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How to Create a Butterfly Garden in a Pot

Lure butterflies right to your door with a collection of containers filled with nectar-rich flowers. Here are three ways to create a beautiful butterfly garden with "pots" you may already have on hand.

Nancy Ondra
Container Butterfly GardensPhoto by Nancy Ondra

Bring beautiful butterflies right to your door with a collection of containers filled with nectar-rich flowers. Sure, you can plant your butterfly garden in ordinary pots, but it's even more fun to dig through your attic, basement or shed – or to visit local secondhand shops – in search of out-of-the-ordinary options. Old wicker or Easter baskets are great, and so are colanders, pots and pans, or other kitchen items you'll no longer use for cooking. Even old boots, shoes or clogs can make cute display containers for your favorite butterfly flowers.

Materials Needed:

  • variety of containers
  • plastic garbage bags
  • scissors
  • potting soil (moistened)
  • butterfly-attracting flowers (plants and/or seeds)
  • Spanish or sphagnum moss

Line the container with plastic.

If the container you've chosen already has lots of holes in it (as a wicker basket or colander does), it's a good idea to line it with a bit of plastic, so the potting soil won't wash out when you water your plants. Spread a plastic garbage bag over the base of the container, then use scissors to snip several 1- to 2-inch slits in the bottom so excess water can escape. Fill the basket to about 1 inch below the rim with potting soil, then trim off any excess plastic just below the rim of the container.

Plant the garden.

Method No. 1: Sow seeds into the container. You can sow seeds of fast-growing annuals, such as nasturtiums and dwarf zinnias, directly into the basket (Image 1). Follow the planting instructions on the seed packet. Set the container in a warm, bright place, and keep the soil evenly moist. Look for seedlings in a week or two, and look for flowers in another month or so.

Method No. 2: Transplant directly into the container. If you want to start attracting butterflies right away, start with plants instead of seeds. Slip started plants out of their pots and plant them into the potting soil (Image 2). In a small container, you may be able to fit in only one plant. A container that's about 6 inches across can hold anywhere from one to three plants. A container that's about 1 foot across usually holds three to seven plants.

Method No. 3: Slip potted plants into the container. Don't want to plant directly into a special container? There's no need to line it with plastic and fill it with potting soil, then; simply slip one or more potted plants directly into the container and arrange them however you like (Image 3). This option works well for containers that don't have any drainage holes, since you can easily slip each pot out of its decorative container, dump out any water that's collected in the container, and then replace the pot. You can also easily replace or rearrange the plants if you want to change the look of your butterfly garden in later summer or fall.

Add moss around the edges.

Once your seedlings are up and growing or you have your started plants arranged in the containers as you like them, tuck bits of Spanish moss or sphagnum moss (available from garden centers or craft shops) around them to cover the soil and any exposed plastic liner. It gives your container garden a nice finished look and acts like a mulch to help keep the soil moist.

Learn how to care for your butterfly garden.

Place your butterfly-attracting containers in a sunny spot to keep them flowering freely, and water them often to keep the soil evenly moist. (In hot or windy weather, they may need watering every day.) Adding a liquid fertilizer to the water every so often will help keep the flowers coming; follow the mixing directions and application schedule on the fertilizer bottle. It's normal for annuals that prefer cool temperatures, such as sweet alyssum and petunias, to slow down or even stop blooming during hot summers. Replacing them with verbenas, dwarf zinnias or other heat-tolerant flowers will keep your container collection bringing in the butterflies through the rest of the growing season.

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