Beneficial fauna such as hummingbirds, songbirds, bees, and butterflies are an excellent and necessary addition to any garden.
How can you attract them and encourage them to stay?
In this article, we share information about the best annuals to attract butterflies and keep them in your yard and garden. Read on to learn more.
Flowers Aren’t Enough To Attract Butterflies
Flowers will attract butterflies and other pollinators to your garden, but they aren’t always enough to feed offspring and provide a safe and comfortable home for these insects.
While flowers provide plenty of nectar for mature butterflies to eat, the plants they grow on may not provide anything for the caterpillars. Caterpillars need good host plants that provide a place for butterflies to lay eggs and provide foliage that the caterpillars can eat.
Here are 13 of the best nectar plants you can provide for butterflies. Immediately following this list, you will find a short list of good host plants which you should also include in your butterfly garden.
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13 Best Nectar Annual Plants for Butterflies
Cosmos sulphureus (Klondike): Zones 3 – 10
Sulfur Cosmos add a pop of color to any garden. Butterflies, bees, hummingbirds, and people find these pretty plants attractive.
These cheery, bright orange flowers grow quickly from seed sown directly into the soil. They do well in poor soil and reseed themselves easily from one year to the next.
Trailing Lantana (Lantana Montevidensis) Zones 9-11
This type of Lantana is an excellent groundcover that provides a great deal of color in the garden.
The lavender flowers look beautiful spilling out of hanging baskets, over the edges of containers, or rambling over a rock wall.
These rugged, beautiful flowers provide curb appeal in some of the most challenging settings, such as along the sidewalk in front of your home.
Impatiens (Impatiens Walleriana) Zones 10 – 11
This popular bedding plant is sometimes called Bizzie Lizzie. It is a great choice for a shady flower bed. There are several different varieties.
Some grow to be only 6” inches high, while others grow to be 2’ feet high. These easy to grow plants flower all summer long. What colors do impatiens come in?
Moss Verbena (Verbena tenuisecta) Zones 8 – 10
Hailing from South America, Moss Verbena presents little bouquets of small purple or violet flowers.
This drought-tolerant plant has easily naturalized in the southern United States. It grows wild and free throughout Florida and Georgia in waste areas, abandoned fields, and along the roadside.
This carefree, easy grower does well with full sun and sharply draining soil. In fact, it likes sandy soil that is not very fertile.
Narrowleaf Zinnia (Zinnia haageana) Zone: 2 to 11
This type of Zinnia is also referred to as the Mexican Zinnia. It is a sturdy, bushy annual that may grow to be between 8″ inches and 16″ inches high.
The basic flower is bright orange, daisy-like, and about an inch across. There are also cultivars available in:
Gomphrena (Gomphrena globosa) Zones 2-11
You may hear this compact annual referred to as Globe Amaranth. This plant features brilliantly colored magenta bracts in a globe formation.
The flower heads are clover-like and papery in texture. The true flowers are very tiny, trumpet-shaped and come in shades of yellow and white.
The bracts present brilliant color throughout the summer and into the autumn. There are several cultivars of this plant available in:
Firebush (Hamelia patens) USDA Zones 8-11
This colorful, semi-Woody shrub produces brilliant flowers from late in the springtime until early in the autumn.
The beautiful red flowers are attractive to all sorts of butterflies, most especially the Gulf Fritillary butterfly and the Zebra Long Wing.
The flowers transition into berries which provide a good food source for songbirds.
Under ideal conditions, this bush can grow to be 15’ feet high. In most gardens, its size can be controlled through pruning. It makes a nice specimen plant and is also a good choice as a hedge.
Pentas (Pentas lanceolata) Zone: 10 to 11
This native of East Africa and Yemen is also called Starflower or Egyptian Star. This small, woody based shrub may grow to be 6’ feet high in its native lands.
In garden beds and containers, it usually tops out at 1’ or 2’ feet high.
The flowers of this pretty bush grow in attractive clusters that are about 4” inches around. They are covered in star-shaped pink, lilac, magenta, or white flowers throughout the summer and into the autumn.
Heliotrope (Heliotropium arborescens) Zone: 10 to 11
Heliotrope presents large clusters of sweet-scented, tiny violet flowers throughout the summer and into the autumn.
This Peruvian shrub may grow to be as tall as 6’ feet in its native home. When grown in the United States, it usually does not grow to be more than 2’ feet high.
In areas where the winters are too cold for it, Heliotrope can be kept as a container plant indoors. When this is the case and may grow to be a bit taller.
Mexican Sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia) Zone: 2 to 11
As with most sunflowers, this Mexican and Central American native grows quickly in the summertime to attain a height of 6’ feet tall.
It produces numerous orange and orange-red sunflowers with large, showy yellow central discs. The flowers are about 3” inches across each.
Zinnia (Zinnia elegans) Zone: 2 to 11
There are many different cultivars of the common Zinnia. This easy to grow, compact, bushy favorite blooms continuously throughout the summer and well into the autumn.
A wide variety of flowers are available, including double, semi-double and single petals. Look for shades of:
Zinnias come in sizes ranging from dwarf (6” inches) to giant (4’ feet tall).
French Marigold (Tagetes patula) Zone: 2 to 11
The French Marigold grows to be between 6” and 12” inches high. It’s pretty flowers come in shades of red, yellow and orange.
Bicolor versions are also available. Flowers may be between 1” inch and 2” inches across.
13. Lantana (Lantana sdd.) Zones 9-11
This variety of Lantana is especially attractive to bees and butterflies. In very warm settings, Lantana makes a nice bedding plant. In cooler climates, it does well as a container plant.
It can be kept as a houseplant through the cold winter months. Lantana does well in hanging baskets indoors or outdoors.
5 Best Annual Host Plants for Butterflies
Dill (Anethem graveolens) Zone: 2 to 11
Dill is an excellent addition to any herb, flower or vegetable garden. Its aromatic seeds and leaves are useful as ornamentation and in culinary pursuits.
Dill plants originated in the Mediterranean and Asia Minor, but the plants have followed human habitation and have quickly naturalized in many parts of the globe.
Dill plants may grow to be as tall as 5’ feet. The sweetly scented blue green leaves make good food for butterfly caterpillars. The tiny yellow flowers grow on large, flat, compound umbels that may measure as large as 10” inches across.
These pretty, useful plants are extremely attractive to butterflies and other beneficial insects such as:
Black Swallowtail butterflies are especially fond of this plant, and it is a larval plant for their offspring.
Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) Zone 2-11
Parsley is another culinary herb hailing from the Mediterranean and Europe. Like dill, it has followed human habitation and has spread around the world. This useful herb can be used in a wide variety of soups, stews, salads and other dishes.
Parsley plants typically grow to be about a foot tall and have pretty, dark green leaves that present as either flat or curly depending upon the variety of Parsley chosen. Selections include:
- Italian or Flat Leaved Parsley (var. neapolitanum)
- Curly Leaved Parsley (var. crispum)
- Hamburg Parsley (var. tuberosum)
As with dill, the small, greenish yellow flowers are borne on umbels atop 2 or 3 foot high stalks. This plant is also a favorite of Black Swallowtail butterflies.
Common Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) Zone 4-9
Fennel is an anise flavored herb that looks quite a bit like dill but is much larger. Fennel may grow to be 6’ feet high.
The foliage is yellowish green and feathery, and the flowers are small, yellow and presented on large, flattened, compound umbels that bloom from mid July to the end of August.
Fennel has naturalized easily throughout North America and is a favorite of several types of swallowtail butterflies.
Queen-Anne’s-Lace (Daucus carota)
This wildflower grows freely throughout the United States and Canada. It is the plant from which the domestic carrot was derived.
Like the other host plants mentioned, Queen Anne’s lace presents tiny flowers that grow on modest umbels which may be 5” inches across at maximum. Each umbel is made up of small umbellets which each contain about twenty or thirty flowers.
The flowers are interesting because those along the outer edge have oddly sized petals, which may have notched tips. There may be a single, dark purple flower in the center of each umbel.
The plant grows to be a couple of feet high, and the leaves are long, feathery and fern like.
Rues (Ruta ssp.) Zone 4-8
This southern European native is a shrubby, woody perennial. It bears fern like, aromatic compound leaves and grows to be about 2’ or 3’ feet tall.
Although originally a garden plant, Rue has naturalized in many parts of the United States, especially in the Northeast. You may find Rue growing wild in disturbed soil, open fields and along roadsides.
This pretty plant produces attractive, blue green foliage and four or five petaled small, yellow flowers that grow in clusters throughout the summertime. The flowers transition to interesting looking brown seed capsules.
This plant has a number of uses in folk medicine, but you should be advised that the leaves can be toxic when ingested and may cause contact dermatitis when handled.
Other Pollinator Favorites
Annuals Allow Variety from Year-to-Year
It’s always a good idea to set up a framework in your garden with perennials that will come back year after year. Don’t neglect the annuals, though.
Annuals allow you to fill in empty spots quickly every summer. They also give you the opportunity to experiment with different sizes and colors in your butterfly garden.