Attracting Butterflies to the Garden

— Written By

Q: How can I attract butterflies to my garden?

 A:        When most people select plants for their garden, they choose plants that have beautiful flowers and colors. For some plants, those beautiful flowers attract butterflies that are often a pleasant added bonus for most gardeners. Some gardeners enjoy the butterflies enough to where they form butterfly gardens that consist plants that are known for attracting butterflies.

To attract butterflies into a garden you want to consider what the butterflies are looking for when they enter a garden. Butterflies enter a garden to look for food. For butterflies their food is nectar. So, in a butterfly garden you would want to have plants that provide nectar to the butterflies. There are certain plants with flowers that produce sweet nectar that butterflies would use as food. There are some general factors to keep in mind when selecting flowers for a butterfly garden. Many butterflies prefer plants that have pink, red, purple, yellow, or orange flowers. Butterflies tend to be more attracted to large flower masses of a single color or closely related colors, instead of many colors mixed together. In order to get to the nectar butterflies must have somewhere to land. Butterflies prefer plants with clusters of short tubular flowers or flowers with large, flat petals. Having a mix of plants that will allow for flowering over for a long time will attract more butterflies since they are active from early spring through frost.

When considering a location for a butterfly garden, remember that butterflies love the sun. A bright sunny area with at least six hours of sun and protected from high winds is an ideal location for attracting butterflies. One area does not have to be designates for a butterfly garden, you can choose to mix plants that would attract butterflies within the rest of the landscape and still attract butterflies.

Butterflies have to warm their bodies in the mornings before becoming active. They use their wings to absorb the sun’s warmth that is then transferred to their body. To do this they need a place to sit and catch some rays in the mornings. Having a few flat stones or other objects with a reflective surface will provide a place for butterflies to sit and absorb the morning sun warmth.

Often times we see groups of butterflies gather on wet sand or mud. This is an activity called “puddling” and the butterflies are going to the wet sand or mud to obtain minerals from the soil. Adding some small “puddling” areas in a butterfly garden will also help attract butterflies. A shallow pan can be placed in the soil and filled with sand. The sand needs to be kept moist, which can be easily done by placing the pan under a soaker hose or near a water source. You can mix in salt (table salt or rock salt) to the sand at a rate of ½ to ¾ cup salt to 1 gallon of sand to provide some minerals for the butterflies.

So, what are some plants that you could put in a butterfly garden? Annual plants known for attracting butterflies include:  cosmos, impatiens, marigolds, sunflower, verbena, and zinnia. Perennial plants that attract butterflies can include black-eyed Susan, aster, coneflower, coreopsis, lantana, and phlox just to name a few. There are trees and shrubs that can attract butterflies, like abelia, buddleia, rose of Sharon, and viburnum.

If you would like to see examples and get ideas for a butterfly garden, be sure to visit the Butterfly Teaching Garden that is maintained by Wayne County Extension Master Gardener Volunteers in Stoney Creek Park on Ash Street in Goldsboro. The garden provides great examples of plants that can help attract butterflies.

For your gardening, landscape, and lawn questions contact the Wayne County Extension Master Gardener Volunteer Plant Clinic on Mondays and Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. The plant clinic is a free service open to any Wayne County resident that has home gardening questions. One can reach the Wayne County Extension Master Gardener Volunteer Plant Clinic by phone at 919-731-1433, e-mail at, or stopping by Room 100 of the Wayne County Extension Office (208 West Chestnut Street, Goldsboro). People contacting the plant clinic with questions are encouraged to bring samples and/or pictures that could help in reaching a solution. Extension Master Gardeners are trained volunteers with the Wayne County N.C. Cooperative Extension Service.

Learn More!

  • Subscribe to Wayne County Gardening e-newsletter and receive timely gardening information and announcements of upcoming extension gardening events.
    • To subscribe: Visit: Scroll down to enter your email address in the “address” box and click on the subscribe button. You will then receive an e-mail which will direct you to a website to accept the subscription.

Jessica Strickland is an Agriculture Extension Agent, specializing in horticulture for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Wayne County. Horticulture program information can be found at Forward any questions you would like answered from this week’s column to

Upcoming Wayne County Extension Gardening Programs

  • Listen to our new gardening radio show “What’s Growing with Jessica Strickland” on Saturdays at 9:30 a.m. The show airs on 730 a.m. WFMC.
  • Save the Date for National Honey Bee Day Celebration on Saturday, August 20th from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Old Waynesborough Park in Goldsboro. The event will be educational and lots of fun for the entire family. There will be many activities for kids and parents to enjoy. From the children activity center the “Bee Hive” to checking out the beekeeping vendors, crafts, listening to live music and lots of good food.