Butterfly Gardening

Red Admiral Butterfly visiting sunflower in my Chicago garden.png

Gardening for butterflies is a lot different than gardening to attract bees to your garden in Chicago. Butterflies need two kinds of plants; host plants that butterflies can lay eggs on and the caterpillars can eat on and nectar plants that butterflies can feed upon. To be honest, I never set out to attract butterflies to my garden, we both just happen to like the same kinds of plants. The following is a list of plants that I’ve noticed attract a lot of butterflies into my garden in Chicago.

Red Admiral butterfly visiting Rudbeckia.png
Rudbeckias, and various hybrid varieties, seem to be pretty popular especially among Red Admiral butterflies. The ghostly flowers in the background between the wings of the butterfly are the orange daylilies I mentioned grow along the fence.

Monarch Butterfly on Zinnia in my Chicago Garden.png

I don’t get a lot of Monarch butterflies in my garden but when I do they are usually visiting the zinnias, a common garden annual that is easily grown from seed and not too expensive when purchased at the garden center.

Black Swallowtail Butterfly visiting Purple Coneflower in my Chicago Garden.png

Purple Coneflowers are another big draw in the garden. Here a Black Swallowtail is feasting but these are usually the place to find Red Admirals. Purple Coneflower is a perennial that responds well to deadheading and provides a good food source to the butterflies late in the season.

Other plants that attract or host butterflies that you can find around Chicago include:
Butterfly Bush
Queen Anne’s Lace

Look around your neighborhood and see what butterflies are already being attracted to the gardens and plants. Don’t turn your nose up at the “weeds,” some of them do the best job of attracting butterflies.

Note: If you’re aim is to attract butterflies into your garden you will have to give up chemical sprays because they can kill caterpillars and adult butterflies. You can also set out certain fruits like sliced oranges to provide much needed sugars and shallow dishes of water for the thirsty butterflies.

Here’s a video I made and uploaded to YouTube two years ago.

It shows some Red Admiral butterflies on my Purple Coneflowers, and as you can see they aren’t very skittish. They are said to be the most people friendly of all the butterflies and because of the way they land on me when I’m out in the garden I’d have to agree with that statement.


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  • My 5-year-old is going to love this post. She's obsessed with butterflies and wants more plants to attract them in our yard.

  • In reply to CarrieKirby:


    If she likes butterflies scope out the sales that are starting now especially for the Coneflowers. Around this time they start getting put on sale and you can sometimes find them two for one. They may look ugly but do some deadheading and lots of water will help establish them and get lots of blooms for next year and possibly some for later in the season as the Monarchs start migrating south.

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    In reply to MrBrownThumb:

    Interesting post. I Have Been wondering about this issue, so thanks for posting. Pretty cool post.It 's really very nice and Useful post.Thanks permaculture

  • Hi CCWriter,

    I've haven't been lucky enough to go and experience the migration of the Monarchs. Sounds and looks awesome though.

  • Great article! I have a site called CREATE A WILDLIFE-FRIENDLY YARD and would enjoy posting it on it, with credit to you of course. Please visit my free site at: www.wildlifefriendlylawn.blogspot.com/ I'd like to hear from you.

  • Hi all; I guess the first posting didn't go through. A great article and enjoyed the Red Admiral video. Could I post this on my CREATE A WILDLIFE-FRIENDLY YARD site? I have Milkweed and nectaring flowers that attract Monarch butterflies and songbirds. Visit the free site and learn how to attract butterflies and song birds. Robert61


  • In reply to Robert61:

    Hi Robert,

    If you're asking if you can embed the video on your site I'm ok with that as long as you don't do anything to remove the end credit in the video. If you're asking if you can re-post this blog entry, I don't think that would be possible since copyright issues come into play. Feel free to quote snippets or link to the text, but the pics can't be re-posted.

    Thanks for checking first.

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