Ask Elaine: Pollinators

Dear Elaine,

School is out for the summer and my children have developed an interest in butterflies (I have too!). What can I grow to attract butterflies to our property?


Dear Sharon,

A pollinator-friendly garden features primarily native plants that attract and provide a habitat for birds, bees, larval and adult forms of butterflies and moths, and other beneficial insects. The garden could include herbaceous plants and shrubs that support the floral preferences of various pollinators throughout the growing season. In turn, the pollinators make it easier for plant propagation, protecting plant diversity and our food supply.

Butterflies are among the best known and most popular of all insects.  They have a complete life cycle with four distinct stages: egg, larva (caterpillar), pupa (chrysalis) and adult.  The adult female butterfly lays eggs on plants that will be eaten by the caterpillar. Caterpillars have teeth and chew foliage for nourishment. They eat and grow for three or four weeks then turn into a chrysalis. Within the chrysalis, the caterpillar is transformed into an adult butterfly. The butterfly uses its proboscis (a long tubular and flexible mouthpart) to feed on flower nectar. Butterflies may also feed on rotten fruit or plant sap.

Locate your pollinator garden in a sunny area that gets six or more of hours of sunshine per day. Butterflies and other pollinators are cold-blooded and depend on the sun to warm their bodies. Plant in groups, not rows. Offer a variety of flowering plants. Native plants are adapted to our soils and climate, require less maintenance, and will attract more pollinators than non-native plants. Follow good gardening practices: remove the turf; plant at the correct spacing and depth; irrigate and mulch the plants.

You will need caterpillar host plants that are food sources for caterpillars, and nectar plants for butterflies and other pollinators.

Caterpillar host plants /strong>

Dill, parsley, fennel, mustard, clover, tulip tree, basswood, wild cherry, violets, milkweed, sunflowers, mallow, asters.

Nectar plants

Aster, bee balm, black-eyed Susan, blazing star, butterfly bush, butterfly weed, milkweed, cardinal flower, catmint, coneflower, Coreopsis/tickseed, cosmos, dame’s rocket, daylilies, evening primrose, glove thistle, goldenrod, hyssop, impatiens, ironweed, Joe-pye weed, lamb’s ear, lantana, lilies, phlox, salvia, sedum, violets, zinnias

Garden enhancements include:

  • Bird houses and bird baths
  • A whimsical metal tree that displays pollinator ornaments
  • Mason bee house
  • Plant labels to identify plant names and usage

Check out these websites for more information:

North American Butterfly Monitoring Network:

Monarch Net:

Monarch Wings Across America:

Happy summer!  Enjoy the time with your children.

Elaine Fogerty
Executive Director

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