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Attracting Butterflies That Migrate

Updated on October 23, 2014
Diane Cass profile image

Diane is a lover of all things beautiful; music, art, antiques and nature. Her guides bring insight to topics she cares passionately about.

Red Admiral butterfly on crabapple blossoms
Red Admiral butterfly on crabapple blossoms | Source

Planning and Planting a Butterfly Garden

Migrating butterflies need a supply of nectar-rich flowers all along their migrating route. Throw out the welcome mat by planting spring and fall butterfly gardens to help our winged friends proceed safely on their journey. Planning a butterfly garden is easy, with a list of flowering plants that attract butterflies. I'll show you how to pick and plant the best food source plants.

Migrating Red Admiral Butterfly
Migrating Red Admiral Butterfly | Source

Butterflies of North America that Migrate

Most people in North America know about Monarch butterflies and their great migration. A miracle of nature, it can span over 3,000 miles, from Canada to Mexico. Up to three generations of butterflies are born and die before the migration is complete. The new generation having never been to the place they are migrating to.

Most people don't realize that North America is host to more migrating butterfly species than just the Monarch. I didn't, until one day this spring we began to see hundreds of butterflies fly by our house and stop at our blooming crabapple trees for a quick bite to eat. My husband counted over 40 in just 10 minutes, while sitting on the porch at lunch, enjoying a lovely spring day. They weren't Monarchs. A quick look on the internet identified them as Red Admiral butterflies. I had no idea that they migrated, but I was glad our trees were doing their part in helping them on their journey.

Migrating Butterflies of North America in Trouble

Grow Live Butterflies for your Garden

If you don't have a lot of native butterflies in your area, help restore the population by growing your own butterflies. These kits help you get started, and nothing beats the feeling of letting the butterflies go free in your garden.

Monarchs Aren't the Only Migratory Butterflies - These butterflies migrate too.

  • Monarch
  • Red Admiral
  • Morning Cloak
  • Buckeye
  • American Lady
  • And many others like Sulfurs and Skippers

Prepare a Feast For Returning Butterlies in Spring - Our front garden beds, bursting with nectar for the butterflies.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Our front garden bedsCreeping Phlox, Violets, and "Basket of Gold" Alyssum"Profusion" CrabappleSpring flowersBasket of Gold
Our front garden beds
Our front garden beds | Source
Creeping Phlox, Violets, and "Basket of Gold" Alyssum
Creeping Phlox, Violets, and "Basket of Gold" Alyssum | Source
"Profusion" Crabapple
"Profusion" Crabapple | Source
Spring flowers
Spring flowers | Source
Basket of Gold
Basket of Gold | Source

Spring Flowering Plants and Trees for Butterflies

Greet returning butterflies with nectar-rich plants that bloom in profusion. Most people don't realize the importance of providing food for migrating butterflies. Few homes these days landscape with plants that flower in early spring, other than tulips and daffodils. In my own neighborhood of over 70 homes, we are the only home with a grand, early spring flower show.

Butterflies will be attracted to composite flowers and flowering trees. The more fragrant the flower, the better it will attract passing butterflies. We have masses of Creeping Phlox, along with Basket of Gold perennial Alyssum, and our billowing, flowering crabapple trees.

  • Creeping Phlox - ground cover
  • Perennial Alyssum - "Basket of Gold" - ground cover
  • Flowering Crabapples, like "Profusion" and "Golden Raindrop" The white flowers in the intro picture are from our Golden Raindrop crabapple. It flowers slightly later than other crabapples giving traveling butterflies a much needed source of plentiful food. The migrating Red Admirals were ALL OVER my tree, as the picture shows. They would stop for a quick drink and head north again.
  • Other flowering trees for butterflies are: Dogwood, Pear, Cherry, Serviceberry, Plum, Peach and Apple.

Fall Flowers for Migrating Butterlies

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Monarch Butterfly on MilkweedBlack-Eyed SusanWild DasiyPurple ConeflowerWild AsterZinniaOreganoQueen Anne's Lace
Monarch Butterfly on Milkweed
Monarch Butterfly on Milkweed | Source
Black-Eyed Susan
Black-Eyed Susan | Source
Wild Dasiy
Wild Dasiy | Source
Purple Coneflower
Purple Coneflower | Source
Wild Aster
Wild Aster | Source
Zinnia | Source
Oregano | Source
Queen Anne's Lace
Queen Anne's Lace | Source

Flowers for Fall Migrating Butterflies

Give butterflies a hand by providing food to help fuel their long fall migration. Again, they prefer composite flowers. Many of our native wildflowers, like Coneflower and Black-Eyed Susans are superb choices. Here is a list of other flowers to consider planting in your fall butterfly garden.

  • Milkweed (Monarchs are partial to this, as both a food plant and a place to lay their eggs)
  • Purple Coneflower
  • Black-Eyed Susan
  • Zinnias
  • New England Asters
  • Dasiy
  • Butterfly Bush
  • Butterfly Weed (a cousin of milkweed attractive to many butterflies, including Monarchs"
  • Marigold
  • Chrysanthemum
  • Herbs like Oregano and Mint
  • Queen Anne's Lace

Tips for Planting a Butterfly Garden

-Flowers that emerge before the trees leaf out in spring can be planted facing any direction except North. Eastern, western and southern facing beds will receive the most sun and produce the best fragrance to draw in the butterflies.

- Flowers that bloom in late spring or early fall will do best in southern exposures.

- Flowers planted in desert areas will need protection from the hot, noon sun. Plant them with western or eastern exsposures.

- Grow your flowers in mass for the biggest impact, and maximum butterfly attraction. Group your plants together, instead of spreading them among other plants.

- Consider making an area of your yard a natural meadow garden with native wildflowers, grasses and shrubs. Our native wildflowers are the best food sources for our native butterflies.

Wildflower Seed Mixes for Butterflies

Growing a natural meadow area in your garden will attract both butterflies and beneficial insects that pollinate and protect your garden from pest insects.

Tell us about the plants, flowers and trees that you've planted for the butterflies.

Do You Have a Butterfly Garden?

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    • ecogranny profile image

      Kathryn Grace 

      7 years ago from San Francisco

      Sadly no, with no outside garden whatsoever, but my mom has always attracted butterflies with her gardens, and I did in the past as well. Lovely page. I am always grateful for homeowners who plant gardens that not only make the neighborhood more beautiful but also nourish wildlife. Your borders are gorgeous.

    • Virginia Allain profile image

      Virginia Allain 

      7 years ago from Central Florida

      Terrific topic and well-presented. I love seeing butterflies in the yard. In the fall in Kansas, you get to see the monarchs streaming by and large numbers high overhead.


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