More than 90 percent of plants require pollination to reproduce. Bees are the most well-known pollinators and for good reason – their short legs and small bodies help them pick up a large amount of pollen from each plant they visit, making them highly effective pollinators. Declining bee populations present serious risks to our ecosystem and food supply. But, short of beekeeping, what can the average Long Islander do to promote pollination? We’re happy to tell you the answer is both beautiful and good for the environment – plant a backyard butterfly garden!

Butterflies, while not quite as effective as bees, do their fair share of pollination. They also help increase the genetic diversity of plants. Butterflies travel longer distances than bees, so they help share pollen from plants far away from each other. This helps protect plants from disease and makes them more resilient.

Plant some butterfly-attracting flowers in a small area of your garden and not only the rest of your garden, but all of Long Island, will reap the rewards of these beautiful pollinators. Butterflies love these plants and flowers, all of which should be planted in full sun unless otherwise noted:

Phlox

Butterflies love these clumps of purple blooms.

This perennial smells beautiful and butterflies love it! It will do well in full or partial sun. There are several varieties. Some, like garden or meadow phlox, grow tall and bushy, perfect for adding height to your garden. Others, like Sweet William, are low growing and ideal for use as a border plant.

Butterfly Weed

These bright orange flowers attract monarchs.

The name says it all! Monarchs love these bright orange flowers. This perennial is also deer and drought resistant.

Aster

Aster’s daisy-like blooms come in several colors.

Aster is a beautiful perennial that blooms in the fall, so your butterfly garden will attract visitors even as the days get cooler and shorter. It comes in a variety of colors, including blue, purple, pink, red, and white.

Mexican Sunflower

Tall orange flowers attract butterflies.

This annual boasts large, orange blossoms – perfect landing pads for butterflies! As a bonus, these flowers are easy to care for and grow quickly; they can get as high as five feet in just a few weeks.

South American Verbena

Butterflies can’t resist the clusters of tiny flowers on verbena.

Verbena is beautiful in bouquets. Conveniently, the more you cut it the more it blooms. This means you can enjoy it in vases inside while butterflies enjoy it outside. It flowers in several colors, including purple, white, red, and pink. Verbena is a perennial here in Zone 7, but is grown as an annual elsewhere.

Zinnia

Bright red zinnias are best for attracting butterflies.

Zinnias are a favorite of both butterflies and people! They grow so quickly you can enjoy the blooms in a matter of weeks. And there are so many varieties; everyone can find a zinnia they love. Butterflies will be most attracted to tall, red varieties.

Milkweed

Milkweed is the sole host for monarch eggs.

Milkweed is essential to the reproduction of monarch butterflies; it serves as the sole host for monarch caterpillar eggs and larvae. Female monarchs lay their eggs on the underside of the leaves. Then, the caterpillars voraciously consume the leaves until they are ready to form their chrysalis. The leaves are toxic, so they protect the eggs and caterpillars from predators. Swamp milkweed, or asclepias incarnate, is a variety considered hardy here in Long Island. Plant it in full sun or partial shade and water it frequently until it is well established, then water as you would any other plant. Stay tuned for an upcoming post about keeping a butterfly sanctuary in your home. Milkweed, either grown in your own garden or harvested from public areas, is necessary for this incredible experience.

Finally, don’t forget about salvia and blanket flowers, both of which attract lots of butterflies, highlighted in Our Favorite Perennials for Long Island.