I’m often asked, “How do I start a butterfly garden?” and, “How can I get butterflies to come to my garden?” or, “I have lots of flowers but how come I never see any butterflies?”
Plant host plants! It takes more than nectar to entice butterflies to take up residence in your garden. Larval host plants are the secret to successful butterfly gardening; they are plants required by a caterpillar for growth and development. By planting host plants in your garden, you offer a promise of food for the next generation and will attract more butterflies than you thought possible.
If you do not have host plants in your garden, butterflies may come to visit the flowers for nectar, but then they will leave. Butterflies are on a mission. Females are busy looking for places to lay their eggs. Males are also attracted to host plants, where they can find females for mating. So make it easy for them and plant those plants they need for their offspring.
A female Monarch butterfly deposits eggs on Tropical milkweed. One female can deposit 400-500 eggs in her short lifetime.
Below are some common North American butterflies and their host plants. I have included some of the most common and easiest butterflies to attract. As you learn more about the different species of butterflies that are native to your area you can expand the different types of host plants to put in your garden.
In my opinion, the most important host plant you can have in your butterfly garden is Milkweed, and the more the better! There are many species of Milkweeds you can plant which are suited to where you live. In fact, in the United States, there are over 100 species of native Milkweeds. It can be challenging to find native milkweeds to purchase at local nurseries. Your best bet is to find native nurseries in your area that might carry native Milkweeds. You can find seeds and starter plants online here: https://amzn.to/2Y4X0Ey
The American Lady is found throughout temperate North America.
Common Rue is one of my favorite host plants. It can grow 2-3 feet tall and is a perennial.
Black Swallowtails are found from southern Canada through to South America. In North America, they are more common east of the Rocky Mountains.
There are several species of passion vine that can be used as host plants but the Blue Passionflower (Passiflora caerulea) is a vigorous, deciduous vine that is hardy down to −10 °C (14 °F).
Painted Lady butterflies are found in all 48 contiguous states. These butterflies use many different plants as hosts but these are some of the most common.
Common Buckeye butterflies are found in the southern half of the US and the eastern side of the northern half of the United States. Buckeye butterflies lay eggs on a wide variety of host plants.
Cabbage White butterflies are found throughout North America. Great Southern White butterflies are found from the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the United States. It is migratory along the southeastern coast of the United States, with strays to Maryland, Kansas, and Colorado.
Remember, you cannot have a butterfly without the caterpillar and you cannot have the caterpillar without that host plant. So plant lots of host plants. You can never have too many.
For a more comprehensive list of butterflies and their host plants, click here.
Resources for Host Plants:
Rose Frankin Perennials
Shady Oak Butterfly Farm
Lupine Gardens and Chemical Free Native Plants