14 Plants for a Butterfly Garden

Butterfly Garden
Monarch Butterfly on Milkweed

Creating a Butterfly Garden is a rewarding and beautiful process. Butterfly populations are threatened by habitat destruction. Butterflies need both nectar and host plants to survive and reproduce. You can help by planting both in a sunny area of your yard. Help the butterflies and enjoy their majesty in return!

Although picking out good plants for your butterfly garden is important, it’s also just as important to not use harsh herbicides and pesticides on those plants. “Nature-friendly gardening practices encourage the garden to flourish without poisoning its guests (NBG)”.

Here’s a list of nectar sources and host plants (that perform well in Hampton Roads) to include in your butterfly garden.

Nectar Plants for a Butterfly Garden

Nectar plants are the butterfly’s food source. They rely on the nectar from these plants’ flowers for the entirety of their adult lives. I’ve separated the following nectar plants by shrubs, perennials, and annuals.


Butterfly Bush (Buddleia)

According the Butterfly Society of Virginia, “if you can’t have but one nectar plant, make it a butterfly bush.”

Pictured: Flutterby Peach Cobbler Butterfly Bush

Kaleidoscope Abelia


The evergreen abelia has red foliage throughout the summer, becoming even deeper and more brilliant in autumn through winter. Flowers offer several bursts of blooms from spring to fall, with clusters of fragrant and frilly pink and white tubular flowers.

Pictured: Kaleidoscope Abelia


Beautiful purple, cone-like flowers. Smells wonderful!

Pictured: Shoal Creek Vitex


Homestead Purple Verbena



Pictured: Homestead Purple Verbena


Many star-shaped, colorful flowers when in bloom. Low-maintenance. Fragrant!

Pictured: Emerald Blue Creeping Phlox




Usually an annual, but can be a tender-perennial in our area.


Fast-growing. Heavy bloomer. Bright, solitary, daisy-like flowers on a single, erect stem.

Pictured: Zahara Sunburst (yellow) and Profusion Double Hot Cherry (red) Zinnias

Impatiens for Butterfly Garden


Great for shady spots! Bloom from last frost to first frost.

Host Plants for a Butterfly Garden

Host plants are so important for butterflies because these are the plants the caterpillars have evolved to survive on them. Only these specific host plants can keep caterpillars alive and thriving so that they can endure their metamorphosis. Butterflies know to lay their eggs on specific host plants, so that when the eggs hatch, the baby caterpillars can immediately get nutrition. Help them out by providing these select plants in your garden. Remember, plants DO recover from caterpillars feeding on them.



Parsley is a host plant for Black Swallowtails. You can see itty-bitty caterpillars and some much bigger caterpillars on this Parsley. These are Wild Eastern Black Swallowtails.

And as an added bonus, you’ll always have fresh parsley to add to your meals!

Black Swallowtail caterpillars on fennel


Fennel is a host plant for Black Swallowtails.

Monarch butterfly on milkweed


Milkweed is the host plant for Monarchs.

Shrubs and Trees

Dura Heat River Birch for Butterfly Garden


Deciduous tree with papery bark.

Pictured: Dura Heat River Birch

Dogwood for Butterfly Garden


Showy spring-blooming flowers. Easy to care for.


American Wisteria for Butterfly Garden

American Wisteria

High-climbing woody, deciduous vine, 25-30 ft. long. Drooping clusters of lilac or bluish-purple flowers that are quite fragrant.

Interested in learning more about how to create a butterfly garden? Stop in or send us a message!


Butterfly Society of Virginia

The Virginia Zoo

1 thought on “14 Plants for a Butterfly Garden

  1. Good information!

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