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Weekly Gardening Tips for Your Area


Attract Butterflies: Northeast

Lynn Coulter
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Butterflies bring movement and color to our gardens. Welcome these winged visitors to your Northeastern garden with an island bed filled with plants for the caterpillars and adults.

Begin by offering your butterflies a few essentials:

  • A few flat stones or pavers, so they can rest and warm themselves in the sun.
  • A spot for “puddling” where your butterflies can drink water and extract minerals. To make a “puddle,” fill a shallow pan with coarse sand and put it in your island bed. Keep the soil moist.
  • An insecticide-free zone. Avoid using insecticides anywhere butterflies visit.
  • Nectar plants for adult butterflies and foliage and other food plants for caterpillars. Use flowers that bloom in succession, and plant in masses of color to help the butterflies find them. Red, yellow, pink, purple and orange blossoms with short tubes or flattened flowerheads are best.

Butterflies For Northeastern gardens

Giant Swallowtail and Eastern Black Swallowtail– Swallowtails are beautiful butterflies with a distinctive “forked tail” on their hind wings. The Eastern Black Swallowtail, which has white, orange, and yellow patches on its black wings, is often seen on Queen Anne’s lace, dill, parsley, carrots and celery. Giant Swallowtails are also black and have two rows of yellow spots on their forewings. They range from the Gulf States into the Midwest and Canada.

Monarchs – Its familiar orange and black wings have made the Monarch one of our most popular butterflies. Females lay their eggs only on milkweed plants, and the caterpillars eat only milkweed–a good reason to leave a few ungroomed or weedy patches around your yard. Each fall, migrating monarchs journey to Mexico.

Great Spangled Fritillary, Meadow Fritillary, Variegated Fritillary – These tawny orange and brown butterflies have dots and dark markings on their upper wings. The Great Spangled Fritillary has a wing span of almost 4 inches and ranges north to Canada. The Eastern Meadow “Frit” is a smaller species that frequents roadsides and damp meadows.

Painted Lady – Painted ladies can be recognized by the orange and brown splotches on their wings and the splashes of pink on their forewings that give them their name. American Painted Ladies have two blue “eyes” on the underside of their hing wings; they’re scarce in some years while their numbers seem to explode in others.

And many more – Look for a field guide to butterflies in your region to discover other fascinating and beautiful species.

A sampler of plants To Grow In your butterfly island bed:


Flowering dogwood, Kousa dogwood


Dill, parsley, fennel, yarrow

flowers and other nectar plants

Phlox, Lantana, scabiosa, sedum, verbena, daylily, butterfly weed, zinnia, New England aster, violet


Clethra, forsythia, butterfly bush, lilac, viburnum, rhododendron

Dress up your island butterfly bed with an ornamental butterfly house. It’s easy to build from a kit and makes a fun family project.

Image credit, Monarch butterfly: Shutterstock/James Laurie

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