I love my butterfly garden in Bethesda! I started by planting a butterfly bush, which attracted butterflies as the bush got bigger and bigger. Now, each spring I add more plants to my butterfly garden that will encourage flying visitors to spend time in my yard!

In case you want to start a butterfly garden, here are some helpful tips.

  • Stop spraying your yard with pesticides. It is bad for the bunnies, butterflies and your own pets. I love that we are pretty laid back here in the Washington area about our yards. We know that the spring brings beautiful lush yards, which fade in the heat of August, but will be back next year.
  • Choose a sunny protected area for your butterfly garden in Bethesda. Make sure it receives 5 or 6 hours of sunlight each day. Butterflies rarely feed in the shade, but they do need an area protected from strong winds.
  • Plant nectar flowers for adult butterflies to feed on. Select your plants so that something will be in flower throughout the season from early spring to late fall. Try to cluster plants of the same type and color.
  • Choose single or semi-double blossomed plants. Complex flowers are harder for a butterfly to feed on. While we are talking about favorite butterfly feeding spots, you should know that they like flat top blossomed plants or ones with short tubular flowers.
  • You also want to encourage caterpillars to thrive in your butterfly garden by including plants that caterpillars eat. Female butterflies will be encouraged to come and lay eggs in your garden, guaranteeing a continual supply of butterflies as you “grow your own.”
  • Provide a “basking” site for your butterflies. Since they are cold blooded, they love to rest on a flat rock and warm themselves in the sun!
  • Puddling sites are useful too. These slight damp indentations in your garden provide water sources for butterflies and to extract salt and minerals from the soil.
  • So what are the flowers that are perfect for butterfly gardens in Bethesda?

Purple flowers for butterflies

1. Asclepias purpurascens (purple milkweed)

This milkweed can be grown in USDA plant hardiness zones 5a-9b. Other milkweed species that have purple flowers or accents are antelope horns milkweed (Asclepias asperula), hearteaf milkweed (Asclepias cordifolia), tall green milkweed (Asclepias hirtella), sandhill milkweed (Asclepias humistrata), spider milkweed (Asclepias viridis), giant milkweed (Calotropis gigantea), and the milkweed tree (Calotropis procera).

2. Buddleia buzz (dwarf butterfly bush)

These compact butterfly bushes come in pleasing purple shades like magenta, deep purple, and velvet. They’re hardy to zone 5 and can be grown in pots…or not!

3. Duranta erecta (sapphire showers)

There are other Duranta erecta cultivars that are just as spectacular as ‘sapphire showers’ but it’s one I’ve heard lots of good things about from both a beauty and butterfly-attracting viewpoint. It’s a tender perennial in USDA garden zones 9b-11, but can be grown as an annual in colder zones. 

4. Liatris ligulistylis (meadow blazingstar)

This species of liatris is not what you commonly find in nurseries, but accept no substitute if you want to attract migration monarchs!

Add the earlier blooming Liatris aspera if you want to attract monarchs in July. As the aspera starts to fade, ligulistylis will host the ultimate butterfly garden party to end the season.

5. Stachytarpheta frantzii (purple porterweed)

Stachytarpheta frantzii is a purple porterweed species that is reported to have superior powers of attraction for both butterflies and hummingbirds. It also comes in deep blue.

6. Verbena bonariensis (Brazilian verbena)

The final flower that should have lots of purple persuasion in your butterfly garden is verbena bonariensis. I like to plant this throughout the garden because the majority of our visiting pollinators seem drawn to it…from skippers, to majestic monarch butterflies.

Yellow flowers for Your Butterfly Garden in Bethesda

  1. Yarrow

Yarrow (Achillea) is a must-have perennial for every butterfly garden. Yarrow’s lush, lively blooms rise above its delightful ferny foliage and provide the perfect resting place for traveling butterflies. Grow yarrow in moist, well-drained soil and full sun. 

Tip: Cut off spent blooms to more flowers. The longer your plants bloom, the longer the butterflies will stay!

2. Coreopsis

You’ll have sunshine on cloudy days with radiant coreopsis flowers sprinkled throughout your garden. The plant’s bright colors attract both butterflies and neighborly envy! Coreopsis grows best in well-drained soil and full sun. Because it’s deer and drought tolerant, coreopsis is perfect for any garden. Early varieties bloom from May through June; later varieties go through summer and into autumn. 

Tip: Snipping off faded flowers extends coreopsis’ bloom season!

3. Blanket Flower

Gaillardia, or blanket flower, is the sassy senorita of spicy summer gardens. Named for its fiery colors and patterns mimicking those of traditional Mexican blankets, blanket flower is the perfect pick for a butterfly garden. It grows best in well-drained soil, full sun, and warm summers. Deadheading spent blooms is recommended to encourage additional, late-season flowering. 

Tip: Don’t have garden space? No worries — blanket flower grows well in containers, too!

4. Sunflowers

You may be more familiar with annual sunflowers, but there are also perennial sunflowers that blaze with color for a long period in the fall. Oh, and butterflies think they taste pretty good too.

Common Butterflies and the Plants Their Caterpillars Eat

  • Acmon Blue – buckwheat, lupines, milkvetch
  • American Painted Lady – cudweed, everlast
  • Baird’s Swallowtail – dragon sagebrush
  • Black Swallowtail – parsley, dill, fennel, common rue
  • Coral Hairstreak – wild black cherry, American and chickasaw plum, black chokeberry
  • Dun Skipper – sedges, grasses including purpletop
  • Eastern Tiger Swallowtail – wild black cherry, ash, tulip tree, willow, sweetbay, basswood
  • Giant Swallowtail – prickly ash, citrus, common rue, hoptree, gas plant, torchwood
  • Gray Comma – gooseberry, azalea, elm
  • Great Purple Hairstreak – mistletoe
  • Gulf Fritillary – maypops, other passion vines
  • Henry’s Elfin – redbud, dahoon and yaupon hollies, maple-leaved viburnum, blueberries
  • Monarch – milkweeds
  • Painted Lady (Cosmopolite) – thistles, mallows, nievitas, yellow fiddleneck
  • Pygmy Blue – saltbush, lamb’s quarters, pigweed
  • Red Admiral/White Admiral – wild cherries, black oaks, aspens, yellow and black birch
  • Silver-Spotted Skipper – locusts, wisteria, other legumes
  • Spicebush Swallowtail – sassafras, spicebush
  • Sulphurs – clover, peas, vetch, alfalfa, asters
  • Variegated Fritillary – passion flower, maypop, violets, stonecrop, purslane
  • Viceroy – willows, cottonwood, aspen
  • Western Tailed Blue – vetches, milkvetches
  • Western Tiger Swallowtail – willow, plum, alder, sycamore, hoptree, ash
  • Woodland Skipper – grasses
  • Zebra Swallowtail – pawpaw