University of Illinois Extension

Cleared for Takeoff

As you look through seed catalogs and visit your local garden center for things to include in your flower garden, be sure to pick out a few things to help you build some landing sites in your garden.

Greg Stack

"We aren't talking about runways and tarmacs for UFO's or some type of commercial aircraft with familiar sounding names but for things with names such as swallowtails, monarchs, fritillary and buckeye," explained Stack. "Yes, we are talking about butterflies. These are some of nature's most delightful and colorful flying decorations. These garden visitors provide color and motion that will double your gardening pleasure and all you have to do is plant a few things that will attract and draw them to your garden."

Butterflies love purple. While they will come to sip nectar from a wide range of flowers, purple and other hot colors such as orange, red and yellow are especially attractive. And if you want nighttime activity, plant white flowers that help draw some interesting cousins of the butterfly, moths.

Because the flight of butterflies is more like trying to maneuver a battleship into a tiny docking space, flowers that offer a flat top make really attractive landing sites. Flowers such as coneflower, asters, gaillardia, daisies of all sorts, black-eyed susan, zinnia, cosmos, sunflower, tithonia, melampodium and marigold are all good, easy to grow choices for full sun areas.

"All of these offer an unobstructed landing surface for the butterfly to perch while they eat," said Stack.

Another good group of plants to consider are those that offer flowers made up of tiny tube-like clusters. Flowers such as lantana, Brazilian verbena, penta, globe amaranth, and Asclepias (milkweed) are often mobbed with butterflies waiting for a chance to get to sip a little nectar.

Butterfly Perennials such as Autumn Joy sedum, bee balm, and goldenrod will also draw in butterflies as will Joe-pye weed.

"This latter perennial almost looks as if it is alive, because of all of the butterflies it draws to it," Stack noted.

When locating a spot to put these butterfly flowers, someplace that is a bit protected from strong winds is preferred. Butterflies don't like windswept areas as much as they do calm, warm out-of-the-wind spots.

"While a good nectar source is first and foremost for drawing in butterflies, there are a few other things they like, and if included in the garden will make your garden a "destination spot" for butterflies," he said.

"Butterflies need water and they prefer areas where thin films of water are located such as on pavers or along the edge of a puddle. Spray pavers with water on hot days or line a shallow saucer with pebbles and add water. These now become butterfly drinking spots. Male butterflies gather mud to help replenish chemical elements needed for reproduction. Make a small mud puddle in an open area and keep it moist. It won't be long before butterflies find this a good spot to refuel."

Place large rocks or logs in the garden that can heat up in the sun. Butterflies being cold-blooded will find these areas attractive sunning spots where they can bask and warm up for better take-offs.

"Once you have created these 'landing zones' it is just a matter of sitting back and watch the beauty and color flying into your garden," said Stack. "You may even find that watching butterflies as they visit your garden will provide a sense of calm that is much appreciated in today's hurry-up world."