Fall Butterfly Flowers: Attracting the Best of Autumn's Beauty

Monarch Butterfly on Purple Aster Flowers

Most people think of summer as the ideal time for butterfly gardening, but there are many fall butterfly flowers as well. It's important to plant fall flowers for the butterflies because they need energy for their long migration to their winter grounds.

About Butterflies

Many different species of butterflies migrate in the fall so that they can spend their winter in a warmer climate. Perhaps the most famous of these is the monarch butterfly, which travels thousands of miles to winter in Mexico or California.

These butterflies have the longest and most unusual migration pattern, because they migrate both spring and fall, rather than following the food supply like many other butterflies do.

Monarchs and other butterflies need a good supply of food in the form of nectar before their journey and along the way to fuel their long trip. That's why it's such a wonderful idea to remember the butterflies in the fall by making sure you have something in the garden that they can eat as they pass by. And in some cases, the butterflies that you see in fall are laying eggs, which will hatch into the next generation of butterflies the following year.

Fall Butterflies

The types of butterflies you'll see in fall obviously depend on where you live, but here are a few types that are common in certain areas during fall:

Black swallowtail butterfly
  • Black Swallowtail Black Swallowtails live in most of the US (mostly the area east of the Rockies) and parts of Canada. They tend not to migrate, instead pupating over the winter to emerge as next spring's caterpillars. You're more likely to see them around if your area is plentiful in host plants for their caterpillars, which include parsley, dill, and Queen Anne's lace.
  • Buckeye: These butterflies do travel north during the warmth of late spring and early summer, but by fall, they're usually seen more in the south.
  • Cloudless Sulphur: Most commonly seen in the Eastern and Southern US.
  • Eastern Tiger Swallowtail: Eastern Tiger Swallowtails live east of the Mississippi River, though their range also extends westward into the Great Plains. These butterflies don't really migrate; instead, they pupate and overwinter in any hospitable area, particularly those that are abundant in host plants for their caterpillars, which include tulip tree and wild black cherry.
  • Great Spangled Fritillary: These butterflies, found in the northern and central U.S. and southern Canada, are most likely seen in late summer, though you might see them in early fall as well. The butterflies are drawn to mints, milkweed, joe pye weed, and coneflowers, but they're most likely to be in abundance if you have patches of wild violets nearby, since that's where they lay their eggs and violets are the host plant for their caterpillars. These butterflies actually breed in summer, and the female takes a rest, called a diapause. When the female wakes in late summer, she lays her eggs, and the caterpillars hatch soon after, and overwinter until the following spring.
  • Monarch: Monarchs can be seen throughout the US during the fall as they make their way to their wintering grounds in Mexico.
  • Question Mark: Question Mark butterflies can be seen in most of the U.S. and southern Canada. They'll be more plentiful in the south in fall as many of them migrate to the Gulf Coast.
  • Red Admiral: These colorful, black, red, and white butterflies are found in nearly every area of the world, from the U.S. to the Caribbean, north Africa, Europe, and Asia. In fall, it's most likely to be found in areas that have warmer, milder weather.

Fall Butterfly Flowers List

There is a wide variety of fall butterfly flowers available that will grow in all areas of the country. Many fall flowers last until the first frost or even later, providing ample opportunities for your fluttering friends to feed.

Fall Butterfly Flowers

Asters are a great choice for butterflies, particularly the New England aster, which has orange-centered purple flowers and can grow up to six feet high. These flowers appreciate regular watering.

Goldenrod is a wonderful plant that is good for butterflies and comes in many different varieties. Seaside goldenrod is a good choice for people who live near coastlines, but any variety is great in a sunny location.

Joe-Pye weed is another good choice for an easy growing butterfly flower. This plant also likes consistent water, well-drained soil, and full sun. They will reward you with tall plants and masses of small purple flowers that also attract bees.

Other good choices for fall-blooming butterfly flowers are:

  • Sunflowers, including Mexican sunflower
  • Ageratum (AKA mistflower)
  • Mountain mint
  • Milkweed (any asclepias native to your zone, including swamp milkweed, butterfly weed, Mexican milkweed/bloodflower, and others)
  • Meadow blazing star
  • Anise hyssop
  • Cosmos
  • Zinnias
  • French marigolds
  • Oregano
  • Mexican Bush Sage
  • Russian Sage
  • Blue Sage
  • Abelia
  • Sedum
  • Lantana
  • Pentas

Check with a local garden supply store to see what fall-blooming flowers will do well in your area. Keeping the butterflies in your yard as long as possible is a great way to extend the season and put off thinking about the cold weather that is sure to follow soon.

Your Butterfly Garden in the Fall

If you try to attract butterflies to part of your garden throughout the year, you should take special care in that part of the garden when doing your fall clean-up chores. Just because it looks like all the butterflies have gone away does not mean there aren't larvae or chrysalises hanging out some place you can't see. Resist the urge to clean up this part of the garden because you might be disrupting or even killing the next generation of butterflies that will grace your garden next year.

red admiral butterfly feeding on goldenrod

Another thing you might want to do in addition to planting fall butterfly flowers is leaving some apples on the ground in your garden. Rotting apples provide minerals and amino acids that some butterflies can use.

Remember, also, that it's a good idea to garden organically when planning a butterfly garden, as butterflies are particularly sensitive to chemicals.

Gorgeous Flowers for Fall Butterflies

When planning your butterfly garden for the fall, remember all the things that made it successful in the spring and summer: a variety of blooms, some shallow puddles for water to collect in, and a nearby place for you to watch the butterflies from. Keep in mind which types of butterflies are likely to be in your area in fall, and try to make sure you provide host plants for their caterpillars so your garden can host the next generation of butterflies as well.

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Fall Butterfly Flowers: Attracting the Best of Autumn's Beauty