These 20 Plants Make Your Garden Irresistible To Butterflies

Butterfly on butterfly bush in a lush garden

Butterflies are not just beautiful to look at, but they’re also important pollinators for our gardens. By planting flowers that attract butterflies, you can create a vibrant and healthy ecosystem in your backyard.

The butterfly-friendly plants on this list were chosen specifically for their irresistible qualities to butterflies. First and foremost, they all offer a delicious feast—nectar. Many have open, flat flower heads or tubular shapes that allow butterflies easy access to this sugary fuel. The vibrant colors, like reds, oranges, yellows, purples, and pinks, are particularly attractive to butterfly vision, making these blooms hard to miss.

Additionally, these butterfly plants come in a variety of bloom times, ensuring a constant nectar source throughout the growing season, from spring’s early arrivals to the last late bloomers of fall. Finally, most of these selections are low-maintenance and easy to care for, so you can spend less time fussing and more time enjoying the beautiful butterflies flitting through your garden.

Here are 20 of the most promising plants to attract butterflies and other pollinators.

1. Anise Hyssop

Anise Hyssop - butterfly plants
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Anise hyssop has fragrant, lavender-colored flowers that butterflies love. The strong anise scent is particularly attractive to swallowtails and skippers.

It’s a low-maintenance perennial that blooms all summer long. It thrives under full sun and tolerates partial shade, especially in hotter climates, but you might see fewer flowers. Anise hyssop is not picky about soil type as long as it drains well. Sandy loam or well-amended clay are both suitable. Once established, it tolerates drought well.

2. Aster

Aster - - butterfly plants
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Asters come in a wide variety of colors, including pink, purple, and white. Their daisy-like flowers with prominent central discs provide a valuable source of nectar for butterflies in late summer and fall when many other flowers have faded. Monarch butterflies are particularly fond of asters.

Place asters in full sun to part shade with average moisture. Depending on the variety, asters can be short-lived perennials, perennials, or biennials. Research the specific needs of your chosen variety.

3. Bee Balm

Bee Balm - butterfly plants
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Bee balm, also known as bergamot, is a favorite of hummingbirds and butterflies alike. Its fragrant, tubular flowers come in shades of red, pink, purple, and white. Bee balm loves full sun to partial shade in slightly moist soil. Deadhead spent flowers to encourage continuous bloom.

Bee balm is a member of the mint family and can be quite aggressive spreaders. Planting them in containers or using a root barrier can help control their spread. Bee balm is generally pest- and disease-resistant, making it a low-maintenance butterfly attractor.

4. Black-Eyed Susan

black eyed susan - butterfly plants
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Black-eyed Susan is a cheerful daisy-like flower with a dark brown center. It is a favorite among many butterfly species, including monarchs, skippers, and swallowtails. It’s a tough and easy-to-grow plant that blooms from midsummer to fall. It also prefers full sun and thrives in well-drained soil. Black-eyed Susan readily self-seeds, so new seedlings may pop up throughout your garden. You can easily transplant these seedlings to new locations.

5. Blazing Star

blazing star
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Blazing star is a native North American wildflower with tall, spiky flowers in shades of purple, pink, and red. It not only attracts butterflies but also adds height and beauty to your garden. It provides nectar for butterflies and a habitat for caterpillars. Grow it in well-drained soil under full sunlight. A light application of balanced fertilizer in early spring can be beneficial, but it’s not essential for healthy growth. You can propagate Blazing Star by division in spring or fall.

6. Butterfly Bush

butterfly bush
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Butterfly bush is popular for butterfly gardens because of its long-lasting blooms, which are rich in nectar and irresistible fragrance. Prune them in late winter to encourage bushier growth and more blooms throughout the summer. You can cut back the stems by about one-third to half their size.

However, butterfly bush can be invasive in your region, so be sure to check with your local nursery before planting. If it is invasive, consider planting native alternatives that attract butterflies, such as Blazing Star or Joe-Pye Weed.

7. Butterfly Weed

butterfly weed
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Butterfly weed, also known as milkweed, is a fantastic choice for a butterfly garden. It’s a native North American wildflower known for its vibrant orange blooms and its role as the sole host plant for monarch butterfly caterpillars. Butterfly weed thrives in full sun in well-draining soil on the drier side. Sandy or loamy soil is ideal. If your soil is heavy clay, amending it with sand or gravel will improve drainage.

Butterfly weed can be slow to establish from seed and takes 2-3 years to flower. To enjoy blooms sooner, you can find transplants at nurseries. The milky sap of butterfly weed is toxic to humans and some animals. Be cautious when handling the plant, and wear gloves if necessary.

8. Coneflower

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Coneflower is a daisy-like flowering perennial with a prominent cone-shaped center that attracts a variety of butterflies, including Monarchs, fritillaries, and swallowtails. It is also known for its medicinal properties. Coneflowers come in a variety of colors, including purple, pink, yellow, and orange. Like many flowers, coneflowers do well in full sun and well-draining soil.

9. Coreopsis

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Coreopsis is a cheerful daisy-like flower that blooms profusely all summer long. It comes in a variety of colors, including yellow, orange, and red. Deadhead spent flowers to encourage continuous bloom. Water regularly during the first growing season, especially during hot, dry weather.

10. Egyptian Star Flower

egyptian star flower
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Egyptian star flower has unique, star-shaped flowers in shades of yellow, orange, and red. Native to tropical East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, this tender perennial or subshrub thrives in warm, humid climates and is a popular choice for butterfly gardens around the world. In colder climates, Egyptian Star Flowers can be grown as container plants and brought indoors for the winter.

11. Floss Flower

floss flower
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Floss flower, also known as ageratum, has small, fluffy flowers that come in shades of blue, purple, and white. It’s a low-maintenance annual that blooms all summer long. Floss flower prefers full sun but can tolerate some light shade, especially in hot afternoon areas. Water regularly, especially during hot weather, to keep the soil moist but not soggy. Floss flowers won’t tolerate drought conditions.

12. Goldenrod

goldenrod - butterfly plants
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Goldenrod is a tall perennial wildflower native to North America. Its fluffy golden flower spikes come in various shades of yellow. Although it often gets a bad rap for causing allergies, it’s a valuable food source for butterflies in late summer and fall. When many other flowers have faded, goldenrod provides a much-needed source of nectar for butterflies migrating south for the winter.

Monarchs, clouded sulfur, American small copper, and gray hairstreak butterflies are all frequent visitors to goldenrod patches.

13. Hollyhock

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Hollyhock is a tall, stately plant with large, showy flowers, sometimes reaching up to 8 feet or even taller in ideal conditions. It comes in a variety of colors, including pink, red, purple, and white. Hollyhock is a relatively easy to care for. It prefers well-draining, fertile soil, so amend your soil with compost or manure before planting if needed. Full sun is ideal for hollyhocks. They may not flower as prolifically in partial shade. Aim to keep the soil consistently moist but not soggy. Water at the base of the plant instead of overhead watering, and avoid getting the leaves wet to minimize rust fungus. 

14. Joe-Pye Weed

Joe-Pye weed
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Joe-Pye weed is a tall, late-blooming perennial that provides nectar for butterflies and a habitat for caterpillars. Its flowers are purple and pink. Joe-Pye weed thrives in full sun but can tolerate some partial shade, especially in hotter climates. Depending on the variety, it can grow quite tall, reaching anywhere from 4 to 8 feet. Choose a spot in your garden with enough space to accommodate its mature size. Some taller varieties of Joe-Pye weed may benefit from staking, particularly if they are growing in windy areas.

Joe-Pye weed’s flat clusters of purple or pink flowers are a magnet for butterflies, especially monarchs and swallowtails. The flowers are rich in nectar, providing butterflies with the energy they need for migration or overwintering.

15. Lantana

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Lantana is a colorful flowering shrub that blooms all summer long. Its flowers change color as they mature, from yellow to orange to red. Lantana thrives in full sun, receiving at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight daily. This encourages abundant blooms that butterflies love.

Lantana doesn’t require frequent fertilization, especially if planted in fertile soil. However, a light feeding of balanced fertilizer in early spring can encourage new growth and blooms. In colder climates, lantana can be grown as a container plant and brought indoors for the winter.

16. Lavender

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Lavender is not only fragrant to humans, but it’s also attractive to butterflies. Butterflies with long tongues, like swallowtails and skippers, are frequent visitors to lavender bushes when the plants bloom in early summer.

Lavender prefers well-drained soil on the drier side. Sandy or loamy soil is ideal. If your soil is heavy clay, amending it with sand or gravel will improve drainage. After the main flowering period in early summer, lightly prune the plant to remove spent blooms and encourage new growth. Lavender can be grown in containers, which is a great option for smaller gardens or patios.

17. Marigold

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Marigolds are cheerful, easy-to-grow annuals that come in a variety of colors, including yellow, orange, and red. They are attractive to butterflies like monarchs, swallowtails, and painted ladies, and also help repel some pests. Marigolds thrive in full sun, receiving at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight daily. Once established, they are moderately drought tolerant and love moist, but not soggy, soil.

Regularly deadheading spent flowers is crucial for marigolds. This encourages continuous blooming throughout the summer, providing a constant nectar source for butterflies. Simply pinch off the wilted flower heads at the base of the stem.

18. Phlox

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Phlox is a group of flowering plants that come in a wide variety of colors, including pink, purple, red, and white. Depending on the variety, they bloom in spring, summer, or fall. Their fragrant, star-shaped, flat flower heads provide easy access to nectar, making them irresistible to butterflies.

Phlox prefers well-drained, moist soil rich in organic matter. Mulching around your phlox plants helps retain moisture, suppress weeds, and regulate soil temperature. Phlox can be susceptible to powdery mildew, especially in areas with poor air circulation. Planting them with adequate spacing and avoiding overhead watering can help prevent this.

19. Sage

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Sage is a perennial herb with grayish-green leaves and fragrant purple flowers. It’s a versatile plant that can be used in cooking, medicine, and even as a natural cleaning agent. Butterflies love its blooms, too. Deadhead spent flowers to encourage continuous bloom throughout the summer. This will not only make your plant look nicer, but it will also provide more nectar for butterflies.

20. Zinnias

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Zinnias are known for their vibrant blooms, long bloom time, and ease of care, making them a perfect choice to attract fluttering friends to your garden. While adaptable, zinnias prefer well-drained soil.

Double-bloom zinnias, while beautiful, can make it difficult for butterflies to access nectar. Opt for single varieties with open centers like ‘Classic Zinnias,’ ‘Zowie Yellow Flame,’ or ‘State Fair Mix’ for the best butterfly attraction.

Start Planting And Watch Them Come

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With this diverse collection of flowering friends, you can create a vibrant and welcoming harbor for butterflies in your garden. The more butterfly plants you include, the longer the bloom season and the greater the variety of butterflies you’ll attract. Get ready to witness the beauty of these fluttering pollinators as they flit from flower to flower in your very own butterfly paradise.