Encourage beautiful butterflies to visit your garden by following this butterfly garden plan. Check out the detailed illustrations for an easy-to-follow guide.
By Nancy J. Ondra
If you have little to no gardening experience, but want to add color and texture to your yard, turn to Nancy J. Ondra’s new book Five-Plant Gardens (Storey Publishing, 2014). In this excerpt, from the chapter “Five-Plant Gardens for Full Sun to Partial Shade,” Ondra shows you how to create a beautiful butterfly garden with detailed illustrations. Find another gorgeous garden plan here: Amazing Rain Garden Plan.
You can purchase this book from the Mother Earth Living store: Five Plant Gardens
Any time you plant flowers in your yard, you increase the chances that butterflies will visit your yard to check them out. But if you really want to draw in these “floating flowers” and encourage them to linger longer, planting a garden filled with their favorite food sources is the way to go. Butterflies are especially fond of blooms that are made up of many small blossoms, such as daisy-form flowers, which are packed with nectar and pollen for the adults to eat. It’s also smart to include perennials with leaves that the caterpillars like to feed on, so you’re supporting the next generation, too.
Illustrations by Beverly Duncan
Full sun to partial shade; Average soil
1. Swamp Milkweed
• Asclepias incarnata: 3 plants
• Zones 3 to 9
• ALTERNATES: Another 3- to 4-foot-tall perennial with pink, butterfly-attracting flowers, such as ‘Marshall’s Delight’ or other pink-flowered bee balm (Monarda) [3 plant] or ‘Little Joe’ Joe-Pye weed (Eupatorium dubium) [1 plant]
2. ‘White Swan’ Purple Coneflower
• Echinacea purpurea: 6 plants
• Zones 3 to 8
• ALTERNATES: Another 30- to 40-inch-tall perennial with white, butterfly-attracting flowers, such as ‘David’ phlox (Phlox paniculata) [4 plants] or ‘Black Ace’ turtlehead (Chelone glabra) [4 plants]
3. ‘Little Spire’ Russian Sage
• Perovskia: 2 plants
• Zones 5 to 9
• ALTERNATES: Another 3- to 4-foot-tall perennial with blue, butterfly-attracting flowers, such as globe thistle (Echinops ritro) [2 plants] or ‘Longwood Blue' blue mist shrub (Caryopteris × clandonensis) [2 plants]
4. ‘Coronation Gold’ Yarrow
• Achillea: 3 plants
• Zones 3 to 8
• ALTERNATES: Another 2- to 3-foot-tall perennial with yellow, butterfly-attracting flowers, such as ‘Prairie Sun’ Gloriosa daisy (Rudbeckia hirta) [3 plants] or ‘Sonnenschein’ Shasta daisy (Leucanthemum × superbum) [3 plants]
5. ‘Butterfly Blue’ Pincushion Flower
• Scabiosa: 5 plants
• Zones 3 to 8
• ALTERNATES: Another 1- to 2-foot-tall perennial with blue or purple-blue, butterfly-attracting flowers, such as ‘Kit Cat’ catmint (Nepeta × faassenii) [5 plants] or English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) [5 plants]
Spring: Along with lots of leafy growth, this garden offers some blooms for early arriving butterflies. The orange-centered white daisies of ‘White Swan’ purple coneflower may appear by mid spring in mild climates, and the lavender-blue blooms of ‘Butterfly Blue’ pincushion flower may begin in late spring.
To get your butterfly garden ready for the growing season, cut down any dead or winter-damaged stems and leaves on the swamp milkweed, coneflower, yarrow, and pincushion flower in early to mid spring. This is also the time to divide any of those perennials if they were starting to outgrow their space last year. Wait until the 'Little Spire' Russian sage starts growing; then, cut it back to about 6 inches. Apply a fresh layer of organic mulch around all of the plants.
Summer: ‘White Swan’ purple coneflower is generally in peak bloom in early to midsummer in southern gardens and in mid to late summer in northern regions. The golden yellow clusters of ‘Coronation Gold’ yarrow and lavender-blue ‘Butterfly Blue’ pincushion flower appear throughout the summer. Pink swamp milkweed usually joins the show in mid to late summer. In southern gardens, the 'Little Spire' Russian sage is in full bloom in early to midsummer; in northern gardens, the peak flowering period is usually mid to late summer.
Throughout the summer, clip off the faded flowers, if desired; it helps to keep the garden looking tidy and can extend the bloom period on the coneflower and pincushion flower. Cut back the Russian sage by about half if it gets floppy in midsummer. Water the garden during summer dry spells.
Fall and Winter: ‘Butterfly Blue’ pincushion flower continues to flower into fall, along with some rebloom possible on the ‘White Swan’ purple coneflower and ‘Coronation Gold’ yarrow. These plants also offer attractive seed heads for winter interest. The leaves of yarrow and the pincushion flower can stay green through the winter.
Stop clipping off the faded flowers in early fall (or even late summer) if you want the seed heads for winter, and wait until spring to clean up the frost-killed tops. Otherwise, it’s fine to cut down the dead stalks of the swamp milkweed, coneflower, yarrow, and pincushion flower in late fall.
This simple rectangular garden could work well in just about any spot: at the base of a lamppost, in a sunny corner, or on either side of a gate, arbor, doorway, or set of steps. Repeat the plan end to end as many times as needed if you want to extend it as a foundation planting around your house or an edging for a path or driveway. A site that’s sheltered from strong wind is ideal, because strong breezes make it tough for butterflies to land and feed on your flowers.
There’s little need for insecticide sprays in flower gardens, because perennials that are basically healthy and vigorous can withstand a fair bit of insect damage with no permanent harm. Avoiding pesticides (even organic ones) is especially important in butterfly gardens, because you don’t want to harm the very creatures you’re trying to attract. If you find caterpillars chewing on the leaves here, it’s cause for celebration, not worry!
Milkweeds (Asclepias) are a favorite food source for the larvae of monarch butterflies (queen butterflies, too), but they’re not the only perennials that provide food for butterfly larvae. Some other great “host plants” include asters (Aster), coreopsis (Coreopsis), false indigos (Baptisia), hollyhocks (Alcea), and turtleheads (Chelone).
Use an Amazing Rain Garden Plan, also from Five-Plan Gardens, to reduce stormwater runoff and your water bills.
Excerpted from Five-Plant Gardens (c) Nancy J. Ondra. Photography by (c) Rob Cardillo. Photo styling by Nancy J. Ondra. Illustrations by Beverly Duncan. Used with permission of Storey Publishing. It may not be reproduced for any other use without permission. Purchase this book from our store: Five Plant Gardens.