Planting Natives for Pollinators

Mourning Cloak Butterfly.

Each year I become more and more aware of the need to plant host plants for our native butterflies, moths, and pollinators. As a maintenance supervisor, I am one of the lucky few in our area that get to see landscapes transform through the year, as well as being able to evaluate landscapes. Each year I see the same thing, declining numbers of pollinators amid increase uses of pesticides on our farm lands, turf, and landscapes. Anyone who has a large area currently in turf that backs up to farmland can help create a habitat for pollinators and birds alike.


Native Plants
A strip of native plants can help pollinators!

The idea is to create a barrier between the turf and landscape area and the farmland with a strip of native plantings that will become a host site for butterflies and moths, and provide nectar sources for pollinators. We need these insects to pollinate our fruit and vegetable crops, trees and shrubs, and some of our crops as well. By planting a large strip with multiple species of plants we can insure that we will have the pollinators we need for years to come.


Native Plants are Attractive.
Native Plants can be attractive! Shown above: Butterfly Milkweed, Pale Purple Coneflower, and little bluestem.

The first thing to do is to decide exactly where this strip of plants is going. If you have a large expanse of turf, along the edges of your property will be the best choice for these natives. For landscapes with less turf or ones that have close neighbors, you can still add a strip of natives to the edge of your property; it just may not be as large. If you have a fence, start inside the fence and make it look as if it belongs with the landscape, adding edging and a natural curve to it.


Funereal Duskywing
Funereal Duskywing Butterfly

To begin picking plants for the strip, it is best to find a seed mix that is rich in native grasses, forbs, and annuals.  A good mix will contain at least eight species of grass, fifteen species of forbs, and six annuals or biennials. For help it deciding what to plant, refer to some of our other posts. Or you can take a look at the following list of common butterflies and their host plants. Do not just plant for your favorite butterflies, like monarchs, but try to include plants that are good for multiple insect species.


Silver Spotted Skipper
Silver Spotted Skippers on Liatris flower.

Butterfly/Moth                                           Common Name                            Genus

Variegated Fritillary                                      Violas, Pansies                                 Viola

Silvery Checkerspot                                       Asters, Sunflowers, Liatris             Aster, Helianthus

Pearl Crescent                                                 Asters, Sunflowers, Liatris             Aster, Helianthus

Question Mark                                                Elms, Hackberry                              Ulmus, Celtis

Eastern Comma                                               Nettles, Hops                                    Urtica, Humulus

Mourning Cloak                                              Willow, Cottonwood, Elm            Ulmus, Salix, Populus

American Lady                                                 Pussytoes                                           Antennaria

Painted Lady                                                     Cherry, Elm, Oak                            Prunus, Ulmus, Quercus

Red Admiral                                                      Nettles                                               Urtica

Common Buckeye                                            Plantains                                           Plantago

Red Spotted Purple                                          Cherry, Apple, Cottonwood          Prunus, Malus, Populus

Viceroy                                                               Willow, Poplar                                 Salix, Populus

Hackberry Emperor                                        Hackberry                                          Celtis

Little Wood Satyr                                            Bluestems, Switchgrass                  Andropogon, Panicum

Silver Spotted Skipper                                    False Indigo, Wild Senna             Baptisia, Cassia

Funereal Duskywing                                     False Indigo                                      Baptisia

Arogos Skipper                                                Bluestems                                           Andropogon

Soapberry Hairstreak                                    Soapberry                                           Sapindus

Frosted Elfin                                                    False Indigo                                      Baptisia

Henry’s Elfin                                                    Redbud                                               Cercis

Bordered Patch                                                Sunflowers, coneflowers               Helianthus, Echinacea

Black Swallowtail                                          Golden Alexanders                          Zizia

Zebra Swallowtail                                          Pawpaw                                              Asimina

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail                           Ash, Cherry, Apple                          Fraxinus, Prunus, Malus

Clouded Sulphur                                             False Indigo, Black Locust           Baptisia, Robinia

Cloudless Sulphur                                          Wild Senna, PartridgePea            Cassia, Chamaecrista

Juniper Hairstreak                                        Eastern Red Cedar                           Juniperus

Eastern Tailed Blue                                       Brier, Bundleflower                        Schrankia,Desmanthus

Spring Azure                                                   Dogwood, New Jersey Tea           Cornus, Ceanothus

American Snout                                             Hackberry                                         Celtis

Monarch                                                          Milkweed                                          Asclepias

Tussock Moth                                                 Milkweed                                          Asclepias

Luna Moth                                                      Birch, Sweetgum                             Betula, Liquidambar

Catalpa Sphinx                                              Catalpa                                               Catalpa

Snowberry Clearwing                                  Snowberry                                          Symphoricarpos

Nessus Sphinx                                              Grape, Virginia Creeper                  Vitis, Parthenocissus

Virginia Ctenucha                                       Bluestems                                            Andropogon


Snowberry Clearwing
Snowberry Clearwing Butterfly on Aster.

Site preparation is very important. Often, areas that have been in turf for an extended period of time may be compacted and lacking in various nutrients and micro-organisms.  If you are planning to add a pollinator patch in the spring, and you have the space, you can start by burning the turf off the area you want to plant in the winter. Follow burning with a soil test, taken at various locations along the patch. Be sure to mark these soil test sites, you will want to test them yearly to see how your soils are changing. Hand scatter seed over patch, trying to get seed scattered evenly.  You may need to burn each year for the first five to ten years, then after that every third year may work. If you are planting in an area where burning is not feasible, then till the turf under and spray with a natural herbicide such as acetic acid (vinegar) mixed with soapy water. Try not to use any synthetic chemicals or herbicides on the patch.

Once you have established a patch of natives for pollinators, you can sit back and enjoy the results of increased pollination of fruits and vegetables and the increase of bird species.


Mourning Cloak Butterfly.
Mourning Cloak Butterfly.



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