Butterfly annuals

Rob Zimmer
Mix and match annuals and perennials for the best selection of butterfly magnets in the garden.

As important as native wildflowers are for butterfly nectar plants and host plants, a number of annuals also provide excellent nutritional value and beauty in the butterfly garden. As an added bonus, many of these plants produce large numbers of seeds, perfect for migrating songbirds in fall.

Colorful annuals provide the nectar and nutrition butterflies need between blooming cycles of perennials, as well as late in the season, after Labor Day, when many perennials are beginning to produce seed.

There are many excellent annual garden flowers for butterflies. From low-growing, sprawling blooms to towering vines, sunflowers and more, you'll enjoy creating a butterfly oasis using fun, dramatic annuals.

Here are some of my favorites to include in the garden to attract butterflies.

Tall verbena

Growing 3 to 5 feet in height and featuring thin, wiry stems topped with small purple clusters of bloom, this plant is an excellent choice for many butterfly species, especially migrating monarchs in the fall.


Fragrant and full of rich nectar, sprawling lantana works well in containers or in the ground where it attracts large numbers of summer and autumn butterflies.

Mexican sunflower

All sunflowers wilt attract butterflies, however, my favorite is the brilliant, neon orange, velvety leaved Mexican sunflower.

The many varieties of garden salvias make excellent nectar plants for summer and fall butterflies.

Sages and salvias

All of the beautiful, colorful varieties of salvias and sages are a perfect choice for monarchs. There are salvias that bloom from April all the way through the first hard freeze, providing a beautiful and rich source of nutrition for butterflies on the wing.


Bold and beautiful zinnias are a late summer and fall favorite for migrating monarchs, as well as many other species of colorful butterflies. The old-fashioned, single varieties provide a better source of nutrition then the fancy, frilly pom-pom types.


Another late season bloomer, cosmos provides nectar from Labor Day through Halloween for butterflies that are migrating through as well as preparing for the winter season.

Old fashioned, single marigolds provide an excellent choice for late season butterfly nutrition.


The heirloom, single and French varieties work best for butterflies. Like zinnias, choose marigolds that feature a single layer of petals and plenty of pollen and nectar versus the frilly, ornate varieties that are all petals.


Upright or spreading verbena comes in many beautiful colors and is an excellent source of nectar for butterflies, as well as hummingbirds that are drawn to the plant. Verbenas are available in many beautiful colors including white, pink, peach, red, purple and more.


Clusters of colorful, tube-shaped blooms provide a bounty of nectar for butterflies throughout spring, summer and fall.


Many of our favorite herbs in the garden draw large numbers of butterflies. Whether treated as annuals or perennials, herbs are an excellent choice for the butterfly garden.


The delicate, quivering flowers of gaura, also known as gas plant, wave in the summer breeze as they draw butterflies to their lacy, beautiful blooms.


Calendula, also known as pot marigold, is another excellent choice for late season color and nutrition for migrating monarchs and late flying butterflies.

Find Rob Zimmer online at On Facebook at Listen to Outdoors with Rob Zimmer, Saturday mornings, 7-8 AM, on WHBY.