Build bright gardens to attract butterflies

When I was little my grandfather would say that if a butterfly landed on your arm, you would get a new dress that color. I’m not sure if that was to make me happy or make my mom crazy, but either way, I still love to look for butterflies.

As a gardener, you want all pollinators in your garden, but there is something special about a butterfly garden.
To attract most butterflies, pick a sunny spot; one that gets at least six hours of sun is best for the butterflies and the plants they love. Butterflies are drawn to bright colors and shallow blossoms that make it easy for them to reach inside for the sweet nectar.

Think about staggering the height of your plants. This can mean hanging baskets, window boxes, and container gardens, as well as planting in garden beds. Everyone loves options, and butterflies are no different.

For tall plants, think of Joe Pye weed, which can grow to seven feet tall, although there are shorter varieties available. Honeysuckle vines will climb to a good height. Butterfly Weed has bright orange flowers whose nectar will attract the adults and leaves that will feed the caterpillars.

Phlox is a favorite in most cottage gardens and can reach four feet tall. Coneflowers make a good companion plant and will also attract butterflies. Plant milkweed and monarchs may show up to feast.

Annuals such as lantana, cosmos, and zinnias are guaranteed to bring butterflies to your garden. Butterflies can’t resist a cluster of zinnias and I feel the very same way. Treat yourself with these bright blooms, they make a beautiful cut flower bouquet to bring into the house.

I have a butterfly bush that is at least 15 years old. It has silvery leaves and purple flowers. It can get quite tall, taller than me, and never fails to be covered in butterflies throughout the summer.

My butterfly bush is growing near a fence that provides a windbreak or shelter from the wind giving the butterflies some protection while feeding. In late February or early March, I show no mercy on the old branches, pruning them hard — and the bush comes back strong every year.

Other plants that grow closer to the ground are lavender, dianthus, salvia, and coreopsis. Asters will give your fall garden color and provide fall food for butterflies.

Don’t forget about herbs. Fennel, an aggressive self-seeder, parsley, and dill will all attract butterflies.
There are four stages to a butterfly’s life: egg, larva, chrysalis, and adult. Not only do you want to provide nectar for the adult butterflies, providing a host plant where they can lay eggs will create a garden nurturing generations of butterfly families.

Butterflies, especially males, love puddling stations. This could be a wet, muddy spot in your garden. No muddy bog handy? No worries — you can create a puddling station by filling a shallow dish with small rocks or sand and water. Watch for them to “puddle around” and grab a drink during the hottest part of the day.

There are many different types of butterflies. Each has its preference of plants, but follow these general guidelines of a sunny spot, bright colors, and a variety of feeding choices, and your garden will attract butterflies. Then, if my grandfather’s words are true, not only will you enjoy the beauty of butterflies, you can plan a shopping trip.