10 Herbs to Include in a Butterfly Garden

alliums

The Spruce / Letícia Almeida

With new attention to the danger posed by some pesticides to pollinating insects like butterflies and bees, gardeners are constantly seeking ways to nurture these beneficial insects by choosing plants that attract them and provide food sources. Focus on growing herbs for your butterfly garden with brightly-colored blooms. Several common culinary herbs work well in a butterfly garden by providing both color and nectar. Butterflies love everything from dill and parsley to mint and lavender. Create an environment with shelter, sources of moisture, and a chemical-free hangout.

Tip

To keep butterflies and bees coming to your herb garden, lay off commercial pesticides. Butterflies and bees cannot tolerate them. And, you don't want pesticides on your edibles either. If you have a problem with aphids or other soft-bodied insects colonizing your plants, safe, organic alternatives are insecticidal soap and horticultural oils, like neem oil.

Here are 10 herbs to consider for your butterfly garden.

  • 01 of 10

    Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)

    lavender

    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 garden. Lavender is best known for the oil derived from its leaves. 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 a 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 10

    Catnip (Nepeta cataria)

    catmint

    The Spruce / Letícia Almeida

    Known as catnip or catmint, this herb needs to be in your butterfly garden. Butterflies are fiercely attracted to catnip. 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.

    Be aware that the effects of catnip on cats are entirely accurate. Catnip is an intoxicating scent for cats; you can expect kitties to visit your garden, rolling on the plant and chewing it to smithereens. You might have to fence off the plant or keep a close watch on it.

    Catnip is available in different varieties, tall, short, and sprawling, making it an excellent 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 10

    Chives (Allium schoenoprasum)

    allium

    The Spruce / K. Dave

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

    The fat, fluffy blossoms are irresistible to insects. Bees and butterflies are especially attracted to chives. 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 10

    Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)

    Fennel plant stems with delicate feather-like leaves for butterfly garden

    The Spruce / Michelle Becker

    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 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 develop 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 10 below.
  • 05 of 10

    Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

    yarrow

    ​The Spruce / Adrienne Legault 

    Yarrow is another wonderful choice for your butterfly garden. As an herb, yarrow is used mainly for medicinal purposes, often in teas to relieve digestive problems. 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.

    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 too moist soil, 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
  • 06 of 10

    Parsley (Petroselinum crispum)

    Parsley herb plant for butterfly garden

    The Spruce / Kara Riley

    Parsley is a biennial plant generally grown as an annual culinary herb. It grows in clumps of lacy foliage about a foot high and has triangular dark green leaves that make for a good garnish or an aromatic addition to recipes. It comes in several types, such as curly parsley and flat-leaf parsley (also known as Italian parsley). Best planted in the spring, most varieties of parsley grow slowly, establishing maturity between 70 to 90 days after planting. Parsley is pollinated via bees and other pollinators. Its blooms are especially attractive to black swallowtail butterflies, where they commonly lay eggs.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 2 to 11
    • Color Varieties: Whitish-yellow
    • Sun Exposure: Full
    • Soil Needs: Loamy, moist, well-drained
  • 07 of 10

    Dill (Anethum graveolens)

    Dill herb plant in pot being watered for butterfly garden

    The Spruce / Kara Riley

    Dill is a culinary herb with a distinctive flavor; its leaves and seeds are used for seasoning. Dill's feathery foliage is ornamental, making it an excellent addition to flower beds that attract pollinators and butterflies—particularly the Eastern black swallowtail. It self sows, growing early spring to late fall. It is a cold-hardy plant, growing quickly, with seedlings appearing in around ten days.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 2 to 11
    • Color Varieties: Yellow
    • Sun Exposure: Full
    • Soil Needs: Well-drained
  • 08 of 10

    Basil (Ocimum basilicum)

    Basil herb leaves for butterfly garden closeup

    The Spruce / Lacey Johnson

    Basil plants are one of the most popular herbs to grow and one of the easiest. Sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum) is in the mint family. Its aromatic leaves come in various flavors, from sweet basil's lemony-mint flavor to cinnamon and licorice. The flower buds are also edible. Leaf colors range from rich green to deep purple, with smooth or crinkled leaves. The flowers are insignificant but very popular with bees. Butterflies also visit its blooms for high-energy, sweet nectar.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 10 to 11
    • Color Varieties: Magenta
    • Sun Exposure: Full
    • Soil Needs: Moist, well-draining
    Continue to 9 of 10 below.
  • 09 of 10

    Mint (Mentha spp.)

    Mint herb plant in sunshine for butterfly garden closeup

    The Spruce / Kara Riley

    Mint species (Mentha spp.) are hardy perennials with long stems that grow upward, flop over, and roots from where the stems touch the soil, spreading aggressively and growing quickly. Its small white, pink, or purple summer blooms flowers attract bees, butterflies, and other pollinators. Mint is planted in the spring after the threat of frost has passed.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 11
    • Color Varieties: White, purple, pink
    • Sun Exposure: Full, partial
    • Soil Needs: Loamy, moist, well-drained
  • 10 of 10

    Sage (Salvia officinalis)

    Sage herb plant for butterfly garden closeup

    The Spruce / Kara Riley

    Sage (Salvia officinalis) is one of the easiest perennial herbs to grow. Also called culinary sage, this shrub-like plant's leaves are wooly, gray-green, and aromatic, used fresh or dried in cooking. Spikes of bluish-purplish flowers appear in the summertime. Sage is pollinated primarily by bees and butterflies and is excellent at attracting these beneficial insects to the garden.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 8
    • Color Varieties: Blue, purple, white, pink
    • Sun Exposure: Full
    • Soil Needs: Sandy, loamy, well-drained
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