Butterfly Gardening

Starting a Butterfly Garden

Below is a list of just a few recommended plants for a starter butterfly garden along with some of the butterflies you may attract by planting them. We’ve also included some basic information to get you started. If you’d like more information on these and other plants for your garden, consider attending a Butterfly Project workshop (see Events on the Home page) or schedule a private consultation for your home garden or community gardening group.

What do Butterflies Need?*

Nectar Plants and Host Plants

A butterfly has different food requirements during the different phases of its life. All adult butterflies depend on nectar plants as their food source; females search for host plants on which to lay their eggs; and growing caterpillars feed on the host plants.

Certain butterflies need specific plants, while other butterflies can feed off a larger variety of plants. Native plants are important to a butterfly garden, since they are familiar sources of nectar and food for caterpillars. Some cultivated varieties of native plants do not produce as much nectar as the wild forms. (The butterflies that are native to the Bronx and their nectar and host plants are listed below.)

Minerals and Water

Butterflies need water and salt and other minerals, which can be found in mud puddles, dung, or rotting fruit. You can create a mud puddle by making a small depression in the ground, lining the edges with pebbles, and adding water each morning. It is best if the puddles dry out by the end of the day.


Butterflies also need shelter from the wind and inclement weather, a place to form their chrysalis, and a safe spot to spend the winter. Trees, large shrubs, or hedges form windbreaks. Leaf litter, old logs, and branches provide protected places to overwinter. Bushes, tall grasses, and piles of leaves or sticks are ideal areas for cocoons.

Plenty of Sunshine

Butterflies need to be warm in order to fly. Choose a sunny and protected place for your butterfly plants. Large, flat rocks placed in the sun will also provide a place for butterflies to warm themselves. Sunny spots are also good for eggs and caterpillars to mature more rapidly.

No Pesticides

Pesticides can kill butterflies and caterpillars, which are extremely sensitive to toxins.

*Information Provided by the Bronx Green Up Program of the New York Botanical Garden

Butterfly Project’s Sunny Butterfly Garden Suggestions

Plants Height Time of Bloom Color Butterfly(L- Larval & N-Nectar)
Butterfly Weed, Asclepias tuberosa 1-2 ‘ June-Aug Bright Orange Monarch(L), Pearl Crescent(N), Gray Hairsteak(N), Eastern-tailed Blue(N)
Common Milkweed, Asclepias syriaca 3-6 ‘ June-Aug Pink Monarch(L), Red Admiral(N), Common Sooty Wing(N), Peck’s Skipper(N), Delaware Skipper(N)
Spreading Dogbane, Apocynum androsae-mifolium 1-3′ May-Aug Pinkish Pearl Crescent(N),Red Admiral(N),Common Sooty Wing(N), Peck’s Skipper(N)
Choose 1:

Hollow-stemmed Joe-Pye Weed, Eupatorium fistulosum

To 10′ July-Sept Bright Pink-Purple Tiger Swallowtail(N), Painted Lady(N), Monarch(N), Silver-spotted Skipper(N), Zabulon Skipper(N)
Purple-node Joe-Pye Weed, Eupatorium purpureum 2-6′ July-Sept Pale pinkish or purplish Same As Above
Spotted Joe-Pye Weed, Eupatorium Maculatum 2-6′ July-Sept Purple to Pale Lavender Same As Above
Choose 1 Goldenrod:

Showy Goldenrod, Solidago speciosa

1-5′ Aug-Oct Yellow Orange Sulphur(N), Gray Hairsteak(N), American Lady(N), Monarch(N)
Lance-leaved Goldenrod, Solidago Euthamia graminifolia 1-4′ July-Oct Yellow Same As Above
New England Aster, Aster novae-angliae 1-6′ Aug-Oct Red-Purple Pearl Crescent(N), Painted Lady(N)
Red Osier Dogwood, Cornus Sericea 3-9′ May-Aug White, white drupes Spring/Summer Azure(L)
Coast Pepperbush, Clethra alnifolia To 9′ July-Aug White Tiger swallowtail(N), Spicebush swallowtail(N)
Little Bluestem, Schiza-chyrium scoparium 1.5-3+’   Inconspicuous Peck’s(L), Hobomok(L), Zabulon Skippers(L)
Switchgrass, Panicum virgatum To 6′   Inconspicuous Peck’s(L), Hobomok(L), Zabulon Skippers(L)