Tips for Starting a Successful Butterfly Garden

Always include a nectar source and host plants

By Taylor Lamb, CNC Horticulturist
June 12, 2020

Giant Swallowtail

There are two parts to any successful butterfly garden: nectar sources and host plants. Nectar is an important source of food for many pollinators, and luckily there are many different types of annuals and perennials that provide this resource. To attract native pollinators to your garden, we recommend planting native annuals and perennials that would typically be found in your area naturally. Butterflies see in ultraviolet light, so bright colored flowers with a lighter center can act as a target to help attract pollinators. Butterflies also prefer a space to land while feeding on the nectar, so native species with larger petals or petals that form in clumps will also help attract butterflies to your garden.  

Monarch Butterfly

Here is a short list of nectar sources that we use in our Butterfly Encounter. If you would like more information on other plants you can include in your butterfly garden at home, be sure to ask the Butterfly Encounter or Horticulture Staff for more information!

Annuals: Lantana ‘New Gold’, Petunia ‘Wave White’, Calibrachoa ‘Blue Legend’, Zinnia ‘Profusion’, Verbena ‘Vepita Dark Red’, Plumbago

Perennials: Gaillardia pulchella, Indian Blanket, Coreopsis sp., Tickseed, Stokesia laevis, Stokes aster, Pycnanthemum sp., Mountain mints

Butterfly weed

The second item necessary for a successful butterfly garden are host plants. Host plants are required for a butterfly’s reproductive cycle. When a caterpillar hatches from its egg, it must eat from a specific plant to survive. If an egg is laid on a plant that isn’t its host plant, the caterpillar will hatch, try to eat whatever plant they are on, and die. Therefore, if you would like to attract a wide variety of native butterflies to your garden, be sure to plant a wide variety of native host plants

Below, you can find the list of host plants to some of the native butterflies of Georgia.

List of Host Plants for Specific Butterfly Species Found in Butterfly Encounter:

Butterfly: Danaus plexippus,  Monarch 
Host Plant: Asclepias incarnata

Butterfly: Papilio polyxenes, Black Swallowtail
Host Plants: Variety of plants in the Apiaceae family including: Carrots, Dill, Parsley, Fennel, Celery, Caraway

Butterfly: Papilio cresphontes, Giant Swallowtail
Host Plants: Variety of trees and herbs in Rutaceae family including: Prickly Ash, Hop Tree, Common Rue

Butterfly: Battus philenor, Pipevine Swallowtail
Host Plant: Pipevines (Aristolochia species) 

Butterfly: Papilio troilus, Spicebush Swallowtail
Host Plant: Plants belonging to Lauraceae family

Butterfly: Papilio glaucus, Eastern Tiger Swallowtail
Host Plant: Common host plants in Magnoliaceae and Rosaceae families including: Tulip Tree, Sweet Bay Magnolia, Wild Black Cherry

Butterfly: Siproeta stelenes, Malachite
Host Plants: Ruellia coccinea and other plants in the Acanthaceae family

Butterfly: Heliconius charithonia, Zebra Longwing
Host Plant: Several passion flower vine species (Passiflora sp.) including: Purple Passionflower, Corkystem Passionflower, Yellow Passionflower and more

Butterfly: Vanessa cardui, Painted Lady
Host Plants: More than 100 species of plants have been recorded as a host plant for the Painted Lady including: Compositae family, Boraginaceae family, Malvaceae family

Butterfly: Agraulis vanillae, Gulf Fritillary
Host Plant: Many species in the Passiflora family including: Purple Passionflower and Corkystem Passionflower