With a little planning, you can plant butterflies.

There are two kinds of gardens  The mundane where gardening tasks are a boring chore, and the creative where any time spent there can be both therapeutic and inspiring. The difference is in giving thought to WHY one plants a garden to begin with.  

Most people put more thought into a grocery list than their planting list.  Groceries will be consumed in a few days, but you can be stuck with hastily selected plants for years.  Are you planting for color and cutting? To create an elegant and tranquil sanctuary? Or, maybe to invite butterflies?  You could do all three with thoughtful planning. Then, with the end in mind, you can plant future memories and butterflies, not just flowers. 

Butterflies prefer the structure of flat-topped, "landing pads" like coneflowers, asters, and lantana to collect nectar. Plant for a succession of blooms to support the delicate visitors from spring through fall. You also want to consider plants that invite butterflies to lay eggs or feed larvae, like milkweed for monarch butterflies.  Annuals like marigolds and zinnias will attract butterflies, but a garden filled with native perennial butterfly favorites will come back and increase year after year. Additional butterfly attractants include sand beds that hold shallow puddles of water, and food items, like soft, decaying bits of fruit. 

This tiger swallowtail is enjoying sipping nectar from an orange lantana. 

This tiger swallowtail is enjoying sipping nectar from an orange lantana. 

Next, consider your available space. Are you creating a small bed, or planning an entire yard? Larger areas can accommodate shrubs and trees, which can provide both food sources and butterfly nesting habitat and shelter. This sketch was created for a pair of complementary butterfly gardens in an area of about 600 square feet. Note, the larger shrubs like ninebark are used as a backdrop to smaller perennials. 

Butterfly Garden by Bluestem Services

Butterfly Garden by Bluestem Services

Color is a matter of personal taste, but a larger butterfly planting, like any designed landscape, typically considers the color and style of a home or building for overall curb appeal. Informal gardens often have a light-hearted variety of bright colors. More traditional landscapes will keep to a simpler, more subdued palette. Monochromatic plantings, especially those in whites and creams, are both soothing and sophisticated.  White flowering plants are beautiful in moonlight. Moonflower, gardenia, tuberose, nicotania and jasmine have the added plus of heightened fragrance at night. 

In addition to sheer enjoyment, many love to photograph visiting butterflies, or use the moments to educate children. Done correctly, butterfly gardening can help support migrating butterflies and increase their local populations. 

Learning from monarch butterflies


Beautiful and fragile, monarch butterflies weigh only a few grams and live a matter of weeks. Monarchs are known to make long, annual migrations of nearly 2,000 miles between the Great Lakes region and Mexico to escape cold winters. 

The journey involves millions of the delicate insects and requires producing several generations along the way. Recently, researchers from the University of Guelph and Environment Canada have discovered a fascinating twist that proves some monarchs deviate from the traditional path, cross the Appalachian Mountains, and produce a new, east coast generation. 



The groundbreaking study solves the puzzle of why monarchs appear later on the east coast than the interior U.S.

You can watch the eastern monarch migration in this short video from Google Earth Tour. The video also features people that help them out along the way, including some from the University of Kansas' Monarch Watch program.


Monarch numbers are declining. Some reasons are temporary, such as weather. According to a monitoring report carried out by WWF and Conanp, monarch numbers in Mexico were down by about 15% in 2017-18 due to two tropical storms and three hurricanes on two occasions in the Atlantic coasts in mid-September of 2017, when the migration begins.

Other reasons for the monarch decline are more permanent, and ominous including development and agricultural practices. The longterm survival of monarchs is connected to their specific diet of milkweed and the dramatic loss of the native plant. According to the Center for Biological Diversity, there has been a 99% reduction in milkweed in Midwest croplands since 1999. Development is consuming 6,000 acres per day, a loss of 2.2 million acres annually. Other studies cite the overuse of herbicides and increased use of genetically modified crops, especially seeds containing glyphosate, as major factors in habitat loss.

You can help monarchs and other pollinators by reducing herbicide use, planting shrubs and trees that provide shelter during migration and including native milkweeds in your yard and habitat patches on your farm.

Interested in working together to restore native habitat?  Let's start a conversation!     Email Judy Allmon @, or give me a call or text at 573.230.1196.