4 Can’t-Hardly-Kill-‘Em Plants for Wisconsin Butterfly Gardens

Apr 4, 2017

Does the headline sound too good to be true? Stacy Tornio, author of Plants You Can’t Kill, assures that it’s not. In her new book, Tornio highlights different types of hardy plants for beginner gardeners.

"You basically need to know whether you're putting it in sun or shade, and you know, anyone can figure that out," says Tornio. "But you don't need a lot of like, fancy knowledge or background in gardening. This is truly: pick it up, randomly turn to a plant, and try it." 

While her book features a myriad of different plants for your garden, Tornio offers Milwaukee-area residents some specific plant picks known for attracting butterflies.

Credit Courtesy of Stacy Tornio

1. Veronica

With Veronica, it seems like people fall into one of two camps—either they know about it and love it or they aren’t familiar with it at all. You definitely want to be in that first camp. Veronica (botanical name is also Veronica) is a striking plant with tall, spiky blooms that look great throughout the summer. In addition, it’s a must-have plant for any butterfly garden—not a day will go by that you don’t see a butterfly stop off for some nectar. It grows up to a couple of feet.

Credit Courtesy of Stacy Tornio

2. Butterfly Weed

Many don’t realize it, but butterfly weed is actually in the milkweed family, so it counts as a host plant for monarchs. But it's not just for monarchs; plenty of other butterflies will stop by to enjoy its nectar, too. Butterfly weed is a native perennial that does really well in all types of soil, and it’s known by gardeners to be drought tolerant. You can expect bright orange flowers from this one—look for the botanical name Asclepias tuberosa.

Credit Courtesy of Stacy Tornio

3. Dill

Dill is a hidden gem in the herb world. You just have to decide whether you want to plant it in your flower garden or veggie and herb garden. It’s a host plant to the black swallowtail butterfly, so you’re definitely helping the butterfly population when you choose to grow it. (Many other beneficial insects love it, too.) Another huge benefit of dill is that you can use it for pickling. If you do any pickling at all, there’s nothing like being able to go out into the garden and snip off your very own dill to add to the jar instead of buying it at the store or using the dried, pre-packaged kind.

Credit Courtesy of Stacy Tornio

4. Mexican Sunflower

Though they aren’t actually in the sunflower family, this native to Mexico still uses the name. It’s easy to write them off as just another sunflower, but don’t! They definitely deserve their own spot in your flower bed, and they’re just as easy to grow from seed as the sunflowers you may be more familiar with. Mexican sunflowers produce beautiful orange blooms in even the hottest conditions while also attracting bees and butterflies. They’re also a popular cut flower if you’re the type that likes to put together your own bouquets. Look for the botanical name, Tithonia rotundifolia.