All About Pollinators Series: How to Create a Butterfly Garden

By Mary Ann Wagner, HF&G Volunteer

Mid July brings a riot of color to the Arlene and Arthur S. Holden Jr. Butterfly Garden at the Holden Arboretum. There are also “flying flowers” – butterflies – which bring an extra dimension to the garden. Some of these are large and easily identified as they fly by, such as Monarchs and Tiger and Black Swallowtails. Also common, but much easier to overlook, are the Peck’s Skippers, Pearl Crescents and Eastern-tailed Blues, as they are much smaller.

Monarch on butterfly weed

A successful butterfly garden not only includes flowering plants with nectar for the butterflies and other pollinators, but also includes “host” plants for the butterfly caterpillars.  A female butterfly will land on a plant and “taste” it with her feet, to determine whether it is a suitable plant for her to lay her eggs upon.  Some butterfly caterpillars are able to survive and thrive on many different plants. Black Swallowtails, for example, can lay their eggs upon parsley, dill, fennel, carrots, Queen Anne’s lace and rue.

Monarch butterflies can only lay their eggs upon plants in the milkweed family. Fortunately, there are three species of milkweed which do well in Northeast Ohio: Common milkweed, Swamp milkweed and Butterfly weed.  Common milkweed has the largest leaves and can grow up to 5 feet tall. It can be pruned back in the growing season to encourage more growth. It will have pink tennis ball size clusters of flowers with a pleasant scent, but it can spread aggressively. Swamp milkweed can take wetter soil, but grows fine in the garden. It will have smaller pink or white clusters of flowers with narrower leaves and gets to about 3 feet in height. Butterfly weed blooms orange or yellow and has the smallest leaves of the three milkweeds and will be about 1 ½ to 3 feet tall. Tropical milkweed looks similar to butterfly weed and can be grown as an annual plant in Ohio. All three milkweeds are in blooming in the butterfly garden now.

Swamp Milkweed

Common milkweed

The Bottlebrush Buckeye are in bloom for the next week or two. It will be full of butterflies and an assortment of bees and other pollinators. It is a sight that should not be missed.

Bottlebrush Buckeye

Be sure the visit the Arlene and Arthur S. Holden Jr. Butterfly Garden to see these pollinators in action!



Mary Ann Wagner earned a certificate of Landscape Horticulture from the Arboretum in 1995 and began volunteering shortly thereafter. She is an officer of the Blackbrook Audubon Society and volunteers at Lake Metroparks and the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. From the first week of April through October, Mary Ann monitors a butterfly transect at the Mentor Marsh. She has been tagging Monarch butterflies for MonarchWatch since 2000. Mary Ann has been the Administrative Coordinator at the Harding & Jacob Insurance Agency since 2017.