Butterflies bring more than beauty to your garden – the delicate insects also help pollinate your flowers, encourage more bright blooms. Southern Living's floral guru, Senior Stylist Buffy Hargett Miller, shares the best secrets to attract these colorful creatures.
The most popular way to attract butterflies and other pollinators to your garden is with a butterfly bush. They come in a variety of colors, and can grow 8-10 feet tall. Butterfly bushes grow big and unkempt with time. Because they bloom on new growth, cutting them back in winter won't reduce flowering and may even increase it. We recommend pruning it back to around 2 feet in the off-season.
Tougher than Clint Eastwood, lantana parties in heat, chortles at drought, and blooms in sunny colors from spring to fall. Plus, its nectar-laden flowers attract pretty butterflies like moths to a flame. Lantana can be an annual or a perennial, depending on the selection and where you live. In general, it's winter hardy in the Lower, Coastal, and Tropical South (USDA Zones 8 through 10). Tough heirloom types like "Miss Huff" (orange-and-pink flowers) can get big—up to 5 feet tall and twice as wide—but, frankly, that's a lot larger than most people want. Fortunately, plant breeders have developed lower-growing, compact hybrids suitable for containers and small gardens. Because the seedlings can be invasive in Florida, gardeners there should plant selections that set little or no seed, such as "Gold Mound," "New Gold," Carlos," and "Pinkie."
One of the easiest annuals to grow are zinnias. These bright, vibrant blooms come in a variety of colors, and they grow to be about two to four feet tall. Zinnias also make wonderful cutting flowers for inside your house, so they're a practical option if you like to keep fresh flowers indoors. Zinnia blooms consist of two types of flower—a yellow "disc" flower in the center that forms seed, ringed by a larger "ray" flower for show. Zinnias are the Anne Boleyns of the garden: They love to lose their heads. As long as you keep cutting stems for arrangements, they'll keep blooming profusely in a rainbow of colors up until an autumn frost. To start zinnias from seed, find a bare patch of soil or container filled with potting soil in a sunny spot, tear open a seed packet, scatter these large seeds over the surface, rake the soil very lightly, and then water. The seeds will sprout within a week. When seedlings are a few inches tall, thin them to 10 inches apart so each plant has enough room. Crowded plants can mildew and develop leaf spots.
Another great flower that butterflies love is the marigold. You can start these easy flowers from seed, or transplant to your garden from your local garden center. African marigolds grow tall and are known for their huge, round blooms in orange, yellow, or cream. French marigolds grow up to 12 inches tall and come in more color combos. Hybrid marigolds created by crossing French and African marigolds yield large, long-blooming color and need no deadheading. Plus, marigold blossoms are edible. Also called poor man's saffron, these spicy, herbal flowers can sub for tarragon in a pinch.
Salvias and Mexican sage
These two colorful plants also make a wonderful addition to your garden, and you can pick from a wide variety of colors. Salvias and Mexican sage are especially great for attracting bees, and the plants grow from one to five feet tall. Mexican sage enjoys full sun, well-drained soil, and a medium amount of water. Be sure to cut back last year's growth in spring; remove spent flowers anytime.
These beautiful plants not only add butterflies, but beautiful color to your garden all summer long.