A group of containers massed in a bright, sunny area can be very beautiful and also attract butterflies. Petunias, lobelia, and sweet alyssum have a wonderful scent as well as color. Other nectar flowers to consider are ageratum, cosmos, daylily, and rudbeckia daisies. Shrubs such as butterfly bush and hibiscus also grow well in containers, and vines such as wisteria, trumpet vine, or passion vine make a beautiful backdrop. The herbs fennel, dill and parsley will attract butterflies for feeding and serve as host plants for laying eggs. In shadier areas, on trellis ends, or in gazebos, consider using hanging baskets of impatiens.
An alternative food source for butterflies is a homemade feeder filled with a solution of 4 parts water to 1 part granulated sugar. Boil the solution for several minutes until sugar is dissolved, and then let cool. Serve the solution in a shallow container with an absorbent material such as paper towels saturated with the sugar solution. Bright yellow and orange kitchen scouring pads may be placed in the solution to attract butterflies and give them a resting place while they drink. Place the feeder among your nectar flowers on a post that’s 4-6 inches higher than the tallest blooms. Extra solution can be stored in your refrigerator for up to a week.
Butterfly gardening can become more than just watching your garden visitors. You may find yourself keeping a journal of the different species that visit and the various plants they prefer. Your journal can lead to discoveries and the planting of new varieties to attract more of your favorites!
Bobbie Truell, former Smith County Master Gardener
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service