How To Attract Butterflies to Your Outdoor Containers

When designing an outdoor patio or sitting space for a landscaping client consider using plants that will attract butterflies. Butterflies can be a beautiful addition to an already attractive container garden. They can promote a calm environment and invite viewers to interact with a container display.

Design Elements

Fortunately, the design elements used for crafting an attractive container are the same elements used to draw in a variety of butterflies. Different species of butterflies like to feed at different heights. Sticking to the thrill, fill, spill mantra for crafting your containers will help attract a lot of different butterfly species.

Try to choose elements that will produce flowers all season long or stagger the blooming plants so that there will be blossoms from spring to fall. Choosing a flowers that come in a variety of shapes and colors will help attract a wider array of butterflies. In general butterflies prefer flowers that come in clusters and bell shaped flowers.

Plant Suggestions

USE LOW GROWING sweet alyssum, petunias and nasturtiums to fill the edges of large containers.

TALL PLANTS such as purple cone flowers, black eyed susans, certain varieties of zinnias and sweet william are excellent thrillers with their upright, brightly colored flowers.

COLORFUL MOULDING PLANTS like salvia, lantana and pentas work well. Butterflies are attracted to their prolific, fragrant blooms and they mound and fill space quickly. For a different look you can group a variety of containers each with a single large, mounding species.

PLANTS THAT CATERPILLARS PREFER to feed on will lead to an abundance of butterflies. These plants include fennel, asters, dill, milkweed, hollyhocks and mallow. Many butterfly species have a specific family of plants that they use to lay their eggs on, for example monarchs relay on any plant in the milkweed family. If there is a particular butterfly you want to attract, first make sure it is native to your region and then find out what family of plants its caterpillars feed on.


Most of these plants will do well in large containers with a standard potting medium. Make sure the containers drain well because most plants to not like to stay soggy. Many of these plants also prefer full sun, which is also ideal for attracting butterflies. In general using a fertilizer that is high in phosphorus will encourage prolific blooms.


Keep in mind that many butterflies require a certain kind of habitat. They will be more drawn to blooms that are sheltered from wind. They also like to have water nearby. An attractive water feature is one way to promote butterflies in your outdoor space. However, anything as simple as a dish of water, birdbath or small plant saucer with some water in it will help.

Tips to Remember

When you want butterflies to be a part of your summer outdoor container displays keep these three tips in mind:

  • Plant prolific bloomers of varying heights.
  • Plant caterpillar host plants nearby.
  • Provide shelter from the wind, plenty of sunshine, and water.

With these simple steps you can expect to have plenty of butterflies enjoying your summer container arrangements. How do you attract butterflies to your container gardens? What are your favorite species of plants that attract butterflies? 


“Butterfly Gardening in Containers” Enjoy Container Gardening. <>

“Top Butterfly Container Garden Ideas” Better Homes and Gardens. <>

“Butterfly Host Plant Facts” Birds & Blooms <>

Image: Butterfly on Zinnia from Lalbagh by Ramesh NG

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