Butterflies are beneficial to the garden both with their visual appeal and their ability to pollinate your flowers. The following three plants have a reputation for attracting butterflies and are widely available at most nurseries.
Sometimes called butterfly weed, this plant produces showy blossoms during mid-summer. They are extremely easy to grow from seed or can also be purchased in a mature form at a nursery. They were given the nickname "butterfly weed" because of their undeniable ability to attract butterflies with their bright flowers and honey scented blossoms. Most notably, they are irresistible to the monarch butterfly.
The best part about milkweed is that it's a perennial and will come back year after year. Although milkweed is basically a thin stemmed bush, you may still find some cocoons on them in the fall. But beware; where there are cocoons, there will be larvae waiting to eat your plant. So not only is the plant a perennial, but the butterflies will also come back year after year.
The butterfly bush is very similar to butterfly weed, but has purple blooms that look similar to the blooms of a lilac bush. Be careful when planting either one of these—they are both prolific growers and spread easily.
2. Purple Cone Flower
This is another perennial flower sure to attract both butterflies and hummingbirds to your garden. The leafy blooms are purple and the center of the flower has a large cone-shaped head. The purple petals fall away from the head, almost as if they are getting ready to launch the cone into the sky. The seeds drop off in the fall and replant themselves year after year.
Because the cone flower can get up to five feet tall, it's best to plant them in the back of the garden. If you don't cut the heads off in the fall and before they go to seed, your garden will be overrun with them. They can be found at most nurseries and should be planted and well adapted to your garden before it's time for them to bloom. The biggest reason for this is simply because their height at full growth makes them hard to handle. However, they can easily be transplanted. Just dig them up before they flower and move them to other areas of the yard.
They are drought-tolerant, love the sun, and can be grown as far north as zone three. They also do well in windy areas, despite their height. Another great thing about purple cone flower is that they make for a great centerpiece as freshly cut flowers.
Believe it or not, chives also attract butterflies—at least, the flower of the plant does. Chives start growing very early in the season, even if there is snow on the ground. Their spiky tendrils produce a round lilac-colored blossom that lasts for a couple weeks. Here again, be sure to cut off the heads of the plants before they go to seed, or you will have chives all over the place as they easily seed themselves, while the mother plant grows bigger year after year.
It's nice to have a plant that can feed both butterflies and humans. Chives come in either the traditional onion flavor or in a garlic version. As opposed to the onion flavor referenced above, the garlic version has white blooms, with the head of the bloom flat and about 2-3 inches in diameter. You can use both species as a garnish or to flavor your own food.
The onion-y chives bloom earlier in spring than purple cone flower or the butterfly bush. Given that fact, you will be able to feed the butterflies for longer periods of time. Garlic chives blossom near fall, so with a little luck, you can feed the butterflies all season long.