Summertime brings an abundance of herbs to the garden. Drying them properly allows you to store them and use them for cooking or flavored oils. Once you learn how to dry herbs, you’ll discover dozens of uses for them. They even make great gifts!
Drying your food is a relatively easy and inexpensive way to preserve produce—especially herbs. It’s also a fine way to embrace a simpler, healthier and more eco-friendly lifestyle, as dried herbs retain more vitamins and minerals and contain no chemical additives.
When and How to Harvest Your Garden Herbs
It’s important to harvest herbs at the right time. In most cases, leaves provide the herbs’ flavors and should be picked before the flowers develop. Harvest them on warm, dry days early in the morning after the dew has evaporated, but before the heat of the sun has had a chance to wilt the leaves. (Make harvesting even easier with DIY herb markers made of corks!)
It’s best to pick and prepare one variety of herb for drying at a time. Discard any damaged or diseased leaves. Strip large-leaved herbs, such as sage and mint, from their stalks. But leave small feathery herbs, like dill and fennel, on the stalks until drying is complete.
Effective drying relies more on abundant dry, fresh air than on heat. A well-ventilated place out of direct sunlight is ideal no matter which drying method you choose. Not sure how to get started growing herbs? Here’s how to create a windowsill herb garden.
How to Air Dry Herbs
Tarragon, bay, mints, lavender, rosemary, lemon balm and small-leaved herbs, such as thyme, are suited to air-drying. Spread the leaves out on a clean surface to dry, or tie the sprigs into loose bundles and hang to dry. Large, dense bunches can develop mold and discolored leaves. Hang branches to dry, leaves downward, wrapped loosely in muslin or thin paper bags to keep out dust and to catch falling leaves or seeds. Do not use plastic bags, which can promote mold development.
Drying time depends on the size of the branches and on the humidity. On average, allow seven to 10 days. The aim is to remove 70% of the water content; when crushed, the leaves should sound like crisp cornflakes.
You can also air-dry the seeds of herbs such as fennel, parsley, caraway and coriander. Seedheads ripen unevenly; once most of a head is brown, harvest it with about 2 feet of stem or as long a stem as possible. Bundle four to five stems together, cover the heads with muslin or a paper bag and hang them upside down.
Save space by growing a vertical herb garden in a shoe organizer.
How to Dry Herbs on a Rack
You can speed up drying by spacing out individual sprigs or leaves of herbs on a tray. This method is well-suited to large-leaved herbs, such as bay. Then place the tray in an airing cupboard, in the warming drawer of an oven or in a warm, airy spot out of direct sunlight. Turn leaves or stalks frequently to ensure even drying, which should take two or three days.
Looking for a fun DIY garden project? Make basil salt!
How to Dry Herbs in the Oven
The leaves of herbs such as sage, mint, rosemary, thyme and parsley, stripped from their stalks, are ideal for oven drying. Space out leaves on a muslin-covered tray in an oven set to the lowest possible temperature. High temperatures will drive off the fragrant essential oils. Leave the door ajar to allow moisture to escape.
Turn the leaves over after 30 minutes to ensure even drying; they will be quite dry after about an hour. Leave in the oven until they’re cool.
Psst—go beyond the basics with these 9 little-known herbs.
How to Dry Herbs in the Microwave
If you’re impatient or need the herbs right away, you can nuke them in the microwave. Start out at 1 minute, check for dryness, and continue at 30-second increments until the leaves are dry and crisp.
We found the best 5 basil varieties for your herb garden.
The Best Way to Store Dried Herbs
No matter what method you use to dry herbs, the packing and storing process is the same. Strip the leaves from the tough stems. Working with 1 herb at a time, crush the leaves into pieces of the desired size. Simply crumble the dried herbs with your fingers, and discard the hard leafstalks and midribs. Store in small airtight containers, preferably made of pottery or opaque glass. If you use clear glass containers, store them in a dark place so the herbs don’t lose their color.
Keep in mind that dried herbs are suitable only for cooked foods, and take note: Drying concentrates the flavors, so you don’t need to use as much in recipes. If a recipe calls for a specific measurement of fresh herbs, use one-third that amount of dried herbs instead.
How to Grind Dried Herbs
If you prefer ground herbs, you can whir the dried herbs in a clean electric coffee grinder. Pack the grinder as full as you can get it. Grind until the leaves are reduced to the desired fineness. It helps to hold the grinder and shake it a little as it grinds. If there are tough bits of stem remaining, sift the herbs through a fine sieve to remove them. Store in air-tight jars in a cool, dark place for maximum freshness.
How to Make Flavored Oils with Herbs
Bonus Tip: Use dried herbs to make flavored oils. Place the dried herbs into dry, sterilized bottles. Warm olive oil below a simmer (don’t boil it) just until you can see some movement in the pan, but no bubbles. While the oil is hot, use a funnel to pour it into the bottles over the herbs. When the oil is cool, cap it and let it sit for a minimum of 2 weeks to allow it to absorb the flavors of the herbs. Pour it through a strainer into new sterilized bottles, removing the steeped herb. If you like, add a sprig or 2 of a dried herb or a few peppercorns to the new bottles for visual interest. Keep in a cool, dark place and use within a couple of months.
Next, learn how to preserve fresh herbs by freezing.
Where Do Birds Sleep at Night?
Wild birds are good at finding shelter, according to birding experts Kenn and Kimberly Kaufman. Those that raise their young inside holes in trees, such as woodpeckers and bluebirds, often sleep in such cavities at night, at all times of year. Other kinds of birds find protected spots inside dense foliage in trees, shrubs or vines. They may perch close to the trunk on the downwind side. Birds that live out in open fields or shores may simply hunker down where they are, facing into the wind. During stormy weather birds usually go to the kinds of spots where they sleep at night, or make an extra effort to find an even more sheltered place. Here’s what happens to birds during a hurricane.
Nocturnal fliers like whip-poor-wills and owls are just getting going when the sun sets. But where do birds that are active during the day sleep at night? Most find a secluded spot to catch some shut-eye; however, sleep in the avian world is different than our rest.
Birds Take Naps
Instead of getting prolonged sleep at night, birds often take hundreds of short snoozes each day. In a variety of instances, birds are never really asleep—at least not in the way that people think. Half of a bird’s brain stays active while it is resting, all thanks to the phenomenon of unihemispheric slow-wave sleep. Remaining partially alert can help birds detect potential predators and adjust to changing environmental conditions. Some birds even nap while flying. Magnificent frigatebirds, for example, sleep up to 12 hours per day when on land, but they are limited to less than an hour of rest per day when taking long cruises over the ocean, typically while they’re riding warm air currents. Niels Rattenborg and colleagues report in Nature Communications that frigatebirds keep the eye that is connected to the awake and alert hemisphere of the brain facing the direction of flight. This gives a whole new meaning to thinking on the fly!
How Do Sleeping Birds Stay Warm?
Maintaining warmth is a challenge for sleeping birds at night. Feathers provide strong insulation, so birds tuck into themselves. As they snooze, ducks, geese and swans are often seen with their bills buried in their own feathers. Many species will also pull a leg up into their cozy little zones. Birds rarely use nests as night roosts when they aren’t actively incubating eggs or babies. Only a few cavity nesters like nuthatches, wrens and chickadees take to nest boxes throughout the year. Acorn woodpeckers, bluebirds, pygmy nuthatches and tree swallows have all been documented communally roosting with small groups, each sharing the same cavities.
Birds Perch While Sleeping
The vast majority of songbirds are natural perchers. This holds true even while they sleep at night. Chalk it up to a bird’s physique: To hold up its body weight, a bird will instinctively tighten its tendons and clamp its feet onto a branch. Hummingbirds are the ultimate sleepers. Under extreme conditions, they’ve been found perched upside down, kind of like a bat. During cold spells, hummingbirds lower their metabolism and body temperature and enter an overnight state called torpor, which almost mimics hibernation in other animals.
Do Sleeping Birds Dream?
While they’re dozing, it’s unclear if birds dream, although they can experience bouts of rapid eye movement. Research in zebra finches has shown that brain neurons associated with song can be activated during sleep, yet this could simply be a way of reinforcing song learning instead of proof of dreaming.
Why Do Birds Sing at Night?
Hearing the cheerup cheerio song of an American robin after dark seems out of place. Yet robins, mockingbirds and many other daylight-loving birds belt out tunes at night for the same reasons they do during the day: to establish their territories and attract mates. Noise pollution from humans lessens after dark, so the songs of birds are not drowned out. Research done on European robins in urban areas, for example, showed that nighttime was prime time for singing.
It’s possible to reduce outdoor water use by 20 to 50 percent with a few easy changes. To keep your water bill low and plants looking perky, try these ways to conserve water from the National Garden Bureau and Gardener’s Supply Company.
Improve the Soil and Use Compost to Conserve Water
Use organic matter, such as compost, chopped-up leaves or composted manure, to supplement your soil. These organic materials increase the water-holding capacity of soil. A good rule of thumb is to add 1 inch of compost per year.
In the planting hole, mix 1 part compost to 1 part soil. The compost will help the soil hold onto water for a longer length of time while not allowing it to become waterlogged. Compost also adds nutrients to the soil. Making your own compost is easy to do or you can purchase it at your local nursery.
Water Plants Deeply in the Early Morning
Give your plants a solid soak. While sprinklers get the job done, a soaker hose is even better. It applies the water directly to the soil by the roots, so up to 90 percent is actually available to plants.
Believe it or not, the time of day can make a difference as a way to conserve water. By watering in the cooler period of morning, there is less evaporation occurring. Avoid watering in the afternoon, when much of the water can be lost to evaporation. It is also wise to avoid watering in the evening when the moisture can foster fungal diseases.
Check out the top 10 best rated garden hose options.
Just Add Mulch
Spread mulch. It prevents weeds from growing and soaking up all of the water you add to the planting area. A layer of mulch provides the most bang for your buck. Organic mulches are best. Grass clippings free of weedkillers, evergreen needles, shredded bark and fall leaves will adds nutrients to the soil over time.
Once you water plants, moisture begins to immediately evaporate from the soil’s surface. By adding a layer of mulch, you help conserve water by limiting the amount lost to the atmosphere. In addition, mulching helps to keep the soil moist longer while keeping soil temperature cooler in summer and warmer in winter.
Psst—here’s everything you need to know about mulch.
When rain does fall, it is important to harvest and direct it toward your garden instead of allowing it to runoff. Be extra frugal and capture all of the free water you can. Place rain barrels or a cistern at your downspouts. A 1,000-square-foot roof collects about 625 gallons of water from just 1 inch of rain.
You can also conserve and collect rainwater by creating rain gardens.
Group Plants with Similar Watering Requirements Together
Know the characteristics of your planting site, such as the amount of sun and shade it receives, soil type and wind conditions. Make a plan to group plants with similar needs, like these drought-tolerant flowers.
Another drought tolerant garden tip: place higher water use plants toward the house where they can be watered easily. Group more drought tolerant plants on the the outer edges of the landscape.
Read Plant Tags and Use Native Plants When Possible
Wouldn’t it be nice to have a garden filled with plants that needed little to no supplemental water? Some plants get all the water they need from rain, so once established, they require less attention. If you’re looking for perennials suited for drought conditions, your best bet is usually native plants that are adapted to your climate and soil type.
Native plants are specially adapted to survive on natural rainfall amounts. In times of drought, they may need some supplemental water, but not as much as those that are not adapted to your local climate. Another bonus is that native plants are generally more pest resistant, need little to no fertilizer and are lower-maintenance than those that aren’t native. If you decide to plant some non-natives in your landscape, be sure that they are well-adapted to your climate without needing excess amounts of water.
Remove the Competition
Keep up with garden chores. Healthy plants mean less work! When you stay on top of tasks such as weeding, thinning and pruning, you add to the health of your plants and, in turn, need to water less frequently.
Allow Grass to Grow Longer
By letting your grass grow to a height of 3 inches, it will shade the roots. This helps conserve water by decreasing the amount of evaporation. In addition, a higher mowing height will also help keep weeds from growing.
Check out 7 tips for growing a healthy lawn.
Decrease the Amount of Grass in Your Landscape
A lawn uses a large amount of water—an average of 55 inches a year. Beds filled with perennials will use much less water and provide a welcome spot of color in the landscape. If you opt to take out part of, or even your entire lawn, there are countless ways to create a beautiful garden that needs little to no supplemental water.
Use Porous Landscaping Materials Instead of Concrete
Avoid concrete if you want to conserve water. Rain water can seep through porous materials, such as gravel or sand-set stepping stones, thereby watering nearby plants.
Follow these tips for watering container gardens.
Echinacea spp. • Zones 3 to 9
Often self-sowing, coneflowers need little upkeep. These drought tolerant plants and thrive in almost any soil with adequate drainage. Plus, coneflowers attract birds and butterflies.
Nepeta x faassenii • Zones 3 to 8
Perfect for borders, rock gardens and containers, these drought tolerant plant have aromatic flowers that attract butterflies and bees. Catmint blooms from early summer to early fall, with plants that are 1 to 3 feet tall and wide. Check out more long-blooming flowers for attracting pollinators.
Agastache • Zones 5 to 11
A bee’s delight, agastache grows 3 to 5 feet tall and sports purple or white flower spikes. This tall drought tolerant plant is a good choice for the back of a border. Psst—here’s the top 10 plants for bees.
Lantana camara • annual to Zone 8
Abundant blooms make lantana a welcome addition to any sunny garden. Clusters of brightly colored blossoms adorn this plant, which grows 3 to 6 feet tall and wide. With a mounding or trailing habit, it’s a good choice for a container. Check out more easy plants you can grow in containers.
Salvia splendens • grown as an annual
A true attention-getter, this tall drought tolerant flowering plant produces season-long color in just about any landscape. Its vibrantly colored columns range from 8 to 30 inches tall. These summer to fall bloomers are also striking when confined to containers. Follow these tips for growing a drought-tolerant garden.
Lavandula • Zones 5 to 10
It’s no wonder lavender tolerates drought, since the fragrant plant is native to the Mediterranean and the Middle East. The mounding plants make attractive specimens or borders. Check out 5 attractive drought-tolerant shrubs for your garden.
7. Russian Sage
Perovskia atriplicifolia • Zones 4 to 9
With 2- to 5-foot stems in shades of purplish blue, Russian sage is a real garden trouper: It tolerates cold, drought and poor soil. As long as you grow it in a sunny spot, it won’t disappoint. Psst—here’s the top 10 plants you can’t kill.
8. California Poppy
Eschscholzia californica • grown as an annual
If your yard isn’t the most fertile, look no further than California poppies. These drought resistant plants grow best in full sun but don’t mind poor soil a bit. Discover more pink and orange flowers that look just like a sunset.
Artemisia spp. • Zones 3 to 8
Reliable artemisia is valued for its beautiful, slender gray to silver leaves on tall, arching stems or in low mounds, which range from 1 to 5 feet high and wide. These drought tolerant plants are tough and trouble-free.
10. Licorice Plant
Helichrysum petiolare • annual
Licorice plant’s fuzzy, silvery foliage grows long enough to trail, readily weaving throughout surrounding plants. This drought resistant vine thrives in partial shade to full sun and spreads out to 6 feet. Check out more beautiful drought tolerant ground covers.
Veronica spp. • Zones 3 to 9
This easy-to-grow favorite, also known as speedwell, boasts beautiful white, purple, pink or blue spikes and has a long bloom time. These drought tolerant plants reach 1 to 2 feet high and thrive in well-drained soil and full sun. Love the color purple? Here’s the top 10 purple flowers that attract hummingbirds.
Achillea • Zones 3 to 9
These easy-care, long-lasting flowers come into their own once spring bulbs are past their peak. No matter what garden space you’re looking to fill, yarrow is a prime candidate. Yarrow is also one of the top 10 plants for sandy soil.
Portulaca spp. • annual
These easy-care, drought tolerant annual plants are a sure source of perky color. Portulaca grows in low clusters, bloom in a rainbow of hues and thrive in the hot, sunny spots where other flowers might wither. If you’re new to gardening, you need to learn the difference between annuals and perennials.
Bonus: 33 More Drought Tolerant Plants
We selected 30+ more tough drought resistant plants that will thrive in climates that see both periods of rain and drought. Plants that are tolerant of difficult conditions may be invasive in certain areas, so do some research or contact your local extension service before planting.
- Autumn sage (Salvia greggii)
- Balloon flower
- Bearded irises
- Blue flax (Linum perenne)
- Blue spirea (Caryopteris x clandonensis)
- Broom (Cystisus and Genista)
- Butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa)
- Candytuft (Iberis sempervirens)
- Creeping phlox
- Creeping thyme; wooly thyme
- Culinary sage (Salvia officinalis)
- Dianthus, including Cheddar Pink and others
- Gayfeather or blazing star (Liatris)
- Globe thistle (Echinops)
- Harebell (Campanula rotundifolia)
- Ice plant (Delosperma)
- Lambs’ ears
- Oregano, including ornamental-flowered varieties
- Ornamental grasses (non-invasive varieties)
- Pine-leaf penstemon (Penstemon pinifolius)
- Purpletop verbena (Verbena bonariensis)
- Red yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora)
- Red-hot poker
- Rock rose (Cistus)
- Sea holly (Eryngium)
- Sun rose (Helianthemum)
- Thread-leaf coreopsis (Coreopsis verticillata)
Anytime a hurricane threatens here in the South, we get a lot of questions at the butterfly free-flight exhibit where I work about what we do to protect the butterflies from the storm. People wonder, “Where do butterflies go when it rains?” The answer? Butterflies are small and fragile creatures. Though, like all wildlife, they are equipped to handle some pretty nasty weather. Butterfly gardeners can help out a bit by providing the right kinds of habitat.
Just like humans, when rain threatens, butterflies seek shelter. When you’re a butterfly, a single raindrop is an awfully big deal. The average monarch butterfly weighs in at around 500 milligrams. The average raindrop weighs around 70 milligrams. Scientific American suggested that the impact of a raindrop on a butterfly would be similar to a human being hit with a water balloon with twice the mass of a bowling ball. Yikes!
Give Butterflies Places to Go When It Rains
Butterflies look for shelter from rain when the skies start to grow dark. They cling to the undersides of leaves, climb deep into tall grasses, or tuck themselves into cracks of rocks or trees. This is also how they protect themselves from strong winds. Their feet are capable of a surprisingly strong grip, and as long as they stay still in their sheltered spot, they’re likely to ride out the storm just fine. (Caterpillars do much the same thing, although they seldom stray far from their host plants.)
Of course, extremely severe weather can have an impact on butterfly populations. A large hurricane may destroy habitat, especially on islands and coastal areas where salt water flooding may kill host and nectar plants. In the Florida Keys, both Schaus Swallowtails and Klot’s Palatka Skippers have very limited ranges, and when hurricanes like Andrew destroyed much of their habitat, their populations began to struggle. Most butterflies have much larger ranges, though, and if they experience die-off in one area due to a storm, butterflies from nearby unaffected areas will quickly move in and repopulate when the habitat recovers.
As a butterfly gardener, you can help pollinators during stormy weather by making sure your garden has places for butterflies to go when it rains. Trees (dead or alive), tall grasses, and even rock piles provide great places for butterflies to hide during bad weather. Butterflies also use these shelters to roost at night, when they rest.
What About Butterfly Houses?
You’ve probably seen butterfly houses advertised or sold along with bird houses. They are small wooden houses with slits for butterflies to crawl inside, and perhaps with perches for them to cling to. Though you can buy these ready-made wooden butterfly houses, you’ll find butterflies are more likely to use natural areas like tall ornamental grasses or sturdy shrubs.
“Are butterfly houses more wishful thinking than practical? asks Sue Gronholz of Beaver Dam, Wisconsin. Birding experts Kenn and Kimberly Kaufman said, “While most kinds of butterflies survive through the winter in the egg, caterpillar or pupa stage, a few hibernate as adults. Examples include mourning cloaks, commas, question marks and tortoiseshells. These hibernating adults usually seek out bark crevices or other sheltered spots, but they’ll also use butterfly houses that feature vertical grooves cut deep into the wood. Even if they use your butterfly house, you may not see them as they slip inside sometime in fall and stay for weeks. So it’s hard to gauge their effectiveness, but it doesn’t hurt to put one of these shelters near your garden.”
Next, check out expert tips for watching and photographing butterflies.
There’s something magical about flowers that open after dark, when other flowers are dropping their heads or closing their blooms for the night. Night-bloomers like moonflower give you a reason to enjoy your flower garden and outdoor space well into the evening hours. Choose a place for this vining plant where you’ll be sure to breathe the sweet fragrance after the sun goes down. You may even attract hummingbird moths and other nighttime pollinators.
How to Grow Moonflower
Moonflower (Ipomoea alba) is a member of the morning glory family and is also related to ornamental potato vine. It’s a climber, so while it doesn’t need much ground space, plan to provide a trellis or fence to allow it to reach toward the starry sky. It’s a perennial in its native tropical range (which includes Florida and Texas), and grows well as an annual in other places. Moonflower is easy to start from seed (nick the seed and soak overnight for best germination success) and can be started indoors a few weeks ahead of the first frost in northern areas.
Give moonflower full sun during the day, and regular water while it establishes—it can handle dry soil pretty well after that. As a night bloomer, it may take a break from flowering during the long summer days of June and July in more northern areas. When the day length returns to closer to 12 hours in the late summer and early fall, the blooms will return. Frost will end the season for moonflower; the first light frost may not do it in if it is planted in a sheltered area, but heavier frosts will kill the plant to the ground. Gather seeds in advance so you can start the plant again the following year. Gardeners in zones 8 and higher may be able to overwinter this plant as a perennial.
Plant a trellis of fragrant moonflower near your door or windows so you can watch the flowers unfurl at dusk and enjoy the scent. “Moonflower is a gorgeous plant and it smells heavenly,” says Pamela Rupp of Cincinnati, Ohio.
Moonflower Attracts Moths
As a powerfully fragrant night-blooming plant, moonflower is a draw for bats and night-feeding moths, especially sphinx moths. Head outside on full moon nights to enjoy the luminous glow of the white blooms. You might see the whirring wings of a white-lined sphinx moth or hummingbird clearwing moth nearby!
Bees are extremely important garden bugs that pollinate many of our favorite edibles and ornamentals. Native plants are always a great choice for attracting native bees, but many ornamental flowers will also help feed and support the bee population. When selecting plants, be sure to choose flowers bees love that bloom at various times throughout your growing season. This will ensure that bees have a reason to return to your backyard month after month. Plant these flowers that attract bees.
Nepeta x faassenii, Zones 3 to 8
Don’t let the name sway you from planting these flowers that attract bees. Look for well-behaved varieties that do not reseed and take over the garden. You and the bees will be rewarded with blue flowers that top silvery foliage all season long.
Why we love it: One haircut midseason will keep this heat-and drought-tolerant plant looking its best throughout the growing season.
Calendula officinalis, Annual
You may also know this edible flower as pot marigold. The yellowish white and orange petals were once used to flavor soups and stews. Grow in full sun with moist, well-drained soil. It thrives in cooler temperatures.
Why we love it: This plant reseeds, providing years of beauty and nectar for bees in the garden. Discover sweet facts about honeybees.
Monarda, Zones 4 to 9
A list like this would not be complete without bee balm. This flower will attract bees and also hummingbirds and butterflies. This vigorous plant reseeds readily, but the fragrant leaves provide a bit of aromatherapy when thinning in spring.
Why we love it: The leaves of this North American native plant can be steeped to make tea.
Sedum, Zones 3 to 10
Planting both summer and fall flowering varieties will attract more bees and you’ll get season-long blooms. Grow these heat-tolerant plants in full sun for best results. There are lots of varieties out there, so select one that best suits your garden design.
Why we love it: There are so many options from ground-hugging varieties great for ground covers to more upright types for perennial and mixed borders.
Lavandula angustifolia, Zones 5 to 8
Full sun and well-drained soil are keys to successfully growing lavender. One of its appeals: The leaves and flowers are fragrant. Lavender’s silvery leaves will persist in mild winters adding to the winter garden’s beauty. Plant hardier varieties, like Hidcote and Munstead, in zone 5 and even 4.
Borago officinalis, Annual
The clear blue star-shaped flowers of borage stand out in the garden and attract bees. You can eat the cucumber-flavored leaves raw, steamed or sautéed. This annual self-seeds, so it will be a long lasting member of the garden. And you will have plenty of seedlings to share with family and friends!
Why we love it: Once it’s established it is a drought-tolerant annual. Check out 6 key differences between bees and wasps.
Digitalis purpurea, Zones 4 to 9
Spires of large bell-shaped flowers add vertical interest to the late spring or early summer garden. Foxglove is a great option for those gardeners with shady spaces and moist, organic soils.
Why we love it: Though a biennial, foxglove reseeds and tends to stay in the garden for years. If you want to enjoy these stunners every year, plant them two years in a row.
We found the best purple flowers to grow in your garden.
Crocus, Zones 3 to 8
Start off spring with a burst of color in the landscape and nectar for the bees. Grow these small early bloomers in full sun or partial shade. Planting crocus in bulk will make an even greater impact in the garden.
Why we love it: There are cultivars that squirrels tend to leave alone. Try Little Tommies (Crocus tommasinianus) if you’ve had trouble with squirrels digging up your bulbs in the past.
Check out the ultimate guide to planting spring bulbs.
Agastache foeniculum, Zones 4 to 8
This North American native produces spikes of blue flowers that attract bees above anise-scented leaves in late summer. The plants grow 3 feet tall, self-seed and tolerate drought once they’re established. Be sure to deadhead to encourage more blooms.
Why we love it: Anise hyssop will also attract hummingbirds and butterflies.
Heliotropium arborescens, Zones 10 & 11, annual elsewhere
Fragrant purple, violet or white flowers will attract bees, but you’ll enjoy the lovely fragrance in the landscape as well. Grow these annuals in the garden or a container in full sun and moist well-drained soil.
Why we love it: Potted plants or those started from cuttings late in the season can be overwintered indoors.
Aster, Zones 4 to 9
The aster is a late flowering fall plant that’s important for pre-hibernation bumblebee queens. Blue, lavender, pink or white flowers look lovely as ground cover, along borders or in containers. Asters also attract butterflies.
Joe Pye Weed
Eupatorium purpureum, Zones 3 to 9
Primarily known as a butterfly plant, this perennial flower also attracts bees with its fragrant pink-purple blooms. It prefers moist soil where it can shoot up to 9 feet tall.
Check out the go-to flowers you should plant in your butterfly garden.
Solidago, Zones 3 to 10
With its feathery yellow blossoms, goldenrod provides late-season forage for honeybees, bumblebees, butterflies, beneficial wasps, soldier beetles and more.
Learn how to build a DIY bug hotel.
Rudbeckia, Zones 3 to 10
Its bright yellow blooms and dark brown centers offer a cheery spot in any garden. These flowers attract bees and other beneficial garden insects. Some varieties feature orange and red petals or bicolored blooms.
Discover more easy ways you can help the bees.
Echinacea purpurea, Zones 3 to 8
This native wildflower is simple to grow and has masses of tall purple blooms. Recent cultivars come in other colors, but stick with natives for the most nectar value. Coneflowers also attract birds and butterflies.
Paniculata, Zones 3 to 9
This hardy native perennial has fragrant, blue-pink flowers that attract bees and other pollinators in mid to late summer.
Discover more super fragrant flowers that pollinators love.
Plant it and they will come. Believe it or not, it really is that simple when it comes to butterfly host plants. Scatter dill seeds among your lovely pink cosmos, and soon you’ll see swallowtails. Plant a patch of milkweed, and you’re bound to get monarchs. Got an out-of-the-way corner for nettles? Get ready to welcome red admirals. Butterfly gardening truly is this easy, but myths abound, so let’s set the story straight.
MYTH: The best way to get more butterflies in my yard is to plant nectar flowers.
TRUTH: It’s true that to nectar-seeking butterflies, the more nectar flowers, the better. But it’s even more important to think ahead. Yes, they’ll show up at any yard for nectar, but those butterflies dancing over the daisies need a place to lay their eggs. Supply host plants tailored to the tastes of the caterpillars, and you will enjoy more butterflies for years to come.
Check out the best blooming bushes that attract butterflies.
MYTH: Habitats such as forests, meadows and marshes aren’t necessary for butterflies, since they’re always flitting about looking for flowers.
TRUTH: Sure, butterflies may range miles afield to visit flowers. But when it’s time to start the next generation, many species are highly dependent on a particular kind of habitat. This is often where the plants that their caterpillars eat are found. For butterflies, it’s host plants that determine the place they call home. Some, such as painted ladies (hosts: thistles, mallows, various legumes) and viceroys (hosts: willows and poplars), range widely. Other butterflies, including many species that are in decline, rely on host plants that grow only in certain areas. The gorgeous black-and-white zebra swallowtail, for instance, needs young pawpaw trees to support its brood, so it’s found near the moist, low woods where the trees grow. The Baltimore checkerspot is a wetland species, because that’s where one of its favorite host plants, turtlehead (Chelone glabra), naturally grows.
Don’t forget to grow late-blooming fall flowers that attract butterflies.
MYTH: Butterfly populations are doing fine. Any yearly differences are only normal cycles.
TRUTH: Sadly, many North American butterflies are in decline, just as they are in Great Britain and elsewhere in the world. Butterflies that rely on habitat-specific butterfly host plants are among the most threatened. If a bulldozer scrapes off their favorite patch of host plants, they may be out of luck. The Karner blue, a dainty little beauty, relies on a lupine (Lupinus perennis) that grows in the sandy prairies, lakeshores and pine barrens of the Northeast and Midwest. And these lupines are disappearing. Fritillary species that depend on native violets are declining, too. For monarchs, it’s the loss of milkweed in herbicide-sprayed farm fields that’s suspected to be an important cause of their falling numbers.
MYTH: Adding host plants to backyards is such a small effort that it won’t do much to help butterfly populations.
TRUTH: One small step for butterflies in the backyard is one giant leap for butterflies everywhere! Home butterfly gardens may be small, but with so many of us helping butterflies, those efforts add up in a big way. Monarch Watch has developed a way-station program for schools, businesses, gardeners and anyone else with a bit of space to offer host and nectar plants. Visit monarchwatch.org/waystations to learn more.
MYTH: Caterpillars will chew host plants to bits, and who wants that in their garden?
TRUTH: Once you spot your first butterflies-to-be, you won’t mind the nibbled look at all. It’s a sure sign of success! You’ll find yourself checking the progress of the brood day by day, looking forward to more beautiful wings. Butterfly gardening just means looking at your garden in a different way.
Follow these tips for watching and photographing butterflies.
MYTH: Host plants aren’t as pretty as the flowers planted for nectar. They look weedy.
TRUTH: Butterfly host plants can be just as showy as garden flowers. Bright-orange butterfly weed, pink swamp milkweed, pink or white turtlehead, Western bleeding heart, blue bird’s-foot violet, hollyhocks, snapdragons, nasturtiums: All are gorgeous garden flowers as both host plants and nectar sources. Bronze fennel and dill offer pretty foliage, which makes them good garden players, too. Nettles are the preferred host plant of the widespread red admiral butterfly, but not everyone welcomes a patch of stinging nettles in the yard. Luckily, these pretty fliers are just as fond of false nettle (Boehmeria cylindrica), a nonirritating plant. Both types of nettles spread fast, so plant them in an area where you won’t fret if they grow out of bounds.
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MYTH: Butterflies are highly specific about which plant they’ll lay their eggs on. Many use just one particular kind of plant.
TRUTH: This is true for some species but way off the mark for many others. Think plant family, rather than species. For instance, mustard family plants—from broccoli to arugula to nasturtiums—are perfect for cabbage whites. The entire milkweed family will attract monarchs. Willows bring in mourning cloaks, and elms attract Eastern commas.
MYTH: Planting a host for a butterfly species that doesn’t live in my area is a good way to attract them to my yard; they’ll seek the plant at egg-laying time.
TRUTH: Not likely, if the butterfly’s natural range is far away. But it could make a difference if every neighbor along the way pitched in as well. Some experts believe the pipevine swallowtail expanded its range in response to the popularity of Dutchman’s pipe (Aristolochia spp.) as a porch vine.
Need to work on butterfly identification? Here’s a helpful cheat sheet.
MYTH: There are too many butterfly host plants to remember; no one size fits all.
TRUTH: Can you remember three? Milkweeds, dill and hollyhocks: They’re a great place to start, and all have wide appeal – the magic three of butterfly gardening. Then fill in the gaps with native plants. Chances are some butterfly (or moth) will be happy to call them home.
MYTH: Only native plants are used as butterfly host plants.
TRUTH: Native plants are usually the best choice for butterflies, but non-natives that belong to the same family are adopted by some species, too. Dill, parsley and fennel aren’t American plants; they got their start around the Mediterranean. Yet the larvae of the black swallowtail and anise swallowtail will happily munch them all. English plantain, a common imported weed, hosts buckeye butterflies and other species along its wide track. Monarchs will accept any milkweed species, no matter how far from its native origin it is growing. This isn’t always true, though; using certain non-native pipevine species can be fatal for pipevine swallowtails. Do your research before planting.
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MYTH: If I want to attract fritillaries, all I have to do is plant violets or pansies.
TRUTH: Here’s where natives are vital. These butterflies are picky about where they put their eggs, and native violets are the plants their larvae chomp. A few species have also adopted non-native Johnny jump-ups (Viola tricolor), but it’s the native violets they most prefer. And this is where we gardeners can make a big difference. The gorgeous regal fritillary and some of its other fritillary relatives are declining, because those native violets have been turned to the plow or destroyed by development. By nurturing native violets, such as bird’s-foot violet (Viola pedata) for the regal fritillary, we can provide an oasis in our gardens for the upcoming brood. Be sure to choose violets that are native to your region, not just “American natives.” With dozens of fritillary species ranging here and there in North America, regional tastes matter. In the Midwest, for instance, bird’s-foot violet is a good choice; not so in the West, where the fritillaries prefer yellow-flowered Nuttall’s violet (Viola nuttalli).
Psst—these butterfly flowers are easy to grow from seed.
Nectar plants give butterfly gardens a powerful boost. But they’re not the only key to drawing pretty pollinators to your yard. As your favorite winged beauties transition through their life cycle, many lay eggs on the undersides of specific host plants. And butterflies do most of their eating during their larval phase as caterpillars, feeding exclusively on the leaves of host plants specific to their species. Many people know monarchs need milkweed, but there are many other butterfly host plants you should consider adding to your garden. By incorporating some of these, you’ll attract a wider variety of butterflies to your backyard. And they just might stick around!
Passiflora, Zones 5 to 9
Passionflower is a perfect butterfly-friendly vining host plant. It climbs 15 to 50 feet and will thrive in full sun or part shade. If you’re starting this beauty from seed or small nursery plants, be prepared to provide support for its tendrils to cling and wind. After that, you won’t need to put in much effort to enjoy the blooms of this climber.
Butterfly benefits: Several fritillary caterpillars munch on passionflower. A couple of common ones are the gulf fritillary and the variegated fritillary.
Alcea rosea, Zones 2 to 10
If you want to make an impact in your garden, this tall butterfly host plant is an easy choice. It comes in many colors, attracts an array of insects and can reach up to 8 feet in height. Plant hollyhocks in full sun and along a fence or wall for stability.
Discover the truth behind myths and facts about butterfly host plants.
Salix, Zones 2 to 9
It’s true! Caterpillars feed on trees as well as pretty garden plants. Willows are known to grow up to 100 feet depending on species. So most gardeners will want smaller willows, like Dappled or Flame willow, which are a better size for backyard landscapes. Willow trees prefer full sun and tolerate many
Butterfly benefits: Several caterpillars like to munch on willow trees, including viceroy, western tiger swallowtail and mourning cloak.
Psst—check out the common swallowtail butterflies you should know.
Anethum graveolens, annual
Generally grown for its culinary uses, dill is also an unconventionally attractive butterfly host plant with its feathery, aromatic green leaves and yellow buds. For an herb plant, dill gets quite large, reaching up to 4 feet tall.
Butterfly benefits: If you’re looking to snip some dill for use in your own kitchen, you’ve got to get your hands on it before the black swallowtails chow it down. Anise swallowtails and other caterpillars like dill (and parsley!) as well.
Prunus virginiana, Zones 2 to 6
In spring, long bloom clusters appear in a stunning display on the branches of chokecherry trees. Later in the season, the tree produces berries perfect for birds to munch on. This tree grows about 30 feet tall, so be sure to leave plenty of space for this beauty to mature.
Butterfly benefits: A western species, the two-tailed swallowtail caterpillar enjoys feeding on the foliage of the chokecherry tree.
Antirrhinum majus, annual
Mostly grown as an annual or a short-lived perennial in Zones 5 to 9, snapdragons are great butterfly host plants for adding height to a landscape. These garden classics’ stalks can reach about 4 feet tall with blooms in a variety of colors: white, pink, purple, orange or red.
Butterfly benefits: Look for common buckeye caterpillars snacking away on your snapdragons. They’re fun butterflies to have in your yard because they’re easily identifiable by bold, colorful eyespots.
Check out 3 butterflies that look like monarchs.
Viola, Zones 3 to 10
Try this pretty option if you’ve got a shady spot. Perennial violets bloom in spring and prefer partial shade. Annual violas actually prefer full sun but will thrive in cooler temperatures of partial shade. They’re dainty plants with a maximum height of only about 6 inches.
Butterfly benefits: Violets are the butterfly host plants for the widespread great spangled fritillary, as well as western fritillaries like Mormon, callippe and zerene.
Follow these tips for watching and photographing butterflies.
Quercus, Zones 3 to 10
You may know oak trees by the fantastic orange, red and yellow foliage show they put on every autumn. Mature oaks can reach up to 100 feet high, but you can find smaller varieties, such as pin oak, that grow to about 75 feet-still quite large. So keep in mind that even smaller varieties need plenty of space to grow and flourish.
Butterfly benefits: Young oak leaves are favorite butterfly host plants of the caterpillars of Horace’s duskywing and banded hairstreak.
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Anaphalis margaritacea, Zones 3 to 8
Maybe you’re more familiar with this plant by the common name pearly everlasting, but its beauty is the same no matter what you call it. Blooming from midsummer to early fall, this plant boasts small, flat-topped clumps of white flowers reaching about 2 feet tall.
Butterfly benefits: American lady butterflies can be found throughout most of the United States, so plant everlasting as a butterfly host plant to feed those hungry caterpillars.
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Panicum virgatum, Zones 4 to 9
This easygoing and versatile grass is a good choice for wet conditions, drought or partial shade, as long as it’s planted in moist, well-draining soil. Growing narrow and upright with a cloud of seed heads in fall, switchgrass can reach more than 5 feet tall. Birds enjoy the seeds while the green leaves turn to yellow in fall.
Butterfly benefits: These butterfly host plants serve as food and shelter. Many skipper caterpillars need grasses like switchgrass as a food source. These same caterpillars might overwinter on or underneath the blades of grass.
See what a sphinx moth caterpillar and pupa looks like.
Bonus Butterfly Host Plant: Milkweed
Milkweed is the only butterfly host plant for monarchs. Populations of these winged jewels and their striped caterpillars are plummeting, largely because of the eradication of milkweed. So planting milkweed in your garden can make a big difference for monarchs.
To learn more, check out fascinating monarch butterfly facts.