Luring Butterflies with Late Bloomers


by Karen Weiland, Advanced Master Gardener



There are many plants other than the traditional garden mums that save their best show for last.  You can extend the flowering season by adding a few of these “late bloomers” to your garden and at the same time provide nectar for traveling butterflies.  We usually see most of the butterflies in the spring and summer, but many still have a very big need for nectar in the fall.

Monarchs migrate thousands of miles and need good nectar sources along their travels to successfully arrive at their southern sites such as Mexico and California.  Many other butterflies overwinter in various stages of life.  Some overwinter as eggs, and the adults that lay them need an extra Monarchnutritional boost at the end of the season to produce large quantities of healthy eggs that can get through the winter.

To make your backyard attractive to butterflies try to select plants with orange, red, purple, yellow and pink flowers.  Bigger isn’t always better when selecting plants.  Lantana, sedum and pentas, which have short tubed flowers, are especially effective because it is easy for the butterflies to reach the nectar.  A bigger flower can sometimes yield less nectar than something with a smaller blossom.  Butterflies prefer a larger grouping of flowers where they can linger over a meal rather than fly from one solitary plant to another.  Most flowers or plants that attract butterflies need about 6 hours of sunlight each day.

Monarchs cannot survive without milkweek. The flowers are a source of nectar for the adults, they lay their eggs on the leaves and their caterpillars will only eat plants in the milkweed family.

Sedums are easy to grow and like poor gravelly soils with lots of sun and good drainage.  The burnt red blooms of Autumn Joy sedum will add an intense punch of color and will make an excellent focal point in the fall garden.  Black eyed Susan is an easy care plant that keeps on giving from mid-summer through fall.  Asters have daisy like blooms.  Pinch them back during the early growing season and they will produce a compact mound of flowers.  Grow these butterfly magnets with Joe Pye weed and purple top verbena.  Salvia produce long tubular flowers that bloom until the first hard frost.  A favorite of butterflies is Lantana which have clusters of small tubular flowers and last well into the fall.  Although they are not hardy to our winters, Pentas’ clusters of star shaped flowers are great for growing in beds and borders or even containers on the patio.  The deciduous shrub, Dark Night Bluebeard, produces bunches of deep blue flowers with silvery green leaves.  It is hardy in zones 5-9 and once established, is drought tolerant.

A butterflies thin wings will appreciate a place that is sheltered from the wind and a shallow pot with a sand covered bottom and a small amount of water placed among the flowers would certainly be a signal to them that you have laid out the welcome mat.

Adding some of these plants to your garden will hopefully bring you lots of colorful “winged” activity well into the fall.


As always, Happy Gardening!

More information about gardening and related subjects is available online at  The Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service can be reached at 499-6334 in LaGrange Co., 636-2111 in Noble Co., 925-2562 in DeKalb Co. and 668-1000 in Steuben Co.