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While I love to design perennial gardens to provide constant color from spring until fall, you can add even more interest, color and activity to your garden by selecting perennials that attract butterflies. Not only will you have the joy of watching them flit around your garden, you’ll be creating a habitat to preserve these winged beauties.
The keys to success is designing a butterfly garden with perennial and annual flowers that will provide blooms all season for nectar and leaves for the larval caterpillars to feed on. Also, include plants and structures to provide shelter and water.
Butterfly Attracting Plants
Butterflies are mostly attracted to bright colors such as red, orange, yellow and purple. Select full-sun loving perennials that have varieties featuring these bright colors and will bloom throughout the growing season to give your butterflies a good nectar source. For early season bloomers, Coreopsis ‘Creme Brulee’ with its large, bright yellow flowers on 20-inch tall plants, and Coreopsis ‘Route 66’ with its yellow flowers with a bright red center, are two good choices. For mid-summer bloomers, try Echinacea ‘After Midnight’ with its striking magenta-colored flowers on only 14-inch tall plants. Gaillardia ‘Trumpet Red’ has bright red flowers with a yellow center and Gaillardia ‘Commotion Moxie’ has unique tube-shaped, yellow flowers and bright orange center. Butterflies are sure not to miss these.
For late summer and fall flowers, grow some butterfly bushes. These shrubs are hardy to USDA zone 5 and consistently produce 3- to 5-foot tall and wide shrubs with flowers that butterflies adore. Regardless of the flower color, butterflies flock to these fragrant shrubs. ‘Flutterby Grande Peach Cobbler’ , ‘Flutterby Grande Blueberry Cobbler’ and ‘Flutterby Grande Vanilla’ are three new selections that add color, fragrance and, potentially, lots of adult butterflies, to your garden. Tall garden phlox are also a late summer/fall butterfly favorite. ‘Coral Flame’ and ‘Red Super’ are sure to catch your eye, and the butterflies’ attention as they soar by.
It’s not just about growing flowers with blooms and nectar for the adults to feed. The larvae (caterpillar-stage) need food, too. Grow caterpillar-loving plants nearby such as willow, black cherry, parsley, and fennel for adults to lay eggs on and the caterpillar young to feed. I even leave some milkweed growing in my meadow for the monarch butterflies to use. Don’t spray any pesticides in your butterfly garden or on host plants. In this case you want to see leaf damage. It means you have larval butterflies and the adults are not too far behind.
Your butterflies will need other features in your yard to stay around and be happy. Plant evergreen shrubs or deciduous shrubs such as lilacs close to the butterfly garden . They will use the shrubs as protection from wind and weather, a hiding place from predators, and a place to rest between feedings. Have a water source, such as a bird bath, or even a small bucket sunk in the ground filled with pebbles, sand and water, for the adults to drink from.
With a little planning and choosing colorful perennials, you’ll create a butterfly garden that will be filled with color and activity all summer long.