No garden is complete without a host of colourful butterflies flitting back and forth sipping nectar from flowers. If you want to have more than the occasional winged visitor, plant shrubs that attract butterflies. Just as you prefer certain foods, butterflies are partial to certain flower nectars. When you give them what they want, they will stay the season and maybe even over winter with you--if the climate is right.
At the top of the list of shrubs that attract butterflies is Buddleja davidii or butterfly bush. This deciduous to semi-evergreen shrub attracts butterflies like a magnet. Flowers on butterfly bush come in a variety of colours such as pink, yellow, white, blue and purple depending on the cultivar; they bloom from spring until frost. Individual flowers are small, but they form large, showy spikes 8 to 18 inches in length. Leaves, too, are large at 6 to 10 inches long. The bush itself will reach a height of 6 to 12 feet by the end of the season. Butterfly bush does best in full to partial sun with moist, well-drained soil. Removal of spent flowers encourages repeat blooming. Hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture climate zones 5 to 10, butterfly bush will die back to the ground in colder climates but will come back in the spring.
Abelia x grandiflora, glossy abelia, is an old-fashioned flowering shrub that is hardy in zones 6 to 9. Small white flowers cover arching stems from early summer to frost and are irresistible to butterflies. Reaching a height and width of 3 to 6 feet, abelia grows in a dense, mounded form that may require occasional light pruning. Ever the adaptor, abelia will grow in less than ideal conditions; it is not fussy about soil and grows in sun or partial shade. Abelia is useful as a soft hedge or as a filler or background plant in flower beds. Its small leaves and flowers give it a graceful aspect that blends in well with showier plants in the garden.
Hibiscus is one of the most spectacular shrubs you can own---and butterflies love it. If you live in zone 9 or 10, you can plant it in your garden. Otherwise, enjoy it in large containers on your porch or patio; it will still attract butterflies all season long. Hibiscus rosa-sinensis is a large shrub that can grow to the size of a small tree in frost-free zones. Flowers are magnificent and come in many intense colours. They may be giant singles almost 6 inches across, or slightly smaller doubles. Mildly acidic, well-drained soil is ideal with full sun or light shade for part of the day. Flowers last only one day, but a new crop opens every morning.