Attracting Butterflies to Your Garden

by | Jul 17, 2018

Butterfly-Friendly Gardening

Adult butterflies need moist, muddy spots and warm rocks on which to sun. Being very vulnerable to cats, providing a protected location is important. You will also have to rely more on organic methods and less on insecticides to control pest problems.

As butterflies and moths transition through metamorphosis – from egg to larva, pupa to adult – each species lays its eggs on very specific plants. These particular plants are chosen because they provide natural food and nutrition for growing caterpillars.

Butterflies also share many of the same favourite plants as hummingbirds. By attracting one, you can be sure to see more of the other in your garden.  

right: Swallowtail Butterfly

Plants for Specific Species

The caterpillar of the Anise Swallowtail butterfly feeds on members of the carrot family, such as parsley, fennel, carrot, dill, and Queen Anne’s Lace. However, other Swallowtail larvae require the leaves of aspen, poplar, willow, alder and ash.

Viola odorata leaves are larval food for Fritillary butterflies that winter as tiny caterpillars. If you find caterpillars rolled inside leaves, don’t be too quick to remove them. They might be a special gift, rather than a threat! Allow the leaves to die back naturally, and soon the caterpillars will complete their transformation into beautiful butterflies.

Nettles provide the larval food for Red Admiral and Tortoiseshell butterflies. Find a good corner to stash these prickly plants, and you will be providing an excellent butterfly habitat.

A ‘white’ garden will attract night-flying moths and so will evening-blooming nicotiana and evening-scented matthiola (stocks). The larval stage of many moths are the orange/black striped ‘woolly bear’ and ‘fuzzy yellow bear’ caterpillars – both are garden friends.

Top left: Achillea; bottom left: Echinacea

Plants that Attract Butterflies


  1. Fennel (Foeniculum spp.)
  2. Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
  3. Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)
  4. Peppermint/Spearmint (Mentha spp.)
  5. Bergamot (Monarda didyma)
  6. Sweet Marjoram (Origanum majorana)
  7. Parsley (Petroselinum spp.)
  8. Upright Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
  9. Thyme (Thymus spp.)
  10. Sage (Salvia spp.)

left: Bergamot


  1. Yarrow (Achillea spp.)
  2. Columbine (Aquilegia spp.)
  3. Echinacea spp.
  4. Globe Thistle (Echinops ritro)
  5. Goldenrod (Solidago spp.)
  6. Coneflower (Rudbeckia spp.)
  7. Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa)

left: Asclepias (Butterfly Weed)


  1. Wild Blue Lilac (Ceanothus velutinus)
  2. Salal (Gaultheria shallon)
  3. Low Oregon Grape (Mahonia nervosa)
  4. Mock Orange (Philadelphus lewisii)
  5. Red Flowering Currants (Ribes sanguineum)
  6. Native Rose (Rosa nutkana)
  7. Red Elderberry (Sambucus racemosa)
  8. Snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus)
  9. Butterfly Bush (Buddleia crispa). Try the new PW ‘Lo & Behold’ small garden varieties!

left: Ceanothus California Lilac

above: Mahonia
above: Achillea
Attracting butterflies to our gardens is both interesting and beneficial, and by creating a landscape that includes some of the beautiful plants above, you’ll extend the rewards even further!