10 Plants to Help You Grow Your Own Butterfly Garden
Bring all the butterflies to the yard with these plant recommendations from a local gardening expert.
Photo by Sue McGowan
Do you want to create a butterfly garden, but don’t know where to start? Now is the perfect time of year to make that garden a reality. Twin Ponds Greenhouse owner Sue McGowan, who has run the family business in Montgomery alongside her husband Tom for the past 23 years, shares her top butterfly plant picks.
Most of the butterfly-attracting plants listed are perennials, meaning they grow back each year. Because of that, it’s important to pick plant varieties that will do well in your garden. “Picking the location is important because it has to be in full sun,” says McGowan. “[The plants] need six hours of sunlight, and that’s what the butterflies want too.” In addition, consider which zone the perennial plant does best in by checking the plant tag or looking it up online. The Hudson Valley ranges from a zone 4 – 6, depending on how far north or south you live. McGowan recommends erring on the side of a lower zone, which guarantees hardier perennial plants.
As Hudson Valley residents are well aware, deer can be one of the biggest pests to flower gardens. Luckily, there are many varieties of deer-resistant butterfly plants, though McGowan warns that deer-resistant is not the same as deer-proof. “Deer tend to develop a palate in their area,” says McGowan. That being said, deer tend to avoid the following plants.
The Butterfly Bush, which blooms from mid-summer through early fall, is guaranteed to attract butterflies to your garden. “I think the butterfly bush is a must-have in all gardens. This thing just really attracts butterflies, and it comes in different colors: purple, pink, yellow,” notes McGowan. Similarly, Lupine flowers are available in a variety of hues, and are widely recognized for their bright flower spikes that bloom from May to July.
Another of McGowan’s must-haves is Bee Balm. Not only are certain varieties of the Monarda plant native to the Hudson Valley, but they also have a nice herbal scent. The aromatic bloom comes in pinks, reds and purples, and spreads to form clusters.
Owner Sue McGowan at Twin Ponds Greenhouse / Photo by Lauren Berg
The Gaillardia plant is a native, deer-resistant plant with daisy-like flowers that range in color from yellow to orange and red. It blooms from early summer to early fall. Another native, the Lobelia Cardinal Flower has red bell flowers that are deer-resistant and attract hummingbirds and butterflies. Similarly, Asters are native flowers that come in pink, purple, red, and white, and will attract butterflies to your garden in no time.
Butterfly Host Plants
While all of the above plants do well for adult butterflies, Baptisia plants are essential if you want to form a microhabitat that supports caterpillars as well. Baptisia is a deer-resistant native plant with a blue indigo flower that attracts a variety of butterflies. Asclepias, also known as Butterfly Weed or Milk Weed, is another host plant that attracts and supports both Monarch caterpillars and butterflies. Be sure to plant your host plants near your other butterfly plants!
Most perennial butterfly plants won’t bloom until mid-to-late summer when butterflies are around most often, and then only for a short period of time. To add more color to your garden, McGowan suggests incorporating annuals like sunflowers, which bloom throughout the summer and attract butterflies and other pollinators. For even more butterfly-attracting annuals, consider zinnias, cosmos, calendulas, and heliotropes.
Twin Ponds Greenhouse in bloom. Photo by Lauren Berg / Butterflies are a welcome addition to home gardens. Photo by Sue McGowan
Spice up your butterfly garden, literally, with herbs like chives, dill, and fennel. Their flowers attract butterflies, while their leaves make a great addition to summer meals.
Of course, there are many other plant varieties that attract butterflies, some of which you may already have! For more gardening advice, visit Twin Ponds Greenhouse at 2856 Albany Post Road in Montgomery, NY.