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Garden Design: Create Planters and Raised Beds for Butterflies

Planter for butterflies

A raised bed for pollinators, growing in the Trough VegTrug. Illustrations by Carlie Hamilton

TO ATTRACT butterflies and other pollinators, simply plant flowers they love — lots of them. The designs here feature blooms that are rich in color and nectar, ensuring that you will welcome dozens of beneficial insects — especially butterflies.

Choose a site that gets sun all day, with easy access to water. The designs are modular; if you can't find a plant that's in my plan, consider a substitute that is the same size: S (small), M (medium), T (tall) and climbing (CL). You'll find all of the plants listed in the chart, Annual Plants for Pollinators, at the end of this article.

Blooms Grow Up and Over in an Abundant Trough

The bed at right is designed to fit our 18" x 40" VegTrug™. Choose the Wallhugger or the Trough style. To create the trellis at the back, I used two of the Flexible Garden Grids, supported by Bamboo Poles, secured to the back of the trug. You can vary the design by mounting the trellises on the corners instead. Just bend the flexible grids into an L-shape and attach them to the trug.

Plan for butterfly garden

The plants in this bed are listed below. For detailed descriptions — and more options, see Annual Plants for Pollinators.

A: Cardinal vine
B: Firecracker vine
C: Hyssop
D: Gaura

E: Marguerite daisy
F: Zinnia
G: Cuphea

H: Nasturtium
I: Blanket flower

Plan view of raised bed

A: Nasturtium
B: Monarda
C: Sweet alyssum
D: Borage

E: Calendula
F: Passionflower
G: Gaura

Create this Pollinator
Hot Spot in a 3x3
Raised Bed

It's easy to fill a 3x3 raised bed with pollinator-friendly plants. Here I've used the 4-in-1 Modular Raised Bed, but you can also do it in any 3x3 bed. The focal point is the Jardin Pot Trellis, which is about 4 feet high — a great size for the passionflower vine, and it fits the scale of the 3x3. If you choose the Cardinal Vine or the Firecracker Vine, use a larger trellis, such as a 5-foot teepee made of bamboo or the Essex Trellis. Morning glories are another great option for this design — just be sure to use a larger trellis.

Illustration of raised bed
Monarch butterfly

Annual Plants for Pollinators

Compose your own planter, raised bed or windowbox by choosing from this list of pollinator-approved plants.

To learn more, check out these articles:

Size
Plant
Botanical name
Note
S
Sweet alyssum
Lobularia maritima
Often sold in multi-packs; easy to start from seed
S
Nasturtium
Tropaeolum majus
If you want them to spill over the edge, look for "trailing" or "climbing" varieties. Easy to start from seed.
S
Annual phlox
Phlox drummondii
Look for the Intensia series
M
Calendula
Calendula officinalis
Single-petal forms—instead of doubles—are more attractive to butteflies.
M
Sweet William
Dianthus barbatus
You can often find plants in multi-packs at the garden center.
M
Signet marigold
Tagetes tenufolia
An uncommon variety; easy to start from seed. Look for Lemon Gem.
M
Pincushion flower
Scabiosa columbaria
M
Zinnia
Zinnia
Look for shorter varieties, such as the Profusion series.
M
Borage
Borago officinalis
Very easy to start from seed
M
Bee balm
Monarda fistulosa
Native to many areas of the U.S.
M
Flowering tobacco
Nicotiana alata
M
Salvia
Salvia coccinea
Coral Nymph is lovely and floriferous.
M
Cuphea
Cuphea
Available in 4-inch pots at garden centers; I like Flamenco Samba
M
Blanket flower
Gaillardia pulchella
Native
M
Gomphrena
Gomphrena haageana
M
Pentas
Pentas
Often sold as a houseplant, in 4-inch pots
M
Marguerite daisy
Argyranthemum
Look for it with the annuals, in 6- to 8-inch pots.
M
Gaura, whirling butterflies
Gaura lindheimeri
A perennial that blooms like an annual — almost all summer
T
Four-o-Clocks

Mirabilis jalapa

An old-fashioned classic
T
Hyssop
Agastache rupestris
Anise-scented foliage
T
Butterfly flower, butterfly weed
Asclepias
Choose a species that's native in your area.
T
Fennel
Foeniculum vulgare
T
Cosmos
Cosmos bipinnatus
Look for shorter, "knee-high" varieties
CL
Cardinal vine
Ipomoea x multifida
Easy to start from seed
CL
Firecracker vine
Ipomoea lobata
Easy to start from seed
CL
Passionflower
Passiflora caeruela
Often sold in larger pots (1 qt. or more)

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