Design a Blooming Container for Butterflies

Mazzano Planter with flowers for pollinatorsA planting for pollinators doesn't have to be large. This Mazzano Planter (15" top dia.) features one Archangel Purple angelonia in the center, surrounded by two each of trailing yellow nasturtium and compact scarlet sage, such as Vista Red. Illustrations by Carlie Hamilton.


Planter for butterfliesA raised bed for pollinators, growing in the Trough VegTrug.


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 here 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 wire trellis grids , supported by bamboo poles, secured to the back of the trug.

Plan for butterfly gardenThe plants in this bed are listed below. For detailed descriptions — and more options, see Annual Plants for Pollinators.
  1. A Cardinal vine
  2. B Firecracker vine
  3. C Hyssop
  4. D Gaura
  5. E Marguerite daisy
  6. F Zinnia
  7. G Cuphea
  8. H Nasturtium
  9. I Blanket flower

Plan view of raised bed

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.

Annual Plants for Pollinators

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

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)

Last updated: 12/27/2022