Plants That Attract Butterfies

Written by David S.

Lepidoptera n is the scientific name given to the order for butterflies and moths, and we have some fantastic moths. We mention moths because most fly only at night so, we miss them. Many moths are somewhat plain because they need to hide and blend in well, but they too will come to the plants you set out for butterflies. Inside, we go over a list of plants that attract butterflies and moths, a bit about how you care for them, and some products that will help them thrive.

The Monarch Butterfly

There has been a lot in the news about the decline of the Monarchs. Much of the reasoning behind their dwindling numbers is loss of habitat for their host plant — milkweed. There are a lot of options when it comes to milkweed. Still, you want to focus on Asclepias fascicularis—-Native milkweed and Asclepias tuberosa — butterfly milkweed. These two cultivars are ideal for monarch butterflies.

Monarchs only use milkweed as their host plant, making them plant-specific butterflies. It is from the milkweed plant that they take the toxin that protects them. The loss of milkweed means the loss of the monarch butterflies, so planting milkweed not only attracts butterflies to your yard but becomes an ecological adventure too.

Growing Milk Weed

Milkweed was a common group of plants, so the variations grow in many environments. For common milkweed, regular garden soil or potting soil is perfect. They like a bit of afternoon shade but can take the brunt of the summer. Keep in mind what you are growing is a nursery for monarch butterflies. They come to the milkweed to lay their eggs. The eggs will hatch, a caterpillar will emerge and begin to devour the plant.

For Southern California yards, the Native milkweed is ideal, however it is sometimes in short supply. Check with your local Green Thumb Nursery for availability. A. tuberosa is also another variation that you may want to consider. Flowers are bright orange and do best in full sun. These are toxic, so be sure to keep children away.

Butterfly Bush — Buddelja species

Beautifully leggy with masses of tiny racemes of flowers – the butterfly bush is a lepidopteran delight. These beautiful shrubs can reach ten feet in height, and they attract many types of butterflies, including many species of the Swallowtail family. Unlike the milkweed plants, which are butterfly-specific, the butterfly bush is a general hangout for most butterflies’ varieties. Even the monarch may visit.

Plant and Care for Butterfly Bush

Plant in full sun for the most blooms. These plants do not have a ton of requirements for soil, but it needs to drain well. Plan on watering them with 1-2 inches of water per week; that’s about 16-32 gallons. Make sure the soil is well-draining. Some perlite dug into the soil will hold water for the plant and allow the soil to drain. They are prone to root rot if the soil remains overly moist for long periods. They will also tolerate some afternoon shade but prefer full sun. These plants can grow to 10×5 feet and are fantastic in the yard to hide eyesores or to block lower windows from view.

Butterfly bush comes in many forms, including several dwarf varieties and colors too. These transplant the best in spring or fall but will handle summer transplanting if you give them plenty of water. Generally, these plants do not need staking, but you will need to prune back the old growth each winter. The new growth is where the following year’s blooms occur.

Pincushion Flowers — Scabiosa

Long blooming and beautiful pincushion flowers are a must for anyone who loves flowers. Not only do butterflies love these lovely blooms, but they are excellent as cut flowers too. At 8-18 inches tall, pincushion flowers make an excellent container plant, mid-to-front-row plant for garden boxes.

Available in rich tones such as deep maroon, lavender, pinks, and whites. These are annuals but may reseed themselves. Expect blooms right up until the first frost.

SOIL — well-draining and full of organic compost. Consider Black Gold Organic Soil or Compost, or you can use aged manure. They like soil with a pH of 6.0-7.5.

Water: For zones 9-11, plan on watering twice per week 1–1-1/2 inches of water per week. An inch of water is 16 gallons. Keep the soil uniformly moist but not soggy.

Fertilizer: Start with good compost as a soil amendment, and fertilizing is not necessary. You can “treat” the plants with an organic compost tea now and then or fish emulsion.

Sowing: You can direct sow pincushion seeds or use seedlings from our nursery. Plant either outdoors in mid-spring.

Pincushion flowers attract a wide range of butterflies, from the small skippers to the giant swallowtails and fritillaries.

There is a very long list of annuals and perennials that do an excellent job of attracting butterflies. Be sure to check out the plant manuals and guides to know which plants are host-specific and generalists. Our plant experts can help point out more options for attracting butterflies to your yard. We have five locations throughout Southern California, and our stock of plants is enormous. If you are looking for specific plants, please give us a call, and we can check our inventory. You are also welcome to stop by and browse or ask questions. We are always happy to help.

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