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Attracting Butterflies to Your Garden

A butterfly on a zinnia.

Attracting butterflies to your garden is really quite simply accomplished! Butterflies need the following: a nectar source, water, and a food plant for the larva (caterpillars). Meet these needs and you will have butterflies!

  • Blooming plants provide food nectar, a sugary liquid available in most flowers for the adult butterflies.

  • Water must be very shallow. A muddy spot will do. You could also fill a saucer with gravel and water; the butterflies will land on the gravel and drink between the stones.

  • Caterpillar food consists of very specialized choices for each kind of butterfly. For example, caterpillars of the swallow tail family prefer plants in the carrot family, including fennel, dill, parsley and others. Monarchs prefer Asclepias, also known as butterfly weed.

A butterfly on a zinnia.Below is a short list of plants that are especially attractive to butterflies. These plants are easily procured and grow well in a sun/ part sun garden.


  • Zinnias
  • Pentas
  • Lantana
  • Rudbeckias (daisies)
  • Cosmos


  • Asclepias tuberosa (butterfly weed)
  • Buddleia (butterfly bush)
  • Tall garden phlox
  • Goldenrod
  • Liatris
  • Echinacea
  • Fennel (caterpillar food source)
  • Parsley (caterpillar food source)

When you are trying to attract butterflies, make every effort not to spray pesticides around them or their food source.

A butterfly on a zinnia.

Gardening Wisdom #10, 4/21/2008 © Hilltop Farm

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