Butterflies are more than just beautiful insects with wings: they play a vital role in the production of flowering plants which means without butterflies there are many, many plants that would not flower, fruit and seed. Give these jewel-toned pollinators a place to call home with a few ideas for creating a pollinator-friendly space no matter how much space you have. Scroll down to get the dirt.

photo: PublicDomainPictures via pixabay

Top 4 Ways Anyone Can Help


Be poison-free. Do not use pesticides of any kind, any where. This includes nearby lawns and other garden beds. We promise, where there’s a problem there is a non-toxic solution. Click here for ideas on pesticide-free bug control.

When in doubt, go native. Planting native flowering plants and shrubs helps sustain native populations. We’ve offered a few suggestions here for butterfly-friendly flowering plants that do good in most climates (some of which may be native to your neck of the woods) and are generally not invasive, but it is always good to cross-check with your local garden center or native plant society. One man’s annual can easily become another one’s nightmare weed. 

Milkweed it: The single best plants for Monarch butterflies is milkweed—specifically Tropical Milkweed (Asclepias curassavica). It grows in zones 9-11 (mostly California) but can be grown as a summer annual elsewhere. There are also many species of milkweed native to areas throughout the U.S. that are beneficial to all types of butterflies. Click here for the low-down on this important pollinator plant.

Gimme shelter: You can buy or make butterfly shelters that can be hung on the side of the building, near community and school gardens and even in parks (be sure and get permission).  

photo: ClatieK via flickr 

If you have a windowsill:

Even a single plant will help, but you can also consider buying or making a butterfly feeder. Here’s an easy how-to that takes just a few steps and is great for kiddos.

If you want to plant something in a windowbox, try nasturtiums and alyssum with zinnias and marigolds. The zinnias and marigolds grow straight and tall and the alyssum and nasturtiums trail, which makes a beautiful combo that butterflies love.

photo: congerdesign via flickr

If you have a few pots:

Create a mini-oasis with just a few pots of soil on your stoop, sidewalk or front yard. Add plants that support the butterfly larvae as well as container plants that offer nectar for adult butterflies.

For the larvae: fennel (requires a larger pot) and borage (gets beautiful blue flowers and is edible!) as well as ornamental grasses that provide shelter.

For the adult butterflies: Salvia, marigolds, alyssum, nasturtiums, zinnia, oregano, and pincushion flowers (scabiosa) all do great in smaller containers. Many species of milkweed will grow in decent-sized pots and are so loved by butterflies the most common variety of this plant is often called “butterfly plant.” In addition, most plants that are in the aster or daisy family are popular among the butterfly crowd but you’ll want bigger pots for these, as well as any lavender or lantana you’d like to try. 

photo: Wisconsin Dept. of Natural Resources via flickr 

If you have a few feet: 

If you’re lucky enough to have a whole garden or garden bed, you can choose plants that spread out and like a bit more room to grow (though with the right sized container, many of these can be grown in pots). Be sure and plant taller plants and shrubs toward the back, medium-growth plants in the middle, and so on.

Tall plants: Hollyhocks, delphiniums, lilac bushes, any kind of flowering tree like cherry, apple, plum, etc,  some salvia varieties, fennel, willow (great for larvae)

Plants that typically grow 1-3 ft high: Coneflower (echinacea), yarrow, salivas, lavender, milkweed (can grow higher in certain climates), globe thistle, bee balm, borage, lantana

Lower growing plants (under 1 ft or groundcovers): alyssum, nasturtiums, calendula, marigolds, zinnias, some verbena, oregano (warning! Oregano can become aggressive in many gardens), dianthus

What are your favorite tips for creating a butterfly garden? Comment below with your best ideas. 

—Amber Guetebier