The main ingredient for successful butterfly plants are those plants that provide lots of nectar. You'll also want to group those plants together which makes it easier for butterflies to find. You'll also want to include nectar producing flowers throughout the blooming season for your area. Vary the plants by offering different heights of plants. Some butterfly species stay low, while other species prefer to stay high when feeding. You can't have too many flowers.
Too attract even more butterflys, grow caterpillar food plants. That is, caterpillars are what turns into butterflies. Caterpillars don't eat nectar, but instead eat the leaves of plants and not just any plant. They're very specific in their likes and dislikes which are different for different butterfly species.
Next, when planning for the butterfly garden, choose a sunny location. This is extremely important. Butterflies need sun to warm themselves up to an effective flight temperature.
Black-eyed Susan: hardy to zone 3, grows about 3' high. Perennial
Joe-Pye Weed: hardy to zone 2, grows 5' — 9' high.
Liatris: hardy to zone 2, grows 2' — 4' high
Coreopsis: hardy to zone 3, grows 2' high
Pentas: hardy to zone 10, grows 1" — 3' high. In colder zones, must be grown as an annual
Aster: hardy to zone 2, grows 3' — 5' high
Butterfly weed: hardy to zone 3, grows 2' — 3' high. Prefers dry sandy soil
Lantana: hardy to zone 8, 1' — 3' high
Purple coneflower: hardy to zone 3, grows 2' — 3' high. Looks like a purple black-eyed susan.
Butterfly bush: hardy to zone 5, grows 6' — 15' high.
The above plant list is great for attracting butterfly's to your backyard, but if you want to see even more, grow some plants that caterpillars enjoy. These are different than the nectar producing plants.
Caterpillars eat the leaves and sometimes even the flowers and seeds of certain plants. They are usually very selective in their taste and some species will eat only one particular species of plant. You'll need to provide the specific plants for certain species of caterpillars of butterflies commonly found in your area.
Many of these plants are wildflowers, some are weeds, and some are grasses that will fit in nicely in an informal garden setting. These plants are usually found in a flower garden, so you may want to designate a separate area for attracting butterflies to lay their eggs.
Butterfly caterpillars can be found nibbling on the leaves of Asters, Milkweed, Snapdragons, Sunflowers, Violets, and Citrus. Not to worry… although they are eating the leaves of these plants, they will not cause any significant damage and will not move on to your prized roses or rhododendrons. Just keep in mind that without these crawling critters, the butterflies would not be possible.
You've probably seen these in some catalogs and think, hey, that would be great to add to the landscape to help attract more butterflies. Well, these tall thin boxes with the narrow slots are really not meant to house butterflies in the way you might think. They're actually places where a butterfly "might" hibernate over winter. Unlikely, but they might. Butterflies won't stop and spend the night in your little butterfly house. In fact, they won't even start looking for a place to stay the winter until the fall. And even then, it's unlikely they'll find your box. So, if you think these boxes might look good, go ahead. It'll give you something to talk about, just don't expect it to attract any more butterflies to your yard.