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3029 Davenport Rd
Knoxville, TN, 37920
United States

(865) 573-9591

Stanley's Greenhouse is a family owned and operated plant farm and garden center in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Growing a Butterfly Garden

Ideas You Can Use

Check out our answers to commonly asked questions and the latest tips from our plant specialists!


Growing a Butterfly Garden

Anna Montgomery

[The following is the informational handout that Lisa Stanley shared with participants of her June 18, 2016, Stanley's Greenhouse workshop "Growing a Butterfly Garden". Lisa encourages gardeners to include container gardening as well as bedding plants in their butterfly friendly garden.]

In general butterflies are attracted to pink, orange, purple, red and yellow flowers, however, listed below many of the plants, shrubs, and trees that butterflies love – some for their nectar and others as host plants for their young:

Allium (Allium tuberosum) also called garlic chives – white-flowering perennial; attracts monarch and other varieties of butterflies as well as bees; an edible herb; typically blooms August to September; fragrant leaves; deer and drought tolerant

Aromatic aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium) also known as fall aster – herbaceous perennial; blue-purple flowers; balsam-scented foliage; their late August-to-September blooms attract fall butterflies (especially the checkered skipper species) and birds; preferred nectar source for many butterfly species; drought and poor soil tolerant

*Autumn sage (Salvia greggii) also called red salvia, red Texas sage, or hummingbird mint; try ‘Furman’s red’ or ‘Radio red’ varieties – a hardy perennial; Lisa’s favorite flower; this plant’s clear blue-red flowers do not clash with any color Lisa has tried; closest to a “plant once and walk away plant”, the drier the better; smells like mint; attracts butterflies, birds, and hummingbirds; blooms in late spring and again in fall; deer resistant; fast grower

Azalea (Rhododendron) – perennial flowering shrub; three-season interest; pink, purple, or red flowers; non-white-colored azaleas attract swallowtails and grey comma butterflies as well as hummingbirds; keep soil moist but not wet through summer and fall

Bee balm (Monarda didyma or fistulosa) also called horsemint, Oswego tea, and wild bergamot – a perennial wildflower in the mint family; pink or lavender flowers; fragrant leaves; good cut flower and dried flower; attracts butterflies, pollinating insects, insects that control garden pests, and hummingbirds; may be used in teas, tastes like a cross between spearmint, peppermint, and oregano; fistulosa variety more resistant to powdery mildew than other varieties

Big-sage (Lantana camara) also known as wild-sage, red-sage, white-sage, or tickberry - annual; white, yellow, orange, red and purple blooms, often mixed in the same cluster; low maintenance; drought and poor soil tolerant; attracts butterflies; ‘Luscious grape’ variety is trailing and good in raised beds or containers; ‘Miss Huff’ variety is favored by monarch butterflies

Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) ‘Denver Daisy’ – annual, short-lived perennial, but reseeds readily; attracts monarch and buckeye butterflies; drought tolerant

Blue mist flower (Conoclinium coelestinum) – hardy ageratum; reseeds with abandon, but volunteers are easy to pull out; monarch butterflies love it

Blue porterweed (Stachytarpheta jamaicensus) – an annual in our zone; blue flowers, monarch and gulf fritillary butterflies love it

Bronze fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) – perennial; edible herb - can be used as a substitute for green fennel in any recipe or combined with French tarragon; a popular host plant for the anise swallowtail and Eastern black swallowtail

Butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii) – perennial in our zone; purple, pink, white, red; the best butterfly attracting bush; all butterfly bush varieties attract butterflies, but these varieties are powerful attractors: ‘Buddleja buzz’, ‘Miss Molly’ and ‘Miss Ruby’ (close to true red)

Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) – native perennial shrub; unique white flowers; attracts swallowtail and monarch butterflies, bees, and other pollinators

Cape plumbago (Plumbago auriculata) ‘Imperial Blue’ – annual; blooms from spring to fall; low maintenance; drought tolerant and, once established, needs little watering; good for attracting butterflies both as a larval host for some species and food supply for others; deer resistant

Chokecherry tree (Prunus virginiana) – a native tree to the Southeastern U.S.; features white blooms, dark red fleshy fruit; host tree for many caterpillars including swallowtail, two-tailed swallowtail, Eastern tiger, and lorquin’s admiral butterflies; two cautions: deer love chokecherry trees so do not plant if you have deer problems and choke cherry seeds can be toxic

Coneflower or pale purple coneflower (Echinacea pallida) – perennial; not really purple, really pink despite its name; especially popular with painted lady butterflies

Confederate jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides) or star jasmine – annual or tender perennial; not related to common jasmine; a moderate to fast growing plant; ‘Madison’ has superior hardiness; attracts butterflies; beware rabbits also love to eat this plant

Cosmos (Cosmos sulphurems) – annual; attracts monarch, painted lady, and other butterflies;try orange ‘Cosmic’ cosmos

Goldenrod or stiff goldenrod (Oligoneurm or solidago rigidium) – perennial; yellow flowers; monarch butterflies love it; thrives in inhospitable soils from clay to dry sand

Gregg’s mistflower (Conoclinium greggi) – annual; a hard-to-find, less-hardy ageratum, but monarch butterflies adore it

Heliotrope (Heliotropium aborescens) also called common heliotrope or cherry pie plant – annual; fragrant blue-purple or white flowers; good nectar source for butterflies later in the summer; great for butterfly gardens, windows boxes, and containers

Jasmine (Jasminum officinale) – annual outside or dwarf varieties make excellent indoor houseplants in the winter; a less well-known butterfly attractor, jasmine also attracts beneficial insects such as honeybees

Joe Pye weed (Eutrochium maculatum or purpureum) or spotted Joe Pye weed or trumpetweed – native perennial; pale pink-purple flowers that smell like vanilla; a low-maintenance full-sun to partial-shade plant; attracts monarchs and other butterflies with its sweet nectar; maculatum has more foliage and flower heads than the wild purpureum variety; named for the American man who pioneered using it to help people suffering from typhoid fever

Lantana (Viburnum lantana) - annual in our zone; continuous bloomers in an array of colors; attract butterflies, but not monarchs

May Night sage (Salvia x superba) also called meadow sage or perennial salvia (check out ‘Mainacht’ variety) – outstanding perennial; blue and purple spires; tolerant of clay soil; full sun; blooms early to mid summer; attracts butterflies and hummingbirds

Mexican bush sage (Salvia leucantha) – annual; fuzzy purple, white, or combination of the two colored; magnet for butterflies; native to Mexico

Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) also called common milkweed – perennial; over 30 varieties; a key plant for monarch butterflies (which not surprisingly are known as milkweed butterflies); American ladies, and other butterflies also love milkweed, as well as beneficial bees and pollinating wasps; the nectar is so sweet it was once used by Native Americans as a sweetener

Passionflower vine (Passiflora incarnate) also called maypop, purple passionflower, true passionflower, wild apricot, and wild passion vine – a vigorous native wildflower and perennial; intricately beautiful lavender and white flowers; produces edible fruit that tastes similar to guava; a host of butterflies use passionflower as a host plant, including gulf fritillary, zebra longwing, crimson-patch longwing, red-banded hairstreak, Julia, and Mexican butterflies; blooms from July to September; drought tolerant; can be invasive, so plant in a place where it can have plenty of room to grow 

Pentas (Pentas lanceolata) or Egyptian star flower or Egyptian starcluster – annual; pink, magenta, lilac, or less commonly red or white; one of the best butterfly attracting plants and, in the red ‘New Look Red’ version, attracts hummingbirds as well

Red salvia (Salvia splendens) ‘Faye Chapel’ or “Patio red’ – annual; vigorous, fast grower; a butterfly and hummingbird magnet; prefers afternoon shade and good drainage; cut back occasionally to promote bushiness

Rue or common rue (Ruta graveolens) also called herb-of-grace – a hardy evergreen perennial, herb, and ornamental plant; one of the oldest garden plants; a host plant for the caterpillar of the largest U.S. butterfly: the black swallowtail and also for the Old World swallowtail; has been used as a medicinal herb and as an insect repellent; most cats dislike the smell

Sapphire showers golden dewdrop - also called Picotee skyflower or pigeonberry (Duranta erecta) – annual, can be overwintered inside; purple, ruffled-with-white flowers; attracts many varieties of butterflies; warning: the fruit of this plant is poisonous to humans, so do not plant where children play

Siberian wallflower (Erysimum x marshallii) – evergreen perennial; fragrant orange flowers; full sun to partial shade; bloom times mid-spring, late spring/early summer; parts of the plant are poisonous if eaten; attractive to bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds

Spider milkweed (Asclepias riridis) – native perennial; white, yellowish green with purple accented flowers; blooms May to July; many butterflies use this plant as an early nectar choice and good choice of food for early monarch butterflies

Summer snapdragon (Angelonia angustifolia) – annual; white, pink, blue, lavender and purple flowers; long, 4-6 week flowering season; attracts butterflies and hummingbirds; is a good bedding plant or as filler in containers; deadheading is not necessary, but cutting will encourage more growth

Verbena – also called purpletop vervain (Verbena bonariensis) – annual; a monarch butterfly and checkered skipper butterfly favorite

Vinca (Vinca major) also called creeping myrtle, periwinkle flower, bigleaf periwinkle, large periwinkle, greater periwinkle, and blue periwinkle – rigorous perennial trailing vine or groundcover; blooms with blue-lavender flowers in the spring and intermittently throughout summer; attracts butterflies, especially the gulf fritillary species; drought and poor-soil tolerant; can be invasive

Wild black cherry tree (Prunus serotina) – host plant for swallowtails, coral hairsteaks, and red-spotted purple butterflies as well as cecropia moths; can grow to 70 feet so plant accordingly, however also can be grown in a container

Zinnias (Heliantheae angustifolia or elegans hybrid) ’Profusion’ dwarf variety - an annual in the sunflower/daisy family; Lisa favors the orange, white, and apricot colors, but this zinnia can also be found in chartreuse, lilac, purple, red, or yellow; this variety more resistant to powdery mildew than other varieties; swallowtail, orange sulfur, silver-spotted skipper, Western tiger swallowtail, and painted lady butterflies love them

Zinnia-Zowie! yellow flame  (Helianthaea elegans) - annual; gorgeous magenta-orange center with yellow tipped petal; heat-loving plant; blooms during the summer when many flowers are finished: in our zone can bloom July through Thanksgiving; long-lasting cut flower