How to Attract Butterflies & Hummingbirds

Perennials 101, Perennials for Special Purposes

Monarch Butterfly on Coneflower (Echinacea ‘Magnus’)

See Bonus Tables below

1. Gardens & Nature
In addition to being beautiful, gardens can be a place where humans and nature meet and interact in a positive and beneficial way. Imagine watching colorful butterflies flitting around the border, moving from flower to flower in search of the tasty nectar within. Or sitting perfectly still while a bright green hummingbird investigates a blossom not five feet away from you!

Butterflies and hummingbirds exist naturally over most of the populated areas of our continent, although species vary from region to region. By planting flowering plants that are their favorite food sources, we can easily set the stage for the local population to become regular visitors to our gardens, providing them with a much-needed source of nutrition, and giving the gardener an opportunity to view them often, and from close proximity.


2. What attracts them?
Butterflies are guided by the invisible world of scents and smells. Certain kinds of flowers give off a fragrance that butterflies find attractive, a signal that the plant may be a source of sweet nectar for the insects to feed on.

Hummingbirds are guided by visual means, and are especially attracted to certain shades of red. Many red-colored flowers just happen to be good sources of nectar, a clever signal from Mother Nature.


3. What’s in it for the plant?
Often the plant benefits from being pollinated by butterflies. Why flowers attract hummingbirds is a little less clear.


4. So where do I start?
The list on the link below will give you a starting point for deciding which perennial plants to include in your garden. Also listed here are a number of annuals and other plants that are also useful for this purpose. Our Perennial Search feature allows you to find many other perennials that are great for attracting butterflies and hummingbirds.

Get the whole family involved! This kind of interactive nature project is an ideal way to introduce kids to the garden, and they may have already studied this at school.


5. Which part of the garden is best?
Choose a location that gets full sun for the better portion of the day. Both butterflies and hummingbirds appreciate the warmth from the sun, and will be guided more quickly to the plants you have placed to attract them. Also, nearly all the plants on the list prefer full sun exposures, oddly enough.


6. How soon will they come?
This depends on where you live. Both butterflies and hummingbirds are usually migratory, particularly in the northern part of the continent. Since they often spend the winter in warm, sunny climates, don’t expect to see them return until the weather begins to warm up, usually no earlier than May. As soon as the plants you have put in the garden begin to flower, you can expect to see some activity. Sometimes hummingbirds will find a fuchsia basket only minutes after you hang it up.

Don’t give up looking! If you don’t see any action the first season, wait another year or two and just enjoy the flowers in the meantime. Alter the times you go out in the garden until you figure out the favorite feeding time. And remember to keep as quiet and as still as possible.


7. Why isn’t it working for me?
Okay, you’ve planned it all out with the right plants, they are flowering away and STILL no sign of your guests. A few possible reasons:

  • Dogs or cats (or restless humans) may keep hummingbirds away.
  • Wet, rainy weather may keep butterflies from being active.
  • Lack of nesting sites: few trees or shrubs for hummingbirds to hide in.
  • Nearby use of chemical insecticides may kill butterfly larvae (caterpillars).
  • Your neighbour’s garden may be even MORE attractive!


8. Anything else I should know?
Butterflies are the adult stage of an insect that starts life as a creeping caterpillar. You may not like the creepy-crawly part, but remember: no caterpillar, no butterfly. If you use insecticides regularly in your garden, chances are that you may kill off these caterpillars before they can pupate and later develop into the very butterflies that you are trying to attract.

Food sources for the caterpillars should also be planned for in the garden, and special attention paid to letting them develop and grow. This is a great activity to do together with kids!


9. Don’t catch the butterflies!
Each one that you catch will never be able to reproduce and create a new generation. Enjoy them for the moment, but let them live and prosper.


Perennials (Bonus Table)

Use this handy bonus table for plants that will attract butterflies and hummingbirds to your garden.  For a complete description for each perennial, simply click its Botanical Name.

Botanical Name Common Name Hardiness Zone Attracts
Agastache Anise-hyssop 2 B
Alcea (especially red) Hollyhock 2 H
Allium Flowering Onion 3 B
Anaphalis Pearly Everlasting 2 B
Aquilegia Columbine 2 H
Asclepias Milkweed 4 B
Aster (fall types) Fall Aster, Michaelmas Daisy 3 B
Buddleia Butterfly Bush 5 B H
Caryopteris Bluebeard 5 B
Chelone Turtlehead 3 B
Coreopsis Tickseed 4 B
Echinacea Purple Coneflower 3 B
Echinops Globe Thistle 2 B
Eupatorium Joe-pye Weed 3 B
Hesperis Dame’s Rocket 2 B
Heuchera (red-flowered) Coral-bells 3 H
Kniphofia Red-hot Poker 5 H
Liatris Blazing Star 2 B
Lobelia cardinalis Cardinal Flower 4 H
Malva Mallow 3 B
Monarda Beebalm 3 B H
Physostegia Obedient Plant 2 B
Rudbeckia Cone-flower 3 B
Scabiosa Pincushion flower 3 B
Sedum (taller types) Autumn Stonecrop 2 B
Solidago Goldenrod 2 B


Annuals (Bonus Table)

Botanical Name Attracts
Ageratum B
Cleome H
Cosmos B
Fuchsia H
Heliotrope B Mimulus B
Mimulus H
Nicotiana B H
Petunia H
Salvia (red) H
Verbena B


Shrubs and Vines (Bonus Table)

Botanical Name Common Name Attracts
Campsis (Trumpet Vine) H
Lonicora (Red Honeysuckle) H
Weigelia H