7 Plants to Attract Butterflies in Wisconsin

Butterflies are excellent pollinators. What plants should you consider growing to attract them in Wisconsin?

Beautiful, colorful, vibrant, and interesting butterflies are a joy in any setting. To attract more adult butterflies, you may simply add extra nectar-producing flowers to an existing garden, or you can design a special garden with plants chosen for their value to different butterflies and their caterpillars.

To ensure that nectar is accessible throughout the spring, summer, and autumn, grow a variety of plants with differing blooming schedules.

There are two terms you should be familiar with:

  • Host plant: This is the plant on which the eggs are laid and on which the caterpillars feed.
  • Nectar plant: This is the plant that is the primary source of nectar for adult butterflies.

In this article, I will share 7 plants that will surely attract butterflies to your garden!

1. Sweet Alyssum (Lobularia Maritima)

Sweet alyssum may easily cover your garden or landscape with a vibrant carpet of small blooms. Both bees and butterflies are drawn to the blooms’ vibrant, honey-like scent. The heat and drought resistance of sweet alyssum is unmatched by many annual plants.

Sweet alyssum prefers well-drained soil with average moisture content. It enjoys full-sun exposure but prefers locations that offer afternoon shade.

The plant is suitable for container gardens. When growing from a large pot or window box, alyssum looks lovely. The compact, free-flowering plants make excellent “spillers” for baskets and other containers.

small sweet alyssum flowers in the garden

2. Butterfly Weed (Asclepias Syriaca)

The butterfly weed is a perennial herbaceous plant native to the midwestern United States. Its orange flower clusters attract many butterflies and bees from early summer to the first frost. Its leaves are food to caterpillars, and monarch butterflies enjoy the nectar of the blossoms.

The optimal conditions for growth are an open space with 6 to 8 hours of sunshine each day. Although this plant grows best in dry to medium-average, well-drained soil, it can survive drought, infertility, and rocky environments. Butterfly weed doesn’t need watering unless the weather is too dry.

Butterfly weed naturally grows in a range of landscapes, including open forests, prairies, dry fields, meadows, and at the sides of roadways. Butterfly weed is a beautiful addition to rock gardens, wildflower meadows, borders, and mass plantings. It is simple to cultivate, needs very little upkeep, and has minimal insect issues.

orange butterfly weed in the backyard

3. Pentas (Pentas Lanceolata)

Pentas are tropical flowering plants native to warm climates. Its name comes from the five-pointed petals on its blossoms. Pentas are among the greatest annual plants for summer color, and because the blooms are a rich source of nectar, butterflies and hummingbirds are drawn to them like a magnet.

Pentas should be grown in a sunny area with at least 6 to 8 hours of bright light every day. The plants can thrive in practically any sort of soil, although they prefer one that drains properly and doesn’t stay soggy after a lot of rain. Pentas is delicate, so wait to plant it until all risk of frost has gone. In USDA Hardiness Zone 10, pentas can be grown as perennials. 

Use pentas in borders, either alone or with other flowers.

red flower with beautiful butterfly on it

4. Hollyhocks (Alcea Rosea)

Hollyhocks are very tall, vibrant, biennial blooms that are essential to the Painted Lady’s life cycle. The caterpillars feed on hollyhocks before changing into butterflies. 

In temperate climates, you may plant hollyhocks in full-sun locations. In areas with strong afternoon sunlight, choose a partially shaded setting to avoid leaf fading and encourage greater blooming. The plant can tolerate a range of well-drained soil types. 

Because of their height, hollyhocks do best when planted next to a wall or fence. Staking is a necessity, even in locations shielded from the wind. Any garden would greatly benefit from the addition of hollyhocks, but they are particularly valuable to butterfly gardens.

pink hollyhocks flowers in the garden

5. Cosmos (Cosmos Bipinnatus)

Cosmos flowers, which are a part of the daisy family, are attractive to Monarch butterflies due to their profusion of blossoms and strong nectar supply. Cosmos blossoms seem to be one flower, but it is really composed of a variety of small tubular blossoms that are encircled by a ray of petals.

For the finest blooming, select a location that receives direct sunlight. Despite having fewer flowers and being less robust when planted in shaded places, cosmos will still flourish in partial shade. Cosmos plants may thrive in poor soil where many blooming plants wither, although they need neutral soil with a pH range of 6.0 to 8.0.

Cosmos are simple to cultivate in beds and make excellent cut flowers. In a landscape, taller types complement goat’s beard, coneflowers, and black-eyed susans, either well in the center or at the back of the border. Shorter variants provide airy, vibrant edging plants.

monarch butterfly sitting on the pink flower

6. Globe Amaranth (Gomphrena)

The globe amaranth, a cheerful plant that resembles a clover, has long been a fixture in traditional cutting gardens. This 1- to 2-feet-tall plant attracts pollinators, including bees, moths, and butterflies, with its pink, purple, or white gumball blossoms.

Although it may tolerate moderate shade, the globe amaranth blooms best in full sunlight. Once established, this low-maintenance, drought- and heat-tolerant plant is simple to manage. Plant in well-drained, wet soil. Gomphrena loves being watered from time to time during really hot, dry weather; however, it can endure dry soil.

It is often found at the front of a border, where it obligingly fills in any empty places left by ephemerals or spent spring bulbs despite its somewhat small height. Globe amaranth is a hardy, cut flower and may last for years in dry flower arrangements.

white globe amaranth in the garden

7. Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus Carota)

Any butterfly garden will gain dignity and majesty from this plant’s stately, peacefully waving white tops. The flowers are small and develop in clusters that resemble delicate feathers. 

The nectar from the flowers is consumed by many butterflies, adult bees, and helpful insects. It serves as a host plant for eastern black swallowtail caterpillars.

While Queen Anne’s Lace prefers direct sunshine, this plant also tolerates a little shade. It grows best in loamy, nutrient-poor soil, but it can also tolerate chalky, sandy, and even a small amount of clay soil, as long as it drains effectively. This plant doesn’t need fertilization or irrigation if it is established in its native environment.

In USDA Hardiness Zones 3 through 9, this plant has the best chances of thriving. It benefits your backyard butterfly garden and grows tall and robust with minimal work from the gardener.

Leila Haynes
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