Container Gardens for Butterflies

My Garden Life
May 7, 2018
Table of Contents

Butterfly gardens aren’t just for those with a meadow’s-worth of growing space. There are plenty of plants suited to creating container gardens for butterflies that will attract and feed butterflies and their larvae. By growing a mix of these plants in a group of containers, or even a single plant in a pot, you can please the eyes and the butterflies. Butterflies are seeking nectar for themselves, a place to lay eggs – and food for the eventual caterpillars from those eggs. They don’t need plants to be in the ground, just alive and healthy, even if they’re on your deck or doorstep.

Monarch Butterfly Life Cycle, Danaus plexippus

Planting the Container

As with any mixed container plantings, be sure to group plants together that have similar moisture and sunlight needs. A light weight potting soil will keep pots easy to move if needed. Be sure to use a container with drainage holes and a saucer beneath. Planting a mix of colors, textures, heights and growth habits (upright, trailing and mounding) will give your plant combinations the most visual appeal. You can also stick with one variety per pot and just create an arrangement of multiple pots.

You may want to blend “caterpillar” plants into a screen of other plants. This will help to shield the butterfly eggs and later chrysalises from predators, and it will also lessen the view of tattered leaves resulting from the feeding stage. Caterpillars tend to remove much of the plant’s foliage up until they are ready to move to the next stage of their life cycle.

Planting Container Butterfly Garden, Painted Lady Butterfly on Yellow Calendula

Care of Container Gardens for Butterflies

Watering is the same as for any container plantings; keep the soil evenly moist and check moisture daily, as containers dry out faster than gardens, especially if conditions are windy or hot. Removal of past-prime flowers is fine. “Deadheading” flowering plants is a great way to keep plants looking good and encourage fresh blooms.

Regular fertilizing with a liquid plant food, or applications of a slow release feed at the beginning and middle of the season, will keep the plants healthy. You will want to avoid the use of any pesticides to keep things safe for the butterflies.

An orange tortoise shell butterfly on a lavender blue aster flower growing in a container gardens for butterflies.

List of Plants to Include in a Butterfly Garden

Butterfly Nectar Plants

Some plants are particularly well suited for supplying nectar to attract and nourish butterflies. You’ll want to try to incorporate one or more of the following plants into your container gardens for butterflies. Many are suitable for growing in pots on a patio, deck, or balcony. Even if you don’t have a garden area, you can still entice beautiful butterflies to your outdoor spaces with container gardens for butterflies.

Butterfly perched on a purple flower in a flowering clump of garlic chives.

Caterpillar Food Plants

Including plants in your garden that support caterpillars is also a good way to support healthy butterfly populations. Many butterflies require specific plant species on which to lay eggs and provide a food source for the emerging caterpillars. The caterpillars will consume much of the plant as they feed, but that is the whole point of including these plants in your butterfly garden.

Perennial plants typically bounce back on their own once the caterpillars are done feeding. Annual plants may also recover but they can also just be replanted. They should be safe from further consumption once the feeding cycle is over, and the caterpillars have moved on to the next stage of their life cycle.

Close up of a striking green and black swallowtail butterfly caterpillar on a dill plant.

More Ways to Attract Butterflies to Your Garden

Flowering plants and herbs aren’t the only food sources enjoyed by butterflies. Expand your butterfly garden with trees and shrubs from our list of the Top 12 Small Trees & Shrubs to Attract Butterflies & Birds. Even if you’re limited to growing container gardens for butterflies, some small flowering shrubs can grow quite well in large planters.

A beautiful yellow tiger swallowtail butterfly on a pink pentas flower cluster.


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