Ohio State University Extension Factsheet

Ohio State University Extension Fact Sheet

School of Natural Resources

2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH 43210

Butterfly Gardens


Kathi L. Borgmann, Graduate Associate
Amanda D. Rodewald, State Extension Specialist, Wildlife

Landscaping even the smallest areas will provide habitat for many butterfly species. You can create suitable habitat for butterflies in your yard by selecting the appropriate flowering plants. Not only will you attract beautiful butterflies, but your yard also will be filled with colorful flowers throughout spring, summer, and fall. Creating butterfly gardens is easy and fun; learn how to spice up your yard to attract butterflies.

How to create butterfly habitat

Only a small amount of space is needed to provide butterfly habitat. You can create butterfly-friendly habitat by providing food (nectar plants), cover, water, and larval plants.

Which kinds of flowers should I plant?

Choosing a diverse array of flowers and shrubs will ensure that butterflies visit your garden while creating a bright, diverse, and colorful yard throughout the seasons. Adding a variety of flowering and fruiting shrubs to your butterfly garden also will undoubtedly attract several birds (including hummingbirds) to your yard. The table below lists the plant species, which butterfly species it attracts, what environmental conditions are needed to grow it, and which season the plant produces flowers. An asterisk (*) indicates that the plant also attracts hummingbirds.

Plant Species Season Description Growth Requirements Butterflies It Attracts
New England Aster (Aster novae-angliae)Summer-Fall3-7', perennial, violet 1" flowersMoist low fertile soils, full sunVariety; red admiral, painted lady, monarch, pearl crescent, whites, sulphurs
Sky Blue Aster (Aster azureus)Summer-Fall24-36", perennial, blue flowersMoist or dry soils, shade tolerantPearl crescent, whites, sulphurs
Smooth Aster (Aster laevis)Summer-Fall2-4', perennial, violet flowersWell drained soils, sunny areasRed admiral, pearl crescent, whites, sulphurs
Bee Balm (Monarda didyma)*Summer2-5', perennial, scarlet flowers in tubular whorlsRich to moist soils, full sun to light shadeVariety; painted lady, cabbage, milbert's tortoise shell, mourning cloak, eastern tiger swallowtail
Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa)*Summer2-4', perennial, lavender-pink flowersDry calcareous soils, full sun cabbage, to light shadeVariety; painted lady, milbert's tortoise shell
Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)Summer-Fall18-48", perennial, yellow flowersMoist soils, sunny areasWhites, sulphurs, brushfoots, skippers, blues
Dense Blazing Star (Liatris spicata)Summer1-6', perennial, purple flowers in spikesMoist, acidic soils, full sunPainted lady, fritillaries, skippers, sulphurs, coppers, checkerspots
Rough Blazing Star (Liatris aspera)Summer-Fall2-4', perennial, purple flowers, broad flower headDry sandy soils, full sunPainted lady, fritillaries, skippers, sulphurs, coppers, checkerspots
Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa)*Late Summer-Early Fall1-2', perennial, various flower colors, drought tolerantGrows well in most any areaVariety; monarch, red admiral, swallowtails, skippers, larvae
Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis)*Summer-Fall2-5', perennial, red flowerMoist soils, partial shady areasBest for hummingbirds, bound to attract variety of butterflies
Wild Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)*Spring-Summer1-3', perennial, red to pink, unique flower structureSunny to shady areasBest for hummingbirds, bound to attract variety of butterflies
Common Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum)Summer-Fall2-4', perennial, white flowers in flat clusterMoist soils, open areasVariety; painted lady, red admiral, tiger swallowtail, monarch, silver-spotted skipper
Greater Coreopsis (Coreopsis major)*Summer18-36", yellow flowers, long bloomDry soils, sunny areasVariety; eastern tailed blue, spring azure, pearl crescent, viceroy, red admiral
Wild Geranium (Geranium maculatum)Spring-Summer1-2', perennial, pink flowersMoist well-drained soils, partial shadeSkippers, eastern tailed blue
Goat's Beard (Aruncus dioicus)Spring-Summer3-7', white flowers in branching clusterRich soils, light shade, shade tolerantVariety; spring azure
Goldenrod (Solidago)Summer-Fall1-5' perennial, yellow flowersWell drained soils, sunny areasSulphurs, whites, coppers, monarch, hairstreaks, viceroy, painted lady
Stiff Goldenrod (Solidago rigida)Summer-Fall3-4', yellow flowers, rigid and uprightWell drained soils, full sunMonarch, viceroy
Iron Weed (Vernonia noveboracensis)Summer-FallUp to 6', perennial, purple flowersVarious moist soils, full sunVariety; tiger swallowtail, monarch, great spangled fritillary, silver-spotted skipper, spicebush swallowtail
Jerusalem Artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus)Fall5-10', perennial, large yellow flowersMoist fertile soilsVariety; monarch, painted lady, checkerspots
Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis)*Summer-Fall2-5', perennial, orange and yellow flowersMoist soils, tolerates full sun to full shadeBest for hummingbirds, bound to attract variety of butterflies
Joe Pye Weed (Lupinus perennis)Late Summer2-6', perennial, pink to lavender flowersMoist soils, open areasVariety; painted lady, red admiral, monarch, silver-spotted skipper, swallowtails
Wild Lupine (Lupinus perennis)Spring8-24", perennial, blue pea flowerDry acidic soilsLarvae
Maximillian's sunflower (Helianthus maximilianii)Summer-Fall3-7', perennial, large yellow flowersDrought tolerant, full sunVariety; monarch, painted lady, checkerspots
Hoary Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum incanum)Summer-Fall1-3', perennial, light purple flowersDry soils, full sunVariety; red admiral, eastern tailed blue, pearl crescent, spring azure, sulphurs, whites
Ox-eye Sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoides)Summer3-6', yellow flowersMoist soils, full sunVariety; atlantis fritillary, European skipper, early hairstreak
PawPaw (Asiminia triloba)SpringSmall broad-leafed treeMoist soils, sun to light shadeLarvae, swallowtails
Pearly Everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea)Summer12-36", perennial, flat clusters of white flowersDry soils, sunny areas, drought tolerantSmall butterflies, painted lady
Wild Blue Phlox (Phlox divaricata)*Spring10-20", perennial, blue to purple showy flowersFertile soils, well-drained, partial shadeLarvae, swallowtails, sulphurs, painted lady, viceroy
Moss Phlox (Phlox subulata)SpringCreeping ground cover, pink flowersDry acidic soils, shady areasSmall butterflies
Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)Summer-FallUp to 4' hardy perennial, purple flowers, heat tolerantRich, well drained soil sunny areasVariety; tiger swallowtail, viceroy, great spangled fritillary, whites, hairstreaks, blues, skippers
Royal Catchfly (Silene regia)*Summer3-4', perennial, red flowersSandy, dry soils, full sunBest for hummingbirds, bound to attract variety of butterflies
Spicebush (Lindera benzoin)SpringFragrant shrub, white flowers, produces fruitMoist soils, sunny areasVariety; spring azure, larvae
Sweet White Violet (Viola blanda)Spring3-5", perennial, white flowerMoist, fertile areas, light shadeLarvae
Common Blue Violet (Viola sororia)Spring3-8", perennial, blue-white flowersMoist soils, sunny or partial shady areasLarvae
March Blue Violet (Viola cucullata)Spring3-8", perennial, blue flowers, groundcoverMoist to wet soils, shade tolerantLarvae
Virginia Bluebell (Mertensia virginica)Spring1-2', purpleRich soils, sunny nodding flowers to shady areasVariety
Yarrow (Achillea species)Summer-Fall12-24", small white flowersDry soils, full sunVariety; coppers, hairstreaks, skippers, sulphurs

Plant Natives! Celebrate Diversity!

Beware of exotic species! Exotic plant species have found their way into many gardens, and although several species do have showy flowers, care should be taken to avoid planting exotic species because they can cause local extinction of native flora. Exotic plant species may also negatively interact with wildlife species. Below is a list of common exotic species to avoid. When in doubt, check with your local Extension service.

20 Common Butterflies of Ohio

Butterfly species Nectar Plants Larvae Plants
Spicebush SwallowtailMilkweed, butterfly weed, purple coneflower, joe-pye weedSpicebush, sassafras
Eastern Black SwallowtailMilkweed, butterfly weed, phloxParsley
Eastern Tiger SwallowtailButterfly weed, bee balm, phlox, milkweed, blazing starBlack cherry, tulip tree, ash, spicebush
Cabbage WhiteMints, asters, bee balmCabbage, mustards
Checkered WhiteMustardsCabbage, mustards
Clouded SulphurPhlox, milkweed, goldenrod, asters, blazing starLeguminous plants
Orange SulphurYarrow, asters, mints, goldenrodsAlfalfa, clovers
Eastern Tailed BlueMints, yarrow, milkweed, wild geraniumLeguminous plants
Spring AzureMints, milkweed, spicebushDogwoods, viburnums, black cherry
Great Spangled FritillaryMilkweed, purple coneflower, joe-pye weed, ironweed, black-eyed susan, bee balmViolets
Pearl CrescentBlack-eyed susan, milkweed, geranium, mints, astersAsters
Question MarkFeeds on rotten fruits, milkweedElm, hackberry
CommaFeeds on rotten fruitsNettles, elm
Mourning CloakMilkweed, bee balmCottonwood, elm, hackberry
Red AdmiralMilkweed, mints, asters, phlox, coreopsisNettles
Painted LadyJoe-pye weed, blazing star, bee balm, goldenrod, phlox, astersPearly everlasting
Red-spotted PurpleFeeds on rotten fruitsBlack cherry, hawthorn
ViceroyAsters, joe-pye weed, goldenrod, phloxWillow, poplars, black cherry
MonarchMilkweed, butterfly weed, joe-pye weed, goldenrod, asters, blazing starMilkweed
Silver-Spotted SkipperMilkweed, blazing star, purple coneflower, joe-pye weedLeguminous plants

Additional Resources

Online Resources


Attracting Butterflies and Hummingbirds to Your Backyard—A Rodale Organic Gardening Book by Sally Roth
Butterflies Through Binoculars—The East by Jeffrey Glassberg
Peterson Field Guide: Eastern Butterflies by Paul A. Opler and Vichai Malikul
Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide by Lawrence Newcomb
Go Native—Gardening with native plants and wildflowers in the lower Midwest by Carolyn Harstad
Butterfly Gardens: Luring nature’s loveliest pollinators to your yard by Alcinda Lewis

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Keith L. Smith, Associate Vice President for Ag. Adm. and Director, OSU Extension.

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