What are the best plants to attract butterflies to my tiny, south-facing balcony garden in downtown Toronto. I have been growing herbs and vegetables in containers and would also like to have plants to attract butterflies?
With your small balcony it may be challenging to have enough space to provide the best conditions for attracting butterflies but hopefully you can have some fun trying.
Butterflies like sunny, sheltered locations as they need warm temperatures to fly and feed. A diversity of plants is best as the various life stages of butterflies often require different plants.
Generally, select plants that like sun and have bright, fragrant flowers. Ones with tubular or flat topped flowers make it easier for adult butterflies to feed. To satisfy their thirst, supply water in a dish with partially submerged stones as perches.
As containers dry out quickly, choose plants that tolerate some dryness. Smaller, more compact plants often are more suitable for containers as they don’t take up as much space and the plants won’t need staking for support.
Annuals to consider include ageratum, alyssum, cleome, cosmos, fuchsia, heliotrope, nicotiana, petunia, salvia (red) and verbena.
For herbs, try chives, dill, garden mint, lavender, parsley, sage and thyme.
Native flowers are great to attract butterflies. Consider asters, bee balm, blazing star, black-eyed Susan, blue vervain, butterfly weed, common milkweed, purple coneflower, phlox, sedum, yarrow and many more. Most of these natives are perennials. When planted in the ground they come back every year. To help them survive the winter on your balcony, insulate the pots and keep them in a protected spot.
For a more detailed list of native perennial plants that attract butterflies click here.
With balconies you can get more extreme wind and colder temperatures than you will at ground level especially if your balcony is many storeys high. Look for perennial plants that are extra hardy. For example, most of Toronto is considered zone 6, but for a balcony it would be safer to have plants that are hardy to zone 4.
You may be interested in reading our Gardening Guide entitled: Pollinator Garden which gives additional information on attracting pollinators to your balcony.