How to Attract Butterflies to Your Yard | Midwest Living

How to Attract Butterflies to Your Yard

Create an inviting habitat for butterflies with careful plant selection and placement.

Invite butterflies

Monarchs, swallowtails and many other winged beauties call Midwest gardens home. To learn how to make your yard more inviting, read on about the plant that provide nectar for adult butterflies or leaves for caterpillars.

Location and protection

Butterflies are cold blooded so need lots sunshine to keep warm. Luckily, the flowers they dine on love the sun as much as they do. Plant your butterfly magnets in a spot protected from the wind that gets at least six hours of sun a day. Add a rock or two for a perch. A large saucer for sips is a nice touch. And don't use pesticides: They can't distinguish between butterflies and pests.

A profusion of blooms

Whether you fill a couple of pots or a whole bed, big clumps of color are what attract butterflies. Plant groups of five or more of a variety rather than a single plant. Here, drifts of sunflowers, black-eyed Susans, globe thistle and phlox make for a brilliant beacon to butterflies.

Serve a buffet

Butterflies have different length proboscises (tongues) that determine which flowers they can feed from. To attract many kinds of fluttering friends, plant a variety of flowers. The bed pictured here includes phlox, coneflowers, goldenrod, milkweed, bee balm and the ornamental grass Prairie dropseed.

Feed the babies

Baby butterflies--aka caterpillars--tend to be picky eaters, so indulge their needs by growing plants they love. Don't worry about the damage to plants hungry caterpillars cause, just hide it behind taller plants, such as Joe-Pye weed, where adults will sip.

The following plants should attract and satisfy the caterpillars of some of our Midwest varieties:
Dill, parsley (pictured) Black Swallowtail
Hops commas
Milkweed Monarch
Pawpaw Zebra Swallowtail
Snapdragon Common Buckeye
Violets Great Spangled Fritillary
Wild senna Cloudless Sulfur
Willow Mourning Cloak, Viceroy
Wormwood American Lady

Season-long blooms

The trick to getting repeat customers is to plant species that bloom at different, yet overlapping, times through the growing season. Planting perennials means the butterfly buffet returns year after year with little effort on your part. Click ahead to read our recommendations.

Spring blooms

Put the welcome mat out for butterflies by planting some of these:
Blackhaw viburnum
Dame's rocket
Lilac (pictured)
Wild plum

Summer blooms

Keep them coming with these:
Butterfly bush (Buddleia)
Buttonbush (Cephalanthus)
Bee balm (Monarda)
Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)
Blanket flower (Gaillardia)
Blazing star (Liatris)
Lanceleaf coreopsis
Leadplant (Amorpha)
Milkweed (Asclepias)
New Jersey tea (Ceanothus)
Prairie clover (Petalostemum)
Purple coneflower (Echinacea; pictured)

Fall blooms

This group of plants is especially important because they provide nectar when many gardens are running low on blooms.

Coreopsis verticillata 'Zagreb'
Cushion spurge (Euphorbia polychroma)
Goldenrod and dwarf goldenrod (Solidago canadensis 'Baby Gold')
Ironweed (Vernonia noveboracensis)
Joe-Pye weed (Eupatorium; pictured)
Pale-leaf sunflower (Helianthus strumosus) Scabiosa
Sedum 'Autumn Fire'
Sneezeweed (Helenium)
Steeplebush (Spiraea tomentosa)
Sweet black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia subtomentosa)


Chose varieties so there are blooms from spring to frost to cover any gaps in perennial bloom times.
Mexican sunflower (Tithonia)
Zinnias (pictured)

More Midwest gardening tips

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