Tag Archive for: butterflies

Container Gardens for Butterflies and Hummingbirds

Summer is here, and so are the hummingbirds and butterflies we love to enjoy in our gardens. Even with a small space you can plant blooms in containers to encourage local butterflies and hummingbirds to stop in for a visit. 

For more information on pollinators:

In this post, we will primarily discuss summer plants for pollinators that grow well in containers. If you want to learn more about supporting local birds, bees and butterflies, you may be interested in our posts on hosting native caterpillars, planting for pollinators year-round, or attracting hummingbirds.

This purple pollinator container garden features petunias, angelonia, ageratum and gomphrena (design by Peg Bier, Merrifield Plant and Design Specialist).

Selecting Plants for Your Container Garden

Butterflies and hummingbirds both eat nectar from flowers. Both hummingbirds and butterflies will be attracted to brightly colored flowers whose nectar has a high sugar content.

Butterflies prefer blooms with flat landing pads where they can easily land to sip nectar. Hummingbirds prefer blooms that are accessible by their long beak while still in flight. Every gardener will have their own favorites and plants that they swear by, but here are some popular favorites we all agree on for the summer:


  • Agastache
  • Asclepias (Butterfly Weed)
  • Coneflower
  • Coreopsis
  • Gaillardia
  • Gaura
  • Heuchera


  • Angelonia
  • Begonia
  • Calibrachoa
  • Crossandra
  • Cuphea
  • Dahlia
  • Fuschia
  • Gomphrena
  • Lantana
  • Pentas
  • Petunia
  • Salvia
  • Zinna

There are many plants to choose from, but you may find that your local hummingbirds and butterflies prefer certain types of flowers.

This pollinator container garden features salvia, angelonia and lantana (design by Peg Bier, Merrifield Plant and Design Specialist).

Container Combinations

When creating a pollinator container, your creativity is just about your only limit. While you will want to use mostly pollinator plants, it is perfectly fine to combine other plants you love into your containers as well. Here are some ideas to get you started!

Fresh Pink and White

This combination of pink and white flowers looks natural while maintaining a curated color combination of pink and white blooms. This fresh, vibrant container combines perennial coneflower and heuchera with annual lantana, angelonia and pentas.

Vibrant Red and Yellow

This container makes use of deep burgundy coleus to bring together the vibrant red and yellow blooms. For this combination, you will need perennial coreopsis and euphorbia with annual dahlia and coleus.

Bold Multicolor

This bright, bold container includes salvia, crossandra, gomphrena, cleome and portulaca.

Coneflower and Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly

Blooms for Pollinators from March to November

Terry Hershberger, Merrifield Plant Specialist

Throughout the growing season, we depend on bees, butterflies and other insects that transport pollen from plant to plant to fertilize our plants and successfully ensure that our gardens and farms generate seeds and fruit. To welcome these creatures during the spring, summer and fall, we can plan our gardens to provide an abundance of blooms and nectar for them from early spring through the onset of winter.

If you wish to welcome the bees, butterflies and other pollinators to your garden throughout the growing season, consider adding native plants to your garden that will bloom at various times from March to November, rather than planting so that you will experience one burst of bloom for a short period of time. Much like our surrounding region, you can design a garden which will feature different blooming plants throughout the growing season to support butterflies and bees.

Consider these options for continuous bloom.

Spring: March to May

Bloodroot, Native Perennial, ISTOCK


Blooms March to May

This white flower blooms in woodland gardens in part to full shade, making it a good choice for those with limited sunlight.


Blooms April to May

This delicate flower can be grown in full sun to part shade. It is particularly attractive to hummingbirds and comes in colors ranging from light pink to dark red and blue.

Wood Poppy, Native Perennial, ISTOCK

Wood Poppies

Blooms April to May

A good choice for shady gardens. These plants are a native to the woodlands of our region and feature yellow flowers.

Summer: May to August

Coneflower, Native, Pollinator, Perennial


Blooms June to August

Purplish-pink blooms are attractive to butterflies and bloom throughout the summer. This plant is tolerant of drought when established.

Liatris Spicata

Liatris spicata

Blooms in June

This member of the aster family features fluffy purple flowers atop talk spikes. This flower grows well in moist areas and is tolerant of clay soil.

Rudbeckia, Black Eyed Susan, Perennial


Blooms May to July

A daisy-like yellow flower which is particularly attractive to butterflies. There are many rudbeckia species native to our region.

Late Summer/Fall: August to November

Lobelia siphilitica

Blue Lobelia

Blooms August to October

This perennial grows best in wet soil and is native to wet locations in swamps and along streams. Blue tubular flowers grow in racemes reaching up to 3 feet tall.

Solidago altissima, Tall Goldenrod, Pollinator, perennial


Blooms August to November

There are multiple native species of goldenrod blooming from late summer through the fall. As a native to the region, it tolerates clay soil.

Purple Ironweed, ISTOCK

New York Ironweed

Blooms August to October

This perennial features purple composite flowers atop tall stems. It is tolerant of wet and clay soil. It requires full sun.


These plants bloom for most of the growing season, from May or June through fall.

Asclepias tuberosa, milkweed, perennial, native, pollinator

Asclepias tuberosa (Butterfly Weed)

Blooms June to frost

This milkweed species is a food source for monarch butterflies and a favorite nectar source of butterflies overall.

Gaillardia pulchella

Gaillardia pulchella

Blooms June to frost

This plant tolerates poor soil and dry heat. It’s petals may be red, yellow, or both. Consider leaving spent flowers for the birds.

Purple Passionflower

Blooms July to September

A climbing, drought tolerant vine with unique fringed flowers. The blooms are a particularly loved by bees.

Coneflower and Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly

Plant List for Butterfly Gardens

Flitting from flower to flower in search of nectar, butterflies are absolutely wonderful in the garden.

Unfortunately, because of the loss of habitat and the indiscriminate use of pesticides, the butterfly population is declining.

But with just a little bit of effort, you can encourage more of these delicate beauties to visit your garden – and extend their stay.

Choose a sunny location protected from wind. As butterflies are near-sighted, it’s best to create a large patch of flower species boasting vibrant colors and sweet scents. Select plants of differing heights, colors and bloom times to attract butterflies throughout the season.

Butterflies enjoy sweet liquids, such as nectar from flowers, which supplies them with an energy source.  Annuals provide nectar all summer, while perennials provide it when they’re blooming.

As you might expect, Butterfly Bush and Butterfly Weed are great plants to attract butterflies. But they’re not the only ones. Here are some other plants that butterflies truly love:  Astilbe, Black-Eyed Susan, Catmint, Coneflower, Daylily, Salvia, Tickseed and Yarrow.

In addition to growing a butterfly friendly habitat, make caterpillars welcome in your garden. True, caterpillars feed on plants. But without caterpillars there would be no beautiful butterflies. Watching a caterpillar change into a butterfly is one of the most fascinating things about butterfly gardens.

Caterpillars can be very discriminating in the plants they feed on.  Pipevine Swallowtail feed exclusively on Pipevine, Monarchs on Milkweed and Fritillary on Violas. So if you want to watch these butterflies, select plants for both the larvae and adults.


Common Name Botanical Name
Cosmos Cosmos
Flowering Tobacco Nicotiana
French Marigold Tagetes
Heliotrope Heliotropium
Hardy Hibiscus Hibiscus
Lantana Lantana
Mimulus Mimulus
Petunia Petunia
Salvia Salvia
Snapdragon Antirrhinum
Sunflower Helianthus
Verbena Verbena
Violet Violet
Zinnia Zinnia


Common Name Botanical Name
Anemone Anemone
Aster Aster
Astilbe Astilbe
Beardstongue Penstemon
Bee Balm Monarda
Bellflower Campanula
Black-eyed Susan Rudbeckia
Blanket Flower Gaillardia
Bleeding Heart Dicentra
Blue Beard Caryopteris
Butterfly Bush Buddleia
Butterfly Weed Asclepias
Candytuft Iberis
Cardinal Flower Lobelia
Catmint Nepeta
Cinquefoil Pontentilla
Cornflower Centaurea
Creeping & Summer Phlox Phlox
Dame’s Rocket Hesperis
Daylily Hemerocalilis
Foxglove Digitalis
Globe Thistle Echinops
Goldenrod Solidago
Hardy Geranium Geranium
Hardy Mem Chrysanthemum
Hollyhock Alcea
Iris Iris
Joe Pye Weed Eupatorium
Lavender Lavandula
Lily Lillium
Onion Allium
Pincushion Flower Scabiosa
Plumbago Ceratostigma
Red Hot Poker Kniphofia
Rockcress Arabis
Rosemary Rosemarinus
Salvia Salvia
Speedwell Veronica
Stoke’s Aster Stokesia
Stonecrop Sedum
Sundrops Oenothera
Sunflower Helianthus
Tickseed Chelone
Verbena Verbena
Whorling Butterflies Gaura
Wormwood Artemesia
Yarrow Achillea


Common Name Botanical Name
Chaste Tree Vitex
Cherry Prunus
Crabapple Malus
Fringtree Chionanthus
Golden Rain Tree Laburnum
Silk Tree Mimosa
Yellowood Cladrastis


Common Name Botanical Name
Clematis Clematis
Dragon Lady Crossvine Bigonia
Hardy Passion Vine Passiflora
Honeysuckle Lonicera
Morning Glory Ipomoea
Trumpet Creeper Campsis
Wisteria Wisteria