Midwest: Butterfly Island Planting Tips

Lynn Coulter
Print Friendly

butterfly on sedum

If you garden in the Midwest, our “Muddy Boots” reporter Kelly, from the Home Depot store in Bloomington-Normal, IL, has some great tips for making a butterfly island bed:

“It’s all about creating an oasis for native butterflies (and don’t be afraid of the other natural pollinators attracted to the same things, like bees and hummingbirds)! Butterflies are cold blooded and need heat to fly. Dark colored rocks or other heat storing garden fixtures that heat up in early morning or late afternoon can help extend butterfly visits. More activity = more butterflies!

“Butterflies also need shelter from the wind that is very common in the Midwest. Planting near a fence, row of evergreens, or including a taller feature like a cherry tree or bushier plants can help protect butterflies.

“Providing food for caterpillars can increase the amount of butterflies in your garden. Be sure to plant enough food plants for caterpillars and yourself.”

For caterpillars, plant:

  • Black Swallowtail: Carrots, Parsley, Dill
  • Tiger Swallowtail: Cherry (Plant 2 different types to increase production of cherries), Birch, Tulip tree, Poplar, Ash, Apple (The same environment that caterpillars like also fosters coddling moths, so do not expect edible apples from a tree in a butterfly garden.)
  • Monarch Butterfly : Milkweeds, Butterfly Weed
  • Great Spangled Fritillary: Violets
  • Buckeye: Snapdragons
  • Morning Cloak: Willows, Elm
  • Viceroy: Pussy Willow, Plums, Cherries
  • Red Spotted Purple: Willows, Poplars

For adult butterflies:

Annuals:

  • Cosmos
  • Marigolds
  • ‘Wave’ Petunias
  • Verbena – Very easy to fit in amongst other plants with a trailing habit. Try planting in a simple concrete planter to create a butterfly food and heat “rest stop.”
  • Zinnia

Herbs:

  • Chives
  • Catmint – Be prepared for neighborhood cats to also enjoy this plant!
  • Lavender – Try ‘Lavender De Provence,’ sometimes labeled as English Lavender ‘Provence.’ 
  • Mint – Available in many flavors. Plant in a 1″ diameter or larger pot, to avoid spreading.
  • Parsley
  • Dill

Perennials:

  • Bee Balm – Native to the Midwest; also attracts hummingbirds.
  • Black Eyed Susan
  • Butterfly Weed – Native to the Midwest and attracts hummingbirds.
  • Phlox – Several varieties bloom at different times across the seasons. Native Phlox has a very beautiful scent and blooms in mid-spring with light robin’s egg-blue flowers. Garden Phlox and Creeping Phlox bloom in summer and early fall with a range of colors but do not typically have strong perfume.
  • Purple Coneflower
  • Red Valerian
  • Sunflower
  • Goldenrod
  • Sedum –  Try “Autumn Joy” or “Black Jack” for its dark, almost black-burgundy leaves.

“Also, never EVER use pesticides in a butterfly garden,” Kelly says. ‘Both caterpillars and butterflies are extremely vulnerable to them. Both are also very vulnerable to bacterial insecticides like Bacillus thuringiensis.

“Hang a hummingbird feeder and plant hummingbird friendly plants such as Bee Balm and Butterfly Weed to enjoy some crossover usage from your plants. Avoid attracting other birds to your butterfly garden as many desirable birds eat butterflies!”

Plant selections vary by store; vendor availability and weather may affect inventories. A Garden Center associate can help you find what you’re looking for or suggest alternatives.

Meet your Home Depot “Muddy Boots” associates, our garden reporters from around the U.S.

Image: Shutterstock/StevenRussellSmithPhotos

Got questions about this article or any other garden topic? Go here now to post your gardening ideas, questions, kudos or complaints. We have gardening experts standing by to help you!