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Plant a Container Garden for Butterflies

By Jeanne Grunert (JGrunertMay 16, 2014
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Butterfly gardens appeal to children and adults alike. You don't need a lot of space to plant colorful flowers that will attract butterflies to your garden. A window box, planter or decorative container can be planted with a variety of annuals that attract butterflies of all types.

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Butterfly Garden Annual Flowers

Most butterfly gardens rely on the principles of planting a mixture of flowering annuals, perennials and shrubs to attract adult butterflies seeking nectar, and incorporating other plants to provide shelter and sustenance for young caterpillars. Because space is limited in a container garden, planting only flowering annuals will encourage adult butterflies to visit your containers.

Color is an important factor is a butterfly garden. Butterflies tend to visit areas where similar plants grow together. Think of a meadow glowing with orange Asclepias tuberosa (Butterfly weed), purple and white Asclepias (Milkweed) or other flowers that naturally attract butterflies. They tend to grow in large groups of similarly-colored flowers. Planting flowers of the same color family in your container will help butterflies find your flowers more easily.

The following list of annual flowers can be planted in any size container. Most are available nationwide in garden centers and home and garden stores.

  • Alyssum (sweet alyssum): trailing plants with small, sweetly-scented white flowers.
  • Ageratum: blue or purple flowers on low-growing plants.
  • Lantana: multihued flowers ranging from gold to purple; single-colored pink and purple. An excellent plant to attract butterflies.
  • Marigolds: white, yellow, gold and deep orange or rust-colored flowers.
  • Nicotiana: star-shaped flowers in multiple colors ranging from white to purple.
  • Petunias: upright, trailing "Wave" forms, and many others available including striped and solid colored.
  • Verbena: trailing, scented flowers in colors ranging from white to deep burgundy.
  • Zinnias: choose dwarf zinnias for container gardens. One of the best plants to attract butterflies.

Planting Your Butterfly Container Garden

Make sure your container is large enough to support several plants. A gallon-sized pot is best but you can plant a few butterfly garden plants in a window box, too.

Check for adequate drainage holes and drill holes into the bottom of containers if needed. Decorative concrete, terra cotta and other planters that do not have drainage holes can still be used, but you should plant your flowers in a plastic container with good drainage holes that is slightly smaller than the decorative pot. Slide the planted plastic container inside the decorative one to hide the plastic; water will drain into the larger container. Rocks added to the bottom of the decorative container to raise the plastic one up slightly will allow water to drain away better.

Use sterile, bagged potting soil for your containers to avoid transferring disease-carrying microorganisms into your containers. Look for a mixture that contains vermiculite or perlite. Both vermiculite and perlite look like small, round white pebbles inside the mix, and aids in aeration and drainage. Either one is fine.

If you are using a large, heavy container, place it in its final location first so you don't have to struggle to move it around. Fill your container about two-thirds full. Play with your arrangement while your annual flowers are still inside their pots so that you can move them around easily until you're sure you like their position in the container. Then you can gently remove them from their pots and plant them inside the container.

Group like colors together if possible, using white flowers like alyssum or nicotiana as an accent plant. Tall, upright flowers such as zinnia and marigolds look best at the back of a container or in the center, with trailing plants such as "Wave" petunias and alyssum arranged around the outside or near the front of the container.

Once your plants are in place, fill the container with additional soil as necessary and gently tamp down the soil with your palms. Water well, and be sure to water your container garden daily, especially during the hot summer months. Fertilizing with a granular or liquid 10-10-10 or 5-10-5 fertilizer according to the package directions will encourage blossoms, as will dead-heading or gently pinching off spent or dead flowers to encourage new ones to grow.

Tracking Your Visitors

You can track the "guests" at your butterfly container garden by photographing butterfly visitors and using the many online resources available to identify butterflies in your region. It's a great activity for children, too.

Planting a container garden to attract butterflies takes only an hour or two, but yields so much beauty and enjoyment throughout the summer months. Plant one up today and enjoy the show!


  About Jeanne Grunert  
Jeanne GrunertJeanne is a contributing writer for Dave's Garden. She is an award-winning writer, blogger and content marketer with over 20 years of experience. She is the author of "Get Your Hands Dirty! Grow a Great Garden" and is a Virginia Master Gardener. Read her gardening blog at homegardenjoy.com or follow her at Google

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