Every year in late summer, social media feeds are flooded with images of butterflies feasting on vibrant blossoms. Monarchs feast on milkweed flowers, butterfly bushes and coneflowers in preparation for their migration to Mexico from August through October. Swallowtails enjoy milkweed too, in addition to phlox, lilies, blanket flowers and a variety of other blossoms. They are preparing to overwinter in the North as pupa inside a protective chrysalis.
By mid-August, some gardens can start to look a little tired. The heat takes its toll, and it can be tough to keep things well-watered and fed through the heat. Replanting specific types of flowers with butterflies in mind or doing some maintenance on those you already have planted can go a long way in supporting these beautiful pollinators. Let’s take a look at five kinds of flowers you can grow now to feed the butterflies well into autumn.
An Eastern Swallowtail butterfly enjoys the bright yellow blooms of Heat it Up® Yellow blanket flower. Photo by Norman Winter.
With native roots in the Great Plains, heat and drought tolerant blanket flowers power through high summer with ease, providing a consistent source of pollen for butterflies and bees. In this beautiful image, an Eastern swallowtail enjoys a sip from one of the many cheerful yellow blooms that decorate Heat it Up Yellow blanket flowers from planting time until frost. Though deadheading isn’t needed to keep the blooms coming, you may prefer to tidy up the plant every few weeks by shearing off the seed heads. As an added bonus, deer usually pass this plant right on by.
Gaillardia species vary in hardiness, Heat it Up is an annual except in zones 8-10; full sun, 12-24” tall and 18-36” spread.
An American Lady butterfly stops to take a rest on a Supertunia Vista® Bubblegum® petunia. Photo by Norman Winter.
Petunias might not be the first flower that comes to mind when you’re considering what to grow for butterflies, but the bright colors and the shape of the blossoms are just what they are seeking. Flowers with deep throats like petunias and calibrachoa (shown below in #3) are attractive to butterflies, especially those in shades of pink, red, purple, yellow and orange. To keep your petunias blooming long into fall, give them a trim in late summer and continue to keep them watered and fed consistently. You’ll be surprised how they thrive even as the weather starts to cool down and fall arrives.
Annual except in zones 9-11, full sun to part sun, generally 6-12” tall and 18-24” spread, though Supertunia Vista® varieties grow larger.
A Spicebush Swallowtail butterfly peers into the dark throat of Superbells® Tangerine Punch™ calibrachoa. Photo by Norman Winter.
The dark throat of Superbells Tangerine Punch calibrachoa makes a perfect target for butterflies, showing them exactly where to find their lunch. In fact, many calibrachoa flowers have a different colored throat than their petals, a characteristic that is easily seen by passing butterflies. Though double-flowered calibrachoa are gorgeous, choose single flowered cultivars if you’re looking to provide an easy meal for pollinators. Like petunias, calibrachoa respond well to being trimmed in late summer and will bloom until frost if well-cared for through the seasons.
Annual except in zones 9-11, full sun to part sun, 6-12” tall and 12-24” spread.
A stunning blue Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly feasts on ‘Miss Ruby’ butterfly bush. Photo by Norman Winter.
Take a moment to observe a butterfly bush in late summer and you’ll know exactly how it got its name. All kinds of butterflies enjoy the nectar of this sweetly scented shrub from midsummer into fall. Here, a Pipevine Swallowtail enjoys ‘Miss Ruby’ butterfly bush in the Georgia garden of Norman Winter. In the North, Monarch butterflies feed on butterfly bush from July through early September before heading South for winter. To keep your butterfly bush blooming strong, be sure to plant it where it will receive at least eight hours of sun per day. Find more growing tips in this guide.
Shrub hardy in zones 5-9, full sun. Height varies greatly by cultivar starting at just 18” tall, with some cultivars reaching upwards of 6’ tall.
A Monarch butterfly enjoys a sip of nectar from a Color Coded® ‘Orange You Awesome’ coneflower. Photo by Norman Winter.
Butterflies find the large, spiky cone in the center of perennial coneflowers irresistible. You’ll almost always find these winged beauties enjoying a big patch of them on a warm, sunny day. Honeybees and bumblebees are also frequent guests. Newer varieties of coneflowers like those in the Color Coded®, Sombrero® and PowWow® series bloom for many months, often lasting through early fall to help sustain pollinators late into the growing season. Clipping a few flowers for fresh bouquets will help to make room for more buds to develop and bloom.
Norman Winter “The Garden Guy” (@normanwinterthegardenguy) is a southern gardening specialist who has been evaluating plants in Texas, Mississippi and Coastal Georgia gardens for the last three decades. He is especially passionate about plants that are champions for pollinating bees, butterflies and hummingbirds, which he photographs with amazing precision and beauty. We appreciate our longstanding friendship with Norman, and the photographs of our plants that he has shared with us through the years.
By Heirloom Roses
Photographs courtesy of Heirloom Roses
In many areas of the country this is an excellent time to prune roses. Although rose pruning may seems daunting, it’s not hard to learn and the results are well worth the effort. For an informative article on rose pruning, click here .
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