Do Annuals Attract Butterflies?


Of course they do!  I have made a point to prove butterflies like a lot of annuals by planting them in my garden. Not every gardener thinks annuals really help insects, but quite a few annuals do.

My garden has many self-sowing annuals and I have seen a butterfly frenzy on the marigolds, especially Tagetes patula. Marigolds are under-used flowers.


I have been reading how nectar is not as nutritious on annuals as native flowers according to some gardeners. I am not sure that is the proper way to look at annuals though. In the case of marigolds, triploids are infertile crosses between French and African (T. erecta), so no nectar for butterflies. Better to have one or the other since marigolds are nectar rich, so best to know the plants. Oslo, Norway, has begun building a bee highway lined with marigolds, and it helps the butterflies too.


Butterflies need two different types of plants to get them through their entire lifespan, so having a mix of plants is helpful to them and their caterpillars. But sweet nectar not as nutritious? I tried to find out from more reputable science sites, but could not get an answer finding a specific study of comparison. Like the example above, it might be the reason for not comparing.


Marigolds are a plant that pleases a lot of butterflies for nectar. I have seen the Painted Lady, Red Admiral, Great Spangled Fritillary, Clouded Sulphur, Cabbage White, Silver-spotted Skipper, and Monarch lapping them up.


Personally, I am not a fan of marigolds because I really don’t like their form, color or smell. But what do I know? I’m not the one having them for lunch.

By the looks of the hungry Monarchs, you might reconsider if you don’t usually have them in your garden. Just have enough of them.


Host plants, yes!

It is better to choose nectar and pollen-rich plants like wildflowers (like milkweed) and old-fashioned varieties of flowers (like French Marigolds) to cover the lifespan and variety of butterfly visitors. Many annuals work diligently making food for the butterflies.


A succession of blooming annuals, perennials and shrubs is a good garden choice. Nectar and pollen will then be available throughout the entire growing season. I have this sequence of bloom and plants like dill for butterfly larvae on which to feed. Milkweed would be a nice addition, but not in my tiny city garden. I do live only a block from where milkweed is growing in the park though, so butterflies can feed and find their milkweed near.


So are you going to now plant bright and sunny Marigolds? Have the Monarchs convinced you?

I am off this 4th to see gardens in Canada. And not too long I will be in Pennsylvania garden touring. I hope you travel along. Lots in store.

About Garden Walk Garden Talk

I love to photograph, paint, draw, design, garden, travel the world, and pass on a few tips and ideas that I learned through experience as a Master Gardener and architect. I am highly trained in my field and enjoy my work each and every day. I garden in Niagara Falls, NY in zone 6-B. Find me at:
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31 Responses to Do Annuals Attract Butterflies?

  1. Maria F. says:

    Caribbean Monarchs, unlike the Canadian ones, do not migrate, but are still Monarchs. Since P.R. is a tropical island, Monarch caterpillars feed on Giant Milkweed plants called ‘Calotropis procera’ or ‘Calotropis gigantea’ considered weeds in the U.S.. These plants grow pretty big (up to 12 feet), so it’s like a Monarch castle or condo!

  2. Interesting what Maria said! I always have Marigolds in my garden. They’re not my favorites, either, but they do seem to attract butterflies and other pollinators. Plus, they seem to repel the chipmunks and rabbits a bit, too.

    • Thank you for visiting, Beth. That would be wonderful if they repelled chipmunks and rabbits. I never heard that. I did know they are wonderful in veggie gardens because they keep nematode damage down. Plus they attract beneficial insects that prey on aphids. Aphids are not welcomed in my garden. Only those that get eaten.

  3. Stunning shots of the Monarchs.

  4. I love marigolds for the form and color, but especially for their wonderful smell! Have a great trip.

  5. I use marigolds as companion plants in my kitchen garden. I see more bees on them than butterflies but the butterflies do visit them. The butterflies really like zinnias and cosmos (annuals for me). I had not heard that annuals were less nutritious than perennials. Interesting. But take tropical milkweed (Asclepias curassavica), monarchs seem to prefer it over other (native) milkweed options and it is an annual for me. (I don’t grow the tropical variety anymore since I learned it has proven to break the monarchs migration pattern here in the south.) Is it a question of being a straight species or a hybrid that makes a difference in the nutrient value?

    • The gardeners that say that are generalizing I am sure. It is hard to beat some annuals for nectar production, even during dry times. I too have zinnia and cosmos. But the annual that gets the most variety in my garden is purple Verbena bonariensis ‘Buenos Aires’. That plant is very tall and I think that is why the butterflies like it. The cosmos are also tall, but I see more bees on them. I think color has a lot to do with what bees and butterflies prefer too. My cosmos are all pale white, and lavender. Right now the Echinacea is also starting to open. They do pretty well for butterflies in my garden. I too read that on Milkweed. I never heard it was for sure it breaks migration patterns. Do you mean they stay and don’t leave, or they go to far out of their way to get it? I do know it does make a difference on hybrid or species in many cases. It depends on the plant and what was bred out of it. I have hybrid monarda and it is much better at attracting hummingbirds, bees and butterflies than the species monarda in the park meadow near my house. I have not seen one insect besides an occasional bee nectaring. There is lots of it in the park too. Certainly not scientific, but an observation I make every year.

  6. rose says:

    Thanks for making the case for annuals, Donna. I’m not a big fan of marigolds either, but I always plant some in my vegetable garden to try to repel the bad bugs. But the butterflies do flock to many of my annuals, especially the zinnias, cosmos, and lantana. I know the zinnias provide the landing pad that butterflies like, but they spend an awful lot of time on the blooms, leading me to think they’re getting some nectar as well.

    • I do like them and there are so many unusual ones that are not in the trade without going to specialty nurseries. I am so happy with the different annuals I got this year. All self-seed and all seem to attract all kinds of pollinators. I have zinnia, lantana, and cosmos too. I don’t give up on what works each year, just hunt down new ones at different heights for the garden. I saw a friend have Lysianthus or Eustoma. They kinda look like roses and are in the Gentianaceae family. As doubles, they don’t look like my Gentians. She claims they come back the next year, I assume by seed. I know them as florist flowers, but they are really pretty in all colors too.

  7. I would now try anything that attracts more butterflies and feeds them. We have a tall bugloss which is really considered a weed here and the pollinators love it. I am trying to replant out of the veg garden area…

    • I am all about the insects in my garden, but I do have some plants that only attract certain bees. Specialist feeders are hard to plan for, but when you see a different insect feeding, it is hard to get rid of a plant that gets so few pollinators when certain small bees do use it. I find lots of weeds are insect favorites, but I don’t want them in the garden. Even the hybrids of goldenrod for instance revert to get aggressive. Same with tradescantia. I can’t get rid of them. That is two natives I will never plant again.

      • I can see the problem and was also told not to plant an acanthus but it died so will not get another even though I love the leaves! Some lovely bees on my wild oregano now and am going to encourage the bugloss into the chestnut field! Thanks for your info and you are an inspiration.

  8. Beautiful photos and beautiful butterflies. Loved reading your ideas about using annuals. Here in the UK we plant annual meadows for wildlife and the butterflies, bees and hoverflies love them.

  9. rogerbrook says:

    I cannot see any reasons why annuals do not need pollination as much as any other type of plant and of course nectar will attract all kinds of insects especially bees.
    I am not sure if butterflies are host specific for nectar or whether they just grab sweet sugar juice where they can.
    Where they are host specific often is in their caterpillar stage. Cabbage-White butterflies insist on eating my brassicas or their relations the nasturtium!

    • I want my annuals to get pollinated and make seed, otherwise I would have to plant the annuals each year. But… the hybrids can be sterile and that is for trademark plants most commonly. Companies would not want plants reproducing. Insects do specialize on flowers though. I was watching my Monarda that caters to long tongued insects and hummingbirds. Some bees like sweat bees drink from them too, but they wait until a wasp bites a hole at the base of the flowers to get the nectar. Carpenter Bees are called nectar-robbers because they do the same thing, make a hole at the flower base. The problem with this is they bypass the pollen.

  10. I’ve been thinking about writing a post on Marigolds. I think they are looked down on because they are so common and easy to grow. However, they have wonderful color and are so reliable. This year I am growing them (a T. patula variety called ‘Disco Red’, kind of an unfortunate name) to fill in between perennials in new beds and also in containers. Tithonia and Zinnias are also excellent for pollinators, in my experience.

    • They are common and go way back to childhood times too. I remember them vividly. Another that likes the color. I think they look a bit garish especially those red and yellow, but that is me. I prefer softer colors, yet have quite a bit of yellow, orange and red in the garden now. Summer is for hot colors. Pale colors fade/flatten in bright sun until evening.

  11. Yes to marigolds. We have them in profusion here, usually 4-5 different kinds throughout the vegetable and ornamental parts of the garden. For me marigolds are also really easy to harvest and save seeds for the next year. Along with marigolds we like to intersperse yarrow, verbeenas, sweet alyssum, and zinnias throughout the garden to attract beneficial insects and to for the benefit of butterflies.

    • I am really amazed at those planting marigolds because they seem to have gone “out of style” in our area nurseries. Home Depot has them most likely, but you don’t see them as much as when I was a kid. I always used them in the veggie garden, but never really to enhance a garden display. I do like that they are great for pollinators though.

  12. debsgarden says:

    I have always liked marigolds, for many reasons. #1 The pollinators love them, and tied with #1 is that they love my climate! ‘Nuff said.

    • Anything that grows well in home gardens should be a keeper. Well maybe not something like Kudzu, but all the plants that gardeners adore. I can give my vote to Marigolds for that reason.

  13. I also don’t particularly care for the sort of ‘non-fragrance’ of Marigolds. But I have fond memories of them because they were always in my mom’s garden when I was a kid. You have made them so appealing with these marvelous photos with the butterflies!

  14. Loretta says:

    I’m not a big fan of marigolds either. Such gorgeous pictures of your marigolds with the monarch though. I may have to resort to these annuals in the vegetable patch as something is chomping away on some of the squash, cucumber and beans.

  15. I love marigolds as I have blogged…butterflies and even hummers love the nectar. Since I can’t find a good source for annuals that I know aren’t sprayed with chemicals, I grow my own from seed….about 40 marigolds a year….placed in my containers and veg beds….and I do like the scent but I am a bit left of center! 🙂

  16. Brian Comeau says:

    What is the butterfly population like this year?

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