Not all gardeners have an expanse of garden space that they can use to turn into a butterfly oasis- but butterfly gardens are just as doable without it. There are lots of wonderful plants and cultivars that are perfectly happy living in containers. You can easily make a beautiful butterfly garden in containers.
Here are some ideas for plants that would work well in containers, so you, too, can attract butterflies to your garden – no matter where it is or how big it happens to be!
There are some small cultivars of perennial plants that are nothing but beautiful, hardy versions of their larger siblings that grow beautifully in containers. The Chip Buddleia line is a wonderful example. Breeders have developed a compact version of Butterfly Bush that is perfect for small gardens and containers. It’s super hardy, and completely non-invasive (they are all seedless!).
Blue Chip Butterfly Bush Lo and Behold: Much like it’s larger version, Blue Chip sports beautiful deep purple blooms in abundance over a very long season- the only difference is it tops out at 3 feet in height and not quite as wide. Purple buddleias are a favorite of many butterflies, and when in bloom you’re guaranteed to see butterflies on it.
Pink Chip Micro Butterfly Bush: Slightly smaller than Blue Chip, this small buddleia is a wonderful candidate for pot culture. Pink Chip showcases beautiful dark pink cone spikes of blooms in the summer through fall, and is a beautiful non-stop show of color! If you have a small garden, this little cutie also works well in the front of a border or middle of a small border too.
Lilac Chip Dwarf Butterfly Bush: And the last of the Chip Trio (but not the least!), the lilac version is another little beauty. Totally carefree, this beautiful light purple dwarf butterfly bush is at home on a patio in a pot or in the front border of a perennial bed. Drought tolerant and resistant to deer, you can plant this little tiny wonder in a garden and not worry about it too. Never deadhead buddleias again too!
Pineapple Sage: Pineapple sage is an amazing herb that isn’t as well-known as it should be. It doesn’t smell like the sage that is normally used for cooking. It literally smells like pineapple! So sweet and tropical, and its spikes of beautiful tubular red blooms smell just as good. They are very attractive to butterflies AND hummingbirds! Pineapple Sage is hardy in most areas, but where it’s not it can be grown easily in a container and overwintered indoors (in zones colder than USDA zone 7).
Chives: A very hardy perennial herb and much loved culinary staple, green chives belong in every garden- from the large vegetable space to a small container arrangement. Chives grow wonderfully in pots, and offer a great contrast to other leafy container plants. In the spring chives bloom in pink or purple (or sometimes white), and are very fragrant. For the first butterflies of the year, the beautiful balls of blooms that chives grow are essential food sources. The green spikes are of course wonderful in cooking. The blooms can also be eaten, used as a beautiful garnish!
Walker’s Low Catmint: People hear the word “mint” and they picture mint that takes over their garden like a weed. Growing mint in a container stops that problem almost instantly. Walker’s Low Catmint is also a small catmint that is not only very attractive to butterflies, but it also behaves well in a container (and in the ground interestingly!). It’s a better version of mint for all purposes. In larger areas it makes a great ground cover too. And of course, if you’ve got a kitty, you can spoil them with some dried Walker’s Low Catmint leaves too.
There are some common perennials that are typically used in landscaping that also are fine for growing in pots that butterflies absolutely rely on – not just for feeding from but also for laying eggs on. Plant one of these in your container garden or small space and you’ll find that butterflies appreciate your garden that much more.
Asclepias tuberosa ‘Hello Yellow’ butterfly weed: This North American native perennial is a butterfly staple Not only do butterflies of all species love feeding on the blooms, but the Monarch butterfly specifically relies on this plant to raise it’s young. Planting butterfly weed is important because the areas in North America where butterfly weed naturally occurs is drastically less than native populations, which has directly affected monarch populations. If there’s nowhere for monarchs to lay their eggs, they can’t make new butterflies. You can help by planting a butterfly weed in your garden. This plant is also available its native orange color, too.
There are other considerations as well. Consider adding some annuals to the spaces in pots, or mixing larger pots with the above selections with smaller pots of annuals in your container butterfly garden for variety. Some annuals are absolutely loved by butterflies and make great container plants. A couple of favorites include:
Zinnias and darker marigolds: There are large zinnias meant for growing in the garden, and there are now smaller types that make nice and neat mounds, excellent for containers. Look for the ‘Bedder’ series of zinnia to fill containers with. You can usually find both zinnias and marigolds available from seed at the hardware store. They are disease resistant and ideal for potting up.
Coreopsis: Coreopsis is a wonderful low growing plant that is perfect for hot, sunny spots and containers. Butterflies love to feed from coreopsis – it’s one of their favorites. Try growing Coreposis Moonbeam in your containers and watch the butterflies flock.
Adding a small fountain to your patio or small garden will also attract butterflies, as they need water to feed from as much as they need nectar to sustain them. Also consider adding a butterfly feeder consisting of a flat surface where you can place slightly over ripe slices of fruit for butterflies. Banana, orange, mango, and papaya are all favorites.
You’d be surprised at how many butterflies live near you, no matter where you live or how much space you have. Attract them by offering plants they love to feed from, and even help sustain populations of butterflies with plants that they lay eggs on. You can do this in a small space and in containers just as easily as any other gardener. Enjoy creating your container or small space butterfly garden. The butterflies certainly will!