5 Herbs to Include in a Butterfly Garden


The Spruce / Letícia Almeida

With new attention to the danger posed by some pesticides to pollinating insects like butterflies and bees, gardeners are always seeking ways to nurture these beneficial insects by choosing plants that attract them and provide sources of food.

To attract butterflies, your focus should be brightly-colored blooms and creating an environment where they can drink nectar and rest safely. This means providing shelter, sources of moisture, and an environment free of chemicals. Butterflies and bees ​cannot tolerate any toxins, so their presence is a good indicator that you following best practices for organic gardening.

Along with many brightly-colored flowers, several common herbs will work well in a butterfly garden by providing both color and nectar. Here are five herbs to consider for your butterfly garden.

  • 01 of 05

    Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)


    The Spruce / K. Dave 

    Lavender is showy and fragrant—attractive to both insects and gardeners alike. Because there are so many varieties and colors of lavender, they are perfect choices for any style garden.

    Lavender is best known for the oil derived from its leaves. Medicinally, it is a gentle healer and the soothing, relaxing properties are widely known. No need for essential oils, however. You can grow lavender in the garden for the insects, then harvest the flower buds to enjoy them yourself for the rest of the year.

    Lavender prefers hot and dry conditions with well-drained soil, but it requires good airflow and is susceptible to fungal problems in humid conditions. Lavender blooms early and continues until hard frost. Because it is especially good at attracting insects, this is a must-have herb for butterfly garden.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 9
    • Color Varieties: Bluish-purple, lavender, white, pink
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Sandy, well-drained, dry soil
  • 02 of 05

    Catnip (Nepeta cataria)


    The Spruce / Letícia Almeida

    Known as catnip or catmint, Nepeta cataria is an herb that needs to be in your butterfly garden. This herbaceous perennial will take over the garden if not kept contained, so plant this lovely herb in a pot and then bury the pot into the ground up to the rim. In addition to its effect on cats, catnip is a fierce attraction for butterflies.

    Be aware that the effects of catnip on cats are entirely true! For most cats, catnip is an intoxicating scent and they will not only visit your garden, but they will also be all over the plant, rolling and chewing it to death. You might have to fence off the plant or keep a close watch on it.

    Catnip is available in different varieties, both tall, short, and sprawling which makes it a great choice for all types of gardens. If you cut the plants down after the first bloom, they will regrow and bloom again.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 9
    • Color Varieties: White, lavender
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Moderately rich loam or sandy soil with good drainage
  • 03 of 05

    Chives (Allium schoenoprasum)


    The Spruce / K. Dave

    Perfect for any herb garden, chives suit the butterfly garden especially well. Because it is a clumping herb, chives will stay put, for the most part, only becoming rounder and larger over the years. However, if you don't deadhead faded blooms, it can self-sow and you could have new plants popping up in unexpected places.

    Bees and butterflies are especially attracted to chives. The fat, fluffy blossoms are irresistible to insects. Chives should be lifted and divided every two to three years to keep the clumps vigorously growing.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 9
    • Color Varieties: Purple
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Medium moisture, well-drained soil
  • 04 of 05

    Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)

    Fennel flowers

    Dr. Andre Kempe Photolibrary / Getty Images

    Fennel is another perfect addition to your butterfly garden. It is showy, growing up to 5 feet tall or more with a similar spread. Insects are drawn to it like no other herb,. Take care while harvesting to avoid disturbing the caterpillars that are destined to become butterflies.

    Fennel is easy to grow, but do not grow fennel next to dill. Fennel works so well at attracting and protecting beneficial insects, consider growing it in two locations: one for yourself, which you can keep trimmed and tidy; and a second patch that you can allow to grow to its glorious, full height as a destination for butterflies.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 9
    • Color Varieties: Yellow
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Rich, moist, well-drained soil
    Continue to 5 of 5 below.
  • 05 of 05

    Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)


    ​The Spruce / Adrienne Legault 

    Yarrow is another wonderful choice for your butterfly garden. Its spicy scent and showy flowers can withstand harsh treatment, and it continues to bloom long after other flowers succumb to drought or lack of sunlight. As an herb, yarrow is used mostly for medicinal purposes, often in teas aimed at relieving digestive problems.

    Your local nursery will have multiple varieties of yarrow, with a wide range of colors and flower shapes. The species form can spread aggressively; cultivars are better behaved. If grown in soil that is too moist, the plants can flop and require staking.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 9
    • Color Varieties: Pink, red, cream, yellow, white
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Dry to medium moisture, loamy/sandy soil
Article Sources
The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Lavandula Angustifolia 'Hidcote'. Missouri Botanical Garden

  2. Nepeta Cataria. Missouri Botanical Garden

  3. Allium Schoenoprasum. Missouri Botanical Garden

  4. Foeniculum Vulgare. Missouri Botanical Garden

  5. Nemeth, E., and J. Bernath. Biological Activities of Yarrow Species (Achillea Spp.). Current Pharmaceutical Design, vol. 14, no. 29, 2008, pp. 3151–3167., doi:10.2174/138161208786404281

  6. Achillea Millefolium. Missouri Botanical Garden