Pretty Bird Farm’s Top 10 Plants for Attracting Butterflies to the Garden

It’s mid-July and I must admit our flower gardens are really looking pretty.  We have had the perfect balance of sun and rain and it is as if overnight all the butterflies in town have flocked to our gardens.  There are plenty of plants to pick from when planting a garden to attract pollinators, but here are just a few of our favorites out there in bloom now.



  1. Coneflower (Echinacea): Any variety will do, and these days there are so many colors and habits to choose from.  This easy to grow perennial likes a lot of sun and is also drought tolerant.  If they can handle being planted along the medians on the highway, surely they are easy enough to grow in your garden!  And if you like bringing the garden indoors, they make a pretty good cut flower!


    Swallowtail on Echinacea ‘Cheyenne Spirit’

  2. Bee Balm (Monarda): This is a vigorous perennial that comes in an assortment of colors ranging from red to pink to purple.  Bee Balm is prone to getting unsightly powdery mildew on its foliage but there are new varieties available today that more resistant.  We planted ‘Marshall’s Delight’ which is supposed to be more resistant.  While it didn’t have mildew last year, the frequent rains we’ve had have led to a light outbreak.  Still, the flowers are pretty and the butterflies are happy.


    Tomato Hornwom Moth on Bee Balm ‘Marshall’s Delight’

  3. Catnip (Nepeta): This isn’t one I expected to include on this list, but when I stepped out in the yard to snap some photos today, I couldn’t help but notice these cabbage lupers thoroughly enjoying themselves on the flowers.  There are annual and perennial varieties to choose from and you should note that it can self-seed and spread aggressively in your garden.  If you want to keep it under control, plant it in a pot on your patio and remove spent blossoms after the butterflies have enjoyed them but before they go throwing seeds all over the yard.


    Cabbage Luper on Catnip

  4. Milkweed (Asclepias): There are a lot of different varieties of milkweed out there.  We have a wild one that Monarchs laid their larvae on last year. They get a white fragrant flower, and this year we picked up a new one with vibrant orange flowers that the butterflies are loving!  Milkweed is a perennial that tends to spread via fluffy white seeds.  This is plant that is critical to the monarch butterfly’s lifecycle and we highly recommend planting it and not pulling out volunteers when they come up in new places in your yard.

    Screenshot_2016-07-19-10-43-32_resized_1 (2).jpg

    Asclepias Butterfly Milkweed

  5. Butterfly Bush (Buddleia): Butterfly bushes are the gift that keeps on giving. As old blossoms fade, there is always a new set of flower buds behind them.  While this woody shrub is low maintenance and will still continue to grow without help, if you prune out faded out flowers, the new ones will bloom faster.  Do note that some varieties of butterfly bush are invasive, and some can also get enormous!  I wanted a lot of variety in our butterfly garden so we chose the compact varieties ‘Black Knight,’ ‘Buzz ™ Magenta’ and ‘Cranrazz.’20160719_150030s_resized.jpg


  1. Zinnia: Every year I plant more and more zinnias, and I still feel like there is room for more. Zinnias are an annual in our zone.  I grow most of mine from seed, but I am very impulsive when I see a healthy flat ready to bloom at a garden center.  My all-time favorite variety for cut flowers is Benary’s Giant, but this year we are also growing Oklahoma Mix, Cut and Come Again Mix, Peppermint Stick and a really beautiful bicolor one called Zowie! ™ Yellow Flame.  I could probably write an entire blog post about why zinnias are so amazing.  Stay tuned for that one!


    Monarch Butterfly on Zinnia ‘Benary’s Giant’

  2. Petunia: Petunias are another group of flowers where there are so many varieties to choose from, but honestly my favorite have always been Wave Petunias.  The wave Petunia collection has so many colors and sizes to choose from and what’s great about them is that you never have to deadhead!  They are great in containers and in the ground and are so low maintenance.  Once established (and watered a few times) you can even plant them in places where you know you won’t remember to water them and they will still look great until frost hits them in the fall!


    Wave Petunias: Shockwave Rose, Easy Wave Yellow & Shockwave Denim

  3. Marigold (Tagetes): Marigolds are one of the easiest annuals to grow and the butterflies love them!  Most people plant them in their vegetable gardens because their pungent fragrance helps discourage bugs and other critters.  They also make a great cut flower once they start stretching tall in the summer sun!


    Swallowtail Butterfly on French Marigolds

  4. Nasturtium: We plant nasturtium every year because I delight in feeding it to anyone that happens to come over and visit our garden. It is a beautiful edible flower that adds a colorful peppery flavor to any dish.  It is one that is sure to attract butterflies to your garden as well.  You can pick up plants at a garden center or you can grow it from seed.  The seeds are a little tricky to germinate because they require scarification.  Scratch them up with an emery board or soak in water the night before you plant to speed up sprouting!



  5. Verbena: There are a lot of verbenas to choose from, some are short and compact or trailing and great for containers, and there is even a new one out that is great for landscape beds that doesn’t get mildew. This year we planted the tall verbena, Verbena Bonariensis, sometimes called South American Verbena, and I couldn’t be more thrilled with the habit or flower power.  I picked up a flat of leggy plants from our local garden center and it didn’t take them long to explode with color.  Our Verbena patch is a very busy hub for pollinators and you can see bees, butterflies and moths out there hitting on the nectar all day long!  This is listed as a tender perennial in zones 7-10, so it I have it listed here as an annual for our zone 6B garden.


    Verbena Bonariensis

I think we can officially call our garden a butterfly breeding ground.  In case you missed recent the video we posted to Instagram, here is a link of Monarch Butterflies having a great time in our garden!

There are so many more flowers out there that are sure to attract pollinators to your garden, this is just a short list that is easy to grow, and is in bloom in our garden right now.  Each year we are adding more and more!  Have some recommendations for us?  Let us know in the comments below!  Tiffany


About Pretty Bird Farm

Pretty Bird Farm is a small family farm located in Delaware Township in Hunterdon County, NJ. We live our lives and manage our farm as organically as possible. Our chickens eat organic feed and only the best kitchen and garden refuse. Our veggies and flowers are also raised organically, pesticide free, fertilized with organic fertilizer.
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