Butterfly Gardening in Fall - Brooklyn Botanic Garden
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Butterfly Gardening in Fall

The butterfly garden is full of activity in autumn. Yellow sulphurs alight on coneflowers, while burnt-orange skippers jostle with bumblebees on oregano and lavender. Monarchs, on their long journey to overwintering grounds in Mexico or California, stop to rest and take nectar from asters and other late-blooming flowers. The bright yellow blossoms of goldenrod are especially favored by monarchs and painted ladies. A host of beneficial insects and birds looking for an insect meal also flock to goldenrod.

As the extravagance of the summer garden winds down, some perennials bridge the gap into fall. Purple coneflower and globe thistle attract butterflies through September, forming handsome seed heads that eventually feed birds. Hylotelephium ‘Herbstfreude’ aka Sedum 'Herbstfreude' draws butterflies to its dusty-pink blossoms, which darken to form a dramatic accent in late fall and winter. Ornamental grasses often change color in the fall and form interesting seed heads. Skipper caterpillars feed on grasses and may overwinter at the base of the plants.

Below is a simple, low-maintenance design that will lure butterflies to your yard in the fall. It includes a number of North American natives like dense blazingstar, smooth aster, showy goldenrod, sneezeweed, purple coneflower, and blue grama grass. Most of the plants require full sun and well-drained soil of moderate to low fertility. They’re all fairly drought tolerant, though the blazingstar needs regular watering.

A Fall Butterfly Garden
  1. Liatris spicata (dense blazingstar)
  2. Symphyotrichum laeve, formerly Aster laevis (smooth aster)
  3. Echinops ritro (globe thistle)
  4. Lavandula latifolia (spike lavender)
  5. Echinacea purpurea (purple coneflower)
  6. Hylotelephium ‘Herbstfreude’ aka Sedum 'Herbstfreude' (autumn joy stonecrop)
  7. Bouteloua gracilis (blue grama grass)
  8. Helenium autumnale 'Brilliant' (sneezeweed)
  9. Origanum laevigatum 'Herrenhausen' (oregano)
  10. Glandularia canadensis, formerly Verbena canadensis (rose verbena, rose vervain)
  11. Solidago speciosa (showy goldenrod)

Claire Hagen Dole is the publisher/editor of Butterfly Gardeners' Quarterly, a newsletter for gardeners and butterfly enthusiasts, which can be viewed online at butterflygardeners.com. She has also written articles for Organic Gardening, Country Living, Sierra, Wild Garden, Hortus West, and other publications.

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Image, top of page: Dave Allen