Five plants to attract butterflies

Encourage more butterflies into your garden with these five plants, as picked by plantsman, Graham Rice.

aster
Aster or Michaelmas daisy. Image: Fotolia.
Published on Tagged with ,

We all like to see butterflies, kids as much if not more than the rest of us. So why not choose plants that they like? Let’s start with five flowers that provide plenty of nectar that adult butterflies appreciate and which will draw them to your garden – whatever its size.

Buddleja
Buddleja. Image: Fotolia

Butterfly bush (Buddleja)

It must be obvious why this plant got its name. From July to September this is the plant that attracts the most butterflies – it’s as simple as that. Fifteen different butterflies and moths have been seen feeding on buddleja – in less than four hours. So start with one of these.

The only thing is this: most varieties make big shrubs (although there are now some dwarf varieties). So prune them hard every spring – just cut them back to about 30cm above ground, it’s that easy. And snip off the fading flowers with kitchen scissors or secateurs, it makes a huge difference – although you might need step ladders to reach the top. And check the labels for a compact type if your garden needs a dwarf variety. Plants grow to around 1-2.5m.

echinacea
Echinacea. Image: Fotolia

Coneflower (Echinacea)

These are like huge daisies with flowers up to 12cm across, though usually a little smaller. They’re hardy, so they withstand the cold and perennial so once established they grow back each year. Echinacea are sun lovers and their stout upright stems are topped with these big daisies through the summer.

The central cone of each flower tends to be honey coloured – and that’s where you’ll usually see the butterflies feeding. But round it is a ring of petals, which are usually purplish or white, but may be red or orange or yellow. But here’s a tip: don’t plant the double flowered ones with a mass of petals as the butterflies sometimes find it difficult to get at their nectar. Plants grow to 60cm-1.2m.

sedum
Sedum. Image: Fotolia

Ice plant (Sedum)

In many gardens these are the tops for butterflies. Not only do butterflies love ‘em but the plants are small, not more than 60cm tall, and easy to grow – just give them plenty of sun. So there’s room for an ice plant in just about every garden.

The rounded leaves are rather succulent and juicy come in some lovely colours from grey-blue through smoky shades to deep purple and maroon, all crowded along the fat upright stems. The stems are topped by flat heads of reddish, pink or white flowers in summer and autumn. Count the different butterflies… you’ll be amazed. Plants grow to around 45-60cm.

aster
Aster or Michaelmas daisy. Image: Fotolia.

Michaelmas daisy (Aster)

This is another plant that’s like a daisy, with flowers in just about every colour except vivid scarlet. These are tough, sun-loving perennial plants that are easy to grow and even if they get disease, which they sometimes do, they usually survive it.

Asters tend to flower late in the season so are great for those butterflies that hibernate in winter; they need to stock up on energy to get them through those chilly months. These include popular favourites such as the Brimstone, Comma, Peacock, Red Admiral and Small Tortoiseshell. As with coneflowers, don’t plant double-flowered ones with masses of petals as they’re less good as nectar providers. Plants grow to around 60cm-1.2m.

Verbena bonariensis
Verbena bonariensis. Image: Fotolia

Verbena bonariensis

Start with this plant, this is really easy. Buy a packet of seed from the garden centre, scatter it through your borders and let it just get on with growing. In early summer the upright plants produce tall stems of purple flowers. It’s a great filler in the border and the butterflies sup nectar from the dancing flowers. It’s really easy from seed or buy plants from the garden centre. It’s another hardy perennial and a great self-seeder too, so once you’ve got it it’s here to stay. Plants grow to around 60-90cm.

Graham Rice

About Graham Rice

Graham Rice is an award-winning garden writer and blogger with
special interests in perennials, annuals and container plants, and
choosing plants for specific garden situations. His blog Transatlantic
Gardener
was awarded Garden Blog Of The Year in 2014 and his
Royal Horticultural Society Encyclopedia of Perennials was awarded
Garden Book of The Year.
View all posts by Graham.