If You Plant It, They Will Come (Gardening for Butterflies)

If you want to see more butterflies in your yard,  you must do a little research: common butterflies for your area, host plants, and nectar plants. Gardening can take some time and practice, but the investment is totally worth it. Not only will you see more butterfly activity, but the work you put into it is good for your physical and mental health!

STEP ONE: A critical first step, BEFORE you invest in seeds or plants for your garden, research what butterflies are common in your area. You can start by spending some time identifying the butterflies you see in and around your area. I’d also suggest investing in field guides and books specific to your area. Lastly, if you have a good local nursery (hopefully an organic one) they will likely be able to give you good guidance.  Speaking of organic, if you want to attract butterflies and caterpillars to your garden, you should stop using all pesticides in your garden.

The field guide pictured below is particularly helpful because it shows the butterfly, caterpillar, host plant/s, season, and size.

field guide

STEP TWO: Research what the host plants are for the butterflies common in your area. For example, if the Gulf Fritillary butterfly is common for your area, you’ll want to plant passionvine. Let me back up for just a sec and explain what a host plant is.  A host plant is the plant a butterfly will deposit her eggs on. The host plant is the plant a caterpillar will eat while it’s growing. Some caterpillars have multiple host plants, however, some have only one.  If you live in Southeast Texas and/or the Texas Gulf Coast area, these are a few of the common butterflies for our area and their host plants:

Butterfly                                              Host Plant

Monarch                                              Milkweed

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Gulf Fritillary                                      Passionvine

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Black Swallowtail                              Dill (pictured), parsley, rue, fennel,

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Giant Swallowtail                             Citrus, rue (pictured), prickly-ash

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Pipevine Swallowtail                       Pipevine (aristolochia)

Pipevine SwallowtailBrazillian Pipevine


STEP THREE: In order to attract adult butterflies, you’ll want to plant lots of nectar plants.  The nectar plants that I’ve had the most success with in our area are those that are easy to maintain (because I’m still a novice and I’m busy – who isn’t?) and plants that are fairly drought tolerant (because it’s HOT in Texas!).

Zinnias – My #1 pick, is by far the best nectar plant I’ve had in my butterfly garden. However, a bit of advice (from my experience)… never buy zinnia plants from the store, plant seeds instead. Every time I’ve bought a zinnia plant from a store they dry out and die, and I’ve NEVER seen butterflies nectar on them. However, every time I’ve planted a zinnia seed, they grow quickly, are beautiful, very long lasting, and the butterflies LOVE them. I’d suggest the Cut-and-Come-Again or California State Fair/Giants. The zinnias with the “little yellow flowers” inside of the flower head are the preferred choice for butterflies, and the larger the “landing pad” the larger the butterflies that land on it.

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Lantana – My 2nd favorite butterfly nectar plant. Butterflies LOVE this plant, as well as some nice moth varieties such as the hummingbird moth. This plant WILL NOT DIE – you seriously would have to have a black thumb to kill this plant. In our area it’s a perennial.  It’s super drought tolerant, beautiful little clusters of flowers, and it’s a show stopper. Most lantana varieties are shrubs, so you’ll need ample space for them, and you’ll need to trim them a few times a year. Some varieties grow very tall, some are smaller and mound like, and some are trailing. Be sure to buy the type of plant that will work well in your space and plan ahead – and that they will get lots of SUN! The more sun, the more booms you’ll have.

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Pentas – Okay, actually this is a tie for 2nd – pentas are like a little saloon for butterflies and hummingbird love them too.Pentas are also very drought tolerant, and they are a perennial for our area as well. They come in pink, hot pink, red, and white.


Plumbago – This little shrub will have beautiful light green leaves and the most gorgeous periwinkle colored flowers. I’ve found that the swallowtails in particular seem to really like to nectar on this flower.

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Others plants to consider that I like too: Buddleia “Butterfly Bush”, Gregg’s Mistflower, Buttonbush, honeysuckle, verbena, tithonia “Mexican Sunflower”, Mexican Flame Vine, Vitex, Autumn Sage, Mealy Sage, and Salvia.  Last but not least, Tropical Milkweed is also a great nectar plant, but most recognized as the host plant of choice for Monarchs.

Other food sources for butterflies: fermenting fruit, tree sap, carrion, and muddy puddles/wet sand.

 I hope you give gardening for butterflies a try! Best wishes for a beautiful garden with beautiful visitors 🙂