Invite butterflies to your garden

Raise your hand if you love butterflies.  Wow, that’s a lot of hands. 

It’s hard to resist the fluttering appeal of butterflies with their delicate wings, zig-zag flight and graceful presence in our gardens.  So, why resist?  Revel in butterflies’ visits and do more to attract them to your gardens. 

This means having flowers blooming from spring to frost.  Different butterflies emerge at different times and need fuel to fly.  

Lilies and other flowers welcome butterflies such as this great spangled fritillary.
Lilies and other flowers welcome butterflies such as this great spangled fritillary. Photo credit: Barb Hendershot, Washington County Master Gardener

Flat-topped plants with single flowers provide good landing pads for butterflies.  Think zinnias and yarrow or other plants butterflies can easily grasp.   Choose native plants such as purple coneflowers, asters and goldenrods that have evolved with native butterflies to provide maximum nutrition.  

Butterflies undergo what’s called complete metamorphosis.  That means that they are an insect that goes through four distinct life stages:  egg, larva, pupa and adult. Host plants provide both a place for adult butterflies to lay their eggs and food for the caterpillars that emerge. So adding host plants helps not one but two butterfly life stages.  

Different butterflies need different host plants.  For example, dill and parsley are host plants for black swallowtail butterflies while milkweeds host monarch butterflies.  

A black swallowtail butterfly feeds on parsley, one of its host plants.
A black swallowtail butterfly feeds on parsley, one of its host plants. Photo credit: Martha MacNeil, Washington County Master Gardener
Monarch caterpillar on milkweed
Master Gardener Martha McNeil discovers a monarch caterpillar feeding on common milkweed. Photo credit: Mo Theriault, Washington County Master Gardener

To learn about your favorite butterflies’ host plants, view this chart from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

Know that when you plant host plants, they will get munched by hungry butterfly caterpillars. That’s what they’re for!  So plant extra in different parts of your garden if you also want harvests for your family.  

Butterflies get thirsty, but they have difficulty drinking from deep birdbaths.  So add a few rocks to your bird-feeder to make sipping easier.

Like beach-side sunbathers, butterflies bask.  They sun themselves to warm their wings to make them flight ready.  Set up a suitable sunning area by adding a few flat rocks to your garden.

Ever heard of puddling?  That’s what butterflies do when they sip water and nutrients from damp mud or sand.  I spied a dozen swallowtails doing this along a nearby creek recently. Magical.   Create a puddling area in your garden by keeping a small area of soil damp or by putting damp sand or soil in a shallow bowl.

Protect butterflies by avoiding chemical insecticides in your garden.  These chemicals most often can’t distinguish between insect pests and beneficial insects such as butterflies.

Welcome butterflies and other pollinators. Your garden and our community will be richer for it. 

Annette Cormany, horticulture educator, University of Maryland Extension – Washington County

Monarchs and Milkweed – The Garden Thyme Podcast

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In this month’s episode, we are chatting about the marvelous relationship between monarch butterflies and milkweed.   Undoubtedly, there is no other butterfly so easily recognized with its orange and black wings fringed with white spots. Their seasonal flight from Mexico through the United States towards Canada is long anticipated for gardeners.

Timing :
Milkweed and Monarchs: ~1:36
Migration and Life cycle: ~6:58
Milkweed recommendations for Maryland: ~ 11:06
Native Plant of the Month: Joe-pye weed- Eupatorium spp. at  ~ 27:40 
Bug of the Month: Asian Tiger Mosquito at ~  ~33:05
Garden Tips of the Month at ~ 39:20

We hope you enjoyed this month’s episode and will tune in next month for more garden tips.
If you have any garden-related questions please email us at  or look us up on Facebook at

The Garden Thyme Podcast is a monthly podcast brought to you by the University of Maryland Extension.  Hosts are Mikaela Boley- Senior Agent Associate (Talbot County) for Horticulture, Rachel Rhodes- Agent Associate for Horticulture (Queen Anne’s County), and Emily Zobel-Senior Agent Associate for Agriculture (Dorchester County). 

Theme Song:  By Jason Inc

Plants for Monarchs: Milkweeds and More

asterQ: I planted seeds of what I thought was a milkweed (Asclepias). The plants look somewhat like milkweed, but they are close to 4 feet tall with no sign of flower buds to confirm their identity. There are leaf buds at the axils, which I don’t see on other milkweeds. What is this plant? I would like to have milkweed plants for Monarch butterflies.

A: What you have here is not a milkweed. It is Tall White Aster, Symphyotrichum lanceolatum, and the good news is, it is actually what the Monarchs need more at certain times of the year than Asclepias. More on that in a minute, but first, a few notes and a caution about planting milkweeds.

As many people know, milkweeds are essential host plants for Monarch butterfly caterpillars. We commend people for adding milkweeds in their gardens to support butterfly conservation!

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Monarch Tag and Release Workshops in Baltimore County

monarch butterfly imageThe University of Maryland Extension (UME) Master Gardener Program of Baltimore County is providing free workshops for the public to learn about monarch butterflies and take part in ongoing research to help this species survive and thrive. Attend an upcoming workshop this fall and learn how to raise monarch larvae, tag and release monarch butterflies, and collect butterfly migration data.

Workshop Details 

  • When: Wednesday mornings at 10:00 AM, September 20, 27 and October 4, 11, 18, 25
  • Where: Center for Maryland Agriculture and Farm Park, 1114 Shawan Road, Cockeysville, MD
  • How: No registration is required. The workshops are free.  Come to the Farm Park Demonstration Garden on any of the days listed above. Note: The majority of monarchs do not fly in colder temperatures or in rainy conditions; please check the hourly weather forecast when making your travel plans to these events.

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