a butterfly smells the plant they love, they fly to it—it's that simple!

So, what plants should you have in your garden if you want it to be a haven for butterflies? Here's what the experts recommend.

Related: The Monarch Butterfly Is Vanishing—Here's What You Can Do to Support Conservation

Marigolds

Perhaps you've heard of the Marigold Butterfly—a type of butterfly that loves to hang around (you guessed it!) marigold flowers. "Marigolds are best when planted in masses to attract butterflies like the Marigold Butterfly," says MacLean. If you want them to live their longest, he recommends deadheading the blooms to promote new growth and blooms.

Bottlebrush Buckeye

This beautiful green-and-white shrub attracts butterflies by the dozen in midsummer when it is in full bloom, according to Janet Mavec, owner of Birdhaven Farm in New Jersey. "It is one of the best summer-flowering shrubs for shade."

Echinacea

Also known as the coneflower, this pinkish-purple bloom makes a beautiful addition to any garden. Both butterflies and bees love its sweet nectar and color, notes MacLean. "Be sure to leave some spent blooms on the plants in fall because their seeds provide winter food for finches and other birds," he adds.

Lantana

Butterflies love the color and sweet nectar smell of this perennial flowering plant. "Lantana does best in well-draining, slightly acidic soil and can tolerate full sun," MacLean says. "It can be grown in borders, mixed beds, and containers."

Zinnias

This multi-colored flower, which is most often seen in shades of cream, red, and purple, attracts butterflies thanks to their bright color and alluring smell. However, Mavec warns that butterflies do not like double zinnias; this variety makes it too hard for them to get the nectar—it becomes too much work. "It is best not to crowd zinnias as they develop powdery mildew," she adds.

Black-Eyed Susans

Butterflies flock to this North American flowering plant—specifically to their dark center, which contains about 200-300 small tubular shape flowers. For these critters, this acts as a shallow cup of nectar, says MacLean. "They prefer full sun, well drained and fertile soil and are best used as a backdrop to any pollinator garden, as they can get up to three feet tall."

Salvia

Salvia is a member of the sage family (the herb you've probably consumed in a myriad of culinary dishes). As a plant, salvia has many small brightly colored flowers that bloom in the summer and fall, says MacLean: "Both butterflies and hummingbirds adore the nectar of these small flowers."

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