9 Butterfly Flowers That Are Easy to Grow From Seed

Updated: Jul. 14, 2020

Want to attract butterflies on a budget? Fill your garden with beautiful butterfly flowers from just a few dollars' worth of seeds.

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It’s just common sense—the more butterfly flowers you have in your garden, the more butterflies you’ll see. If you have a large yard, it can be hard to figure out how to fill up the space without breaking the bank. The answer? Growing butterfly flowers from seeds! Plenty of the nectar flowers that butterflies love are easy to start from seed. Many also self-sow freely, meaning these flowers will return year after year at no cost to you.

In addition to the nine favorites we’ve rounded up below, native wildflowers are an excellent way to attract butterflies on a budget. Contact your local county extension office for a list of wildflowers found in your area. One note: use caution with “wildflower mixes.” They often include species not really appropriate for all areas.

butterfly on marigoldsCourtesy Eileen Teti
Black swallowtail butterfly on marigolds


Tagetes spp.

This old-fashioned garden standby deserves more attention in butterfly garden. Choose the full double-bloomed varieties for their capability to hold water between the petals, giving thirsty butterflies a great place to stop for a sip as well as some nectar. Start indoors about 8 weeks before you’ll be ready to transplant. Psst—here’s how to start seeds indoors. Or sow seeds directly outdoors in spring.

Try: Park’s Whopper Mix or Marigold ‘Tiger Eyes’

Mexican Sunflower attracts butterflies like this Zebra Longwing

Mexican Sunflower

Tithonia rotundifolia

Also called Mexican Sunflower (though it’s not a true sunflower), this butterfly magnet is perfect for that hot sunny spot in your garden. It actually likes drier soil once it’s established, and the bright orange petals seem to draw every butterfly in the neighborhood.

Try: ‘Fiesta del Sol’ Mexican Sunflower

Zinnia and butterflyCourtesy Dan Davidson
Pipevine swallowtail on zinnia


Zinnia spp.

Oh, the wide variety of zinnias! Singles, doubles, solid and broken colors, tall and short – the list goes on. Growing zinnias from seeds is very satisfying. They sprout within a couple of days, and flower in just a few weeks. You can start them indoors about 6 weeks before you’ll be ready to transplant outdoors, or direct-sow in your garden after the last frost or in spring. Check out the top plants for swallowtails.

Try: Zahara Mix or Zin Master Mix

butterfly on coneflowerCourtesy Kari Thomson
Red admiral on a coneflower


Echinacea spp.

Coneflowers are a favorite of butterflies and gardeners alike. These tall sturdy flowers thrive all season long, and since they’re perennials, they’ll return year after year. Start coneflowers early so they’ll have time to bloom the first season, or sow them the fall before.

Try: Coneflower ‘PowWow Wild Berry’ or Coneflower ‘Magnus’

Monarch on sunflowers


Helianthus spp.

Many folks grow sunflowers for birds, and are surprised to find butterflies visiting the giant blooms! Sunflowers come in so many heights and sizes now that it’s easy to find one (or more) to suit your garden space, even containers. Start them indoors 2 weeks to give them a chance to sprout, or direct sow fairly deeply so they won’t be eaten by birds or other critters.

Try: Sunny Babe or Sunny Smile

monarch on cosmos flowersCourtesy Diane Theodor
Monarch butterfly feeding on cosmos


Cosmos spp.

These flowers are one of the first that many gardeners grow from seed. They’re easy and don’t require any special prep—just sow them in the spring where you want them to grow! Don’t be surprised when they self-seed and return year after year. There are two types (C. bipinnatus and C. sulphureus) each available in a variety of colors, so choose the one(s) best suited to your garden.

Try: Peppermint Candy or Cupcake Mix

monarch on goldenrodCourtesy Lisa Thompson
Monarch butterfly on goldenrod


Solidago spp.

It’s important to include nectar-producing butterfly flowers that bloom all the way through fall. These especially help support migrating monarchs on their long journey to Mexico. Goldenrod is a great late-season nectar flower, and very easy to grow. Give it lots of sun, and room to reach for the sky. There are many species of goldenrod, so seek out those native to your area. Discover the host plants butterflies need.

Try: Grass-leaved Goldenrod or Showy Goldenrod

White peacock on tropical sage


Salvia spp.

There are hundreds of species of salvia (also called sage), and most of them are great for attracting butterflies. Choose those native to your area for direct-sowing in spring, or start indoors about 4-6 weeks before transplanting time.

Try: Summer Jewel Pink or Fairy Queen

Chastity Marshall
Checkered White on ironweed


Vernonia spp.

The tall spikes of ironweed act as a calling card for butterflies. This late-summer-to-fall bloomer provides nectar for butterflies that linger after the prime of summer has ended. Ironweed is best sown directly in the garden in late fall or early winter. Choose species native to your area.

Try: Giant Ironweed or Common Ironweed