Attracting Birds and Butterflies to Late Summer and Early Autumn Gardens

Vego Garden
Vego Garden

By summer’s end, the marvel of the garden is fading, but there are still lingering flowers that hang on until the advent of frost. Though there is a marked decrease in insect activity, autumn remains an important season for migratory butterflies that seek nectar sources along the way. Even butterflies that don’t migrate can overwinter in leaf litter. Below are a few late-season nectar flowers that attract birds and butterflies to your fall garden.  



When considering which flowers to grow, it is important to keep in mind a few tips:

  • Plant for continuous bloom to ensure that butterflies have a stable food source all season long. Planting late-blooming flowers such as aster, goldenrod, and ironweed will help you stagger your bloom times and help butterflies and birds that are still active. 
  • Consider devoting a plot in your yard towards growing a butterfly or native garden. These will attract beneficial pollinators to your garden and create a flourishing microecosystem.
  • Refrain from using pesticides or insecticides near your pollinator garden, which can have adverse results. Even organic pesticides such as neem oil run the risk of killing butterflies or disrupting their feeding habits. Instead, turn to organic or biological controls to curtain the infestation. Some plants can even attract beneficial wildlife that will prey on pests. 
  • Raised garden beds can help add style and function to your butterfly garden. For a more fruitful harvest, integrate existing vegetables with flowers and herbs that draw in pollinators. 
  • Keep in mind that some species of plants are invasive, such as non-native milkweeds. 
  • When it’s time to clear the garden of debris, leave some leaves lying around, where they will provide protection to overwintering butterflies during the winter. During the spring, you may discover chrysalises camouflaged in the leaf litter, so take care to move them to a safe spot where they can finish maturing. 

Fall Butterflies You May Encounter 

  • Black Swallowtail: A magnificent butterfly commonly found near host plants such as carrots, parsley, dill, and Queen Anne’s Lace. 
  • Cloudless Sulfur: A fairly small butterfly marked by a flutter of sulfur wings, it is common in eastern and southern United States. 
  • Queen Butterflies: Often mistaken for monarchs, queens have a brownish tint to their wings and lack the bold black lines of monarchs. Feeds from a variety of nectar sources, including fogfruit, mistflower, and native lantana. 
  • Great Spangled Fritillary: Curiously, the caterpillars of fritillary butterflies are very picky and will only eat violets. The adults are less selective and will feed from many native wildflowers including mints, milkweed, joe pye weed, and coneflowers; they will also visit lilac bushes and some thistles. 
  • Red Admiral: A striking butterfly whose caterpillars feed on common nettles. They are commonly seen flitting through a variety of landscapes, though they seek out areas with warm climates.  



1. Lacey Blue Russian Sage  

Though its spikes, laden with blue-purple flowers, appear whimsical, Russian sage has many practical uses. A low maintenance plant that thrives on neglect, Russian sage is recommended for dry, drought-ridden areas in your garden, including the patio, the driveway, or the space between the sidewalk. It is also cold hardy and virtually resistant to pests and deer. It blooms for weeks and its aromatic foliage attracts honeybees, hoverflies, and butterflies. Lacey Blue Russian Sage is a new selection with a sturdier form.

2. Pentas  

Butterflies enjoy flocking to the star-shaped flowers, which reach their height in summer, but will continue to bloom into the fall. Pentas prefer full sun and will look great adorning a sunny patio. When the flowers start to appear weedy, it’s time to deadhead them to keep up their appearance. 

3. Asters       

Asters are a fragrant flower reminiscent of daisies, and their cool pastels colors readily complement more vibrant shades of red and orange. These free-spirited blooms readily attract pollinators, especially fall monarchs and other late-season butterflies. Since the eradication of prairie land, food for monarchs has become scarce, leading them to rely on native flowers in gardens for sustenance. Asters are hardy plants that can tolerate partial shade and dry areas. The versatility of asters ensures that they will be a welcome sight in native gardens, cottage gardens, or border plantings. 

4. Autumn Joy Stonecrop         

Autumn Joy Stonecrop is a popular variety of stonecrop that features rustic sprays of foliage, changing from deep pink to copper as the season progresses. It prefers sandy, well-drained soil, but will tolerate loamy soils. It needs at least six hours of sunlight, making it an ideal companion to ornamental grasses in border plantings.

5. Herbs  

It may come as a surprise to learn that herbs can attract beneficial wildlife, but many aromatic herbs are food sources for bees, butterflies, and birds. Since ancient times, herbs have been used for medicinal and culinary purposes – an application that has seen a revival in apothecary gardens. Fennel and lavender are particularly useful in attracting butterflies, but fennel should not be grown with dill for fear of cross pollination. Cultivate a thriving herb garden using herb garden beds, which helps you maximize space while keeping your herbs tidy and trimmed. 

6. Ironweed        

A s.riking plant with a stalwart nature, ironweed is a hardy plant that grows wild on roadsides but has since been introduced into native gardens. While it does tend to spread aggressively, growing to up to 6 ft tall, it is not necessarily invasive. Its nectar-rich magenta flowers attract swarms of pollinators, and it is the host plant for the American Lady. Ironweed is often planted on the outskirts or the back of borders so it doesn’t block the view. 

7. Trailing Lobelia (Lobelia erinus) 

Once a favorite of Victorian aristocrats, this delicate flower sports frothing deep-lilac flowers noted for their permanence. Blooming tirelessly into the fall, lobelias are an overlooked plant that oozes old-fashioned charm. Display edging lobelia in a Cascading Raised Bed rich, well-drained soil, where it will spill over the edges like a sapphire tapestry. Lobelia attracts butterflies and hummingbirds and can tolerate partial shade. 

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