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7 Essential Herbs That Will Attract More Butterflies into Your Small Garden This Year

Many people don’t have the space for a vegetable garden and a flower garden but love the idea of seeing butterflies in their garden. Butterflies are a classic example of transformation of becoming a better version of ourselves. For so many people, seeing them fly by instantly lifts our spirits and inspires hope. It’s no wonder why so many gardeners want to create a space to welcome butterflies. I was no different, except I had a few challenges.

My first house only had 1/4 acre space to work with. It was much smaller than my parent’s property. It was also the first place where I had complete control of what goes into the garden but the layout wasn’t ideal. My backyard, which had the most space to create a garden faced north, didn’t get enough direct sun. There wasn’t enough space to plant a vegetable garden in the front.

I focused on creating a garden with dual purpose plants in the front of the house that had full sun and the side of the house which had partial sun. I discovered that herbs were small enough to fit in the space and could also be planted in pots that could be moved around. Not only were these herbs effective for attracting more butterflies but I discovered how I could make some delicious meals from them.

There are so many edible plants that attract butterflies that this blog post can go on and on. I am going to focus on the edible plants that are compact, play well with other plants and are easy to maintain. To get the full effect of butterflies in your garden, you want to add plants with fragrant flowers to attract them and host plants to keep them in your garden longer, otherwise, they are just passing through.

Parsley gives a hearty welcome to caterpillars

Out of all the edibles in this blog post, the humble parsley is my favorite. I’ll tell you why. I live in Zone 6 where winters are damp and cold. This hardy herb is still growing long after my other herbs died from the frost. It keeps giving well into November and it gets the most healthy in the fall months. It’s dark green, big and bushy. I’ve seen Swallowtail caterpillars feeding off my parsley in September and I’ve seen a few still munching on it in October! It’s a great host plant for Zone 6. The Anise Swallowtail, the Ozark Swallowtail and the Eastern Black Swallowtail butterflies love it. Parsley also attracts the Short-Tailed Blue Butterfly. I used to buy the herbs and that was getting expensive so then I switched to planting it from seed so that I could plant a lot of parsley.

If I plan to cook with parsley or need to preserve it for the upcoming year, I will plant a bunch from seed. I also fed our Tri-color Guinea Pig, Gigi with parsley from the garden. She loved it and lived to 9 years old! My chickens love it too. To feed everyone, it was cheaper to plant parsley from seed.

Let’s say you don’t plan to cook with parsley or feed any other animals with it. Purchasing one or two parsley plants to be a host to caterpillars is a great way to attract big, beautiful butterflies.

Blooming Lemon Thyme smells lovely and welcomes pollinators to my garden.

It’s time to add thyme to your garden

This is another herb that is a huge favorite of mine. It’s one of the most beautiful low maintenance herbs you can add to your small space. It takes a few years for a new plant to establish but when it matures, that’s when you get the wow factor! In late spring, delicate white or pink blossoms cover the herb. Thyme grew so well in our elevated rock gardens beds. Doesn’t need a lot of water after it’s established as long as it’s in part sun/part shade. It provides a lot of nectar for butterflies and any bee keepers in the area will be happy you planted it too because it adds a nice flavor to honey. There are different varieties of culinary thyme to change up your recipes. Easy to harvest and lasts late in the season. There are creeping thyme varieties that can be useful for walkways.

As you can see on the bottom of this photo of my sage plant, there are nibbles on the lower leaves.

Dual purpose Sage

This another favorite herb of mine to grow in my edible garden. It attracts lots of different butterflies. There’s a broad leaf sage which is more ornamental annual but if you want a sage plant you cook with, look for the narrow leaf culinary sage. It’s a really hardy perennial here in Zone 6. If you have a small garden, then one plant is all you need. They get big and they don’t mind a hard prune to keep them in line. I like that they last well into November and I can use sage leaves for my Thanksgiving Turkey every year. Purple blossoms everywhere to attract butterflies to your garden. Praying Mantis like them too and I’ve found a few egg sacs on my sage plants.

If you have a small space, then pineapple sage is a great choice. Many people use it in their drinks but it’s an annual in cold climates. Cherry or scarlet sage (also annuals in my zone) are good choices too. Russian Blue Sage is a hardy perennial but can quickly take over a space and needs yearly pruning. I planted it in a hypertufa pot as a seedling but after 3 years, the roots grew through the hole into the bottom reaching for the soil. I had to break it so I could plant the sage in the ground. Keeping sage pruned regularly can keep it from over a small garden. Don’t be shy about pruning it because it will regenerate.

Oui, Oui French Tarragon please

In my area, I have a harder time finding French Tarragon in nurseries. It’s a host plant for the Baird’s Swallowtail which is featured on this post. It’s also a host to the Oregon Swallowtail.

As far as being a culinary herb, it adds a touch of elegance to my sauce with it’s unique, exquisite flavor. I grow French Tarragon with the intention that I will use it fresh during the growing season because it’s a little hard to preserve.

Oregano that I directly seeded in this hypertufa bowl.

Ciao Oregano

The petite flowers of Oregano are edible but leaving them beckons butterflies to visit your garden. You can opt for picking the leaves instead to flavor your dishes. Oregano needs consistent watering until established then are low maintenance after that. An established Oregano has more flavor when it doesn’t sit in wet soil. Easy to harvest but doesn’t last long into the season. End of August is a good time to collect the bounty and dry this herb to use later.

Flowering dill attracts pollinators like butterflies and the leaves are a good nutrient source for caterpillars.

Double Duty Dill

Dill deserves so much more credit than being a main ingredient for canning pickles. Yeah, sure it packs an amazing punch of taste but there’s so much more to dill than pickling. Dill is a host plant to many different varieties of Swallowtail Butterflies like the Eastern Black Swallowtail, the Anise Swallowtail, the Baird’s Swallowtail, the Oregon Swallowtail and the Black Swallowtail. The large yellow flowers attract the butterflies and I find caterpillars all over my dill plants after they are done flowering. This herb is easy to dry and keeps it’s flavor. When the flower is dried, it produces numerous seeds that can be collected and stored to plant the next season. I direct sow in late spring for a summer harvest. I don’t use a ton of dill in my everyday cooking so letting them flower still produces enough dill for my purposes and brings in the Swallowtails.

Last but not least Cilantro

Cilantro is prone to bolting or growing too quickly as the weather gets warmer in the summer. I used to kick myself for not being on top of harvesting it to use in my kitchen. Now, I don’t feel so bad because when cilantro is left to it’s own devices and goes to flower…it attracts butterflies and beneficial insects. The Red Admiral Butterfly loves it. Cilantro is a host plant to the Anise and Black Swallowtail butterflies which will devour them. I see these caterpillars are nature’s clean up crew to make space for other plants in the raised bed. Nothing goes to waste and that is the beauty of nature, isn’t it?

I am so happy to say that Swallowtail Caterpillars are very common in my gardens.

Pick and choose what will work best for you

Look at this list and ask yourself the following questions:

  • What type(s) of butterflies do I want to attract to my garden?
  • Which herbs could I easily use in my kitchen? How many plants will I need? Plant a few extra for the butterflies.
  • I don’t have time this year to garden, which are the lowest maintenance plants I can add?

All of these questions will help you make better choices when planning your garden. Being more strategic in your approach can save you a lot of money.

Summary

If you want to attract more butterflies in your garden this year, the good news is that you don’t need a large space to do it. These 7 essential herbs should be celebrated for their versatility. Many are compact enough to be grown in a small garden and will not just attract butterflies but will support caterpillars and provide you with ingredients you can use in your kitchen.