Lantana is a pollinator you can count on.

Attracting more butterflies, bees and hummingbirds to your backyard doesn’t have to be complicated or time-consuming. Pollinator container gardens are exciting to design, simple to create and bursting with nectar to feed hungry pollinators around the yard, patio, deck or balcony. To get started, follow the ideas below. You’ll be rewarded with color, fragrance and close-up views of garden wildlife.

Best timing

Plant your pollinator container garden in spring or autumn for the best results. Plenty of plants suited to the Texas Gulf Coast region can be planted in autumn and last through early next summer. Others planted in the spring will grow until the first frost. If you plant in the summer, remember that the containers will need frequent watering. Winter plantings are possible too, but host and nectar plants are limited.

Select a location

“Containers don’t have to be just for the deck or patio,” said Diane Blazek, the executive director of All-America Selections and National Garden Bureau. “Place them in a garden area where a plant died or didn’t fill in as you had hoped. It is a great way to cover your garden planning errors. And don’t forget hanging baskets. Give your flying friends their food in a higher location, which many prefer.”

If you enjoy watching bees, butterflies and birds, place containers outside a window. For herbs, choose an easily accessible outdoor area, such as near a kitchen doorway. Wherever you choose, make sure the containers have some shelter. With the Texas summer heat, container plants will benefit from afternoon shade.

Choose a container

When it comes to choosing a container, consider the container’s material with care. Wood or clay materials will allow good air circulation around the plant roots, but the soil will dry out quickly. Nonporous planters made from plastic will reduce air circulation, causing the roots to stay wet longer.

Allow for proper drainage. If the container lacks drain holes, make a few using a drill to allow adequate drainage. Don’t limit yourself to pots and hanging baskets. Be creative. Choose discarded household items like wooden boxes, large boots, baby buggies or coolers. Bathtubs and stacks of tires also work for an unusual look. If the container is large, place it in the location of your choice before adding the soil and plants.

Add soil

The best soil is organic, said Amy Conroy, a board member of The Mercer Society (TMS) and TMS annuals and perennials growing lead.

“I add compost and expanded shale for better soil drainage,” she said. “Usually, the consistency would be two-thirds soil and one-third a mixture of compost and expanded shale. It is also helpful to add a little MicroLife or other good organic fertilizer. Top dress with a native mulch to help with weed control and evaporation. It makes the container look nice!”

Select plants

Choose plants that are good thrillers (tall and showy), spillers (drape over the container) and fillers (short and full to fill in). Include all three of these categories in each of your pollinator container gardens for a striking look. It’s usually best to start with young nursery plants and allow them to grow and fill the space. Gardeners sometimes like the pollinator container garden to appear lush instantly. If that is the case, begin with more mature plants and prune as needed. Consider the mature size of each plant in the container and place the plants accordingly so that one does not block the other when grown.

“Also, consider if you will be viewing the container from one side or from all around,” said Conroy. “Place the larger plants in the back if only viewing from one side and place them in the middle if viewing from all sides.”

Combine nectar and host plants in the same container. Blazek recommends host plants such as milkweed, dill, parsley and fennel. She also says asters, coneflowers, phlox, zinnia and sedum are great container garden choices.

Conroy says that her favorite pollinator garden host plants are milkweed, parsley, fennel, rue, dutchman’s pipevine, shrimp plant and passion vine. For nectar production, she recommends bee balm, rudbeckia, milkweed, lantana, morning glory vines, passion vines, cardinal flowers, African blue basil, almond verbena and coreopsis.

Remember maintenance

During the dog days of summer, heat and steady winds blowing through the landscape can rapidly rob soil of moisture. Unlike their flower bed counterparts, containers dry out quickly. To determine if your container needs water, stick your finger approximately 1 inch into the dirt. If it feels wet, hold off on watering. In summer, plan to water containers every day when rain isn’t in the forecast.

Remember, though, frequent watering leaches vital nutrients from the soil. Plants also use up nutrients as they grow, so you’ll need to add organic fertilizer every two weeks.

You’ll need to occasionally check your plants for unwanted critters like snails, grasshoppers and aphids. If you find any offending insects, remove them by hand and squish them or drop them in a bucket of soapy water. Avoid insecticides, which may harm pollinators and other beneficial insects.

If planting tall, vining plants or those that produce heavy fruits, Blazek says you’ll need something solid to prevent the container from falling over.

“This could be a heavy clay pot or weights to keep the container in place,” she said. “You may need a trellis or stakes for vines, too.”

Countless combos

Small containers — Limit yourself to three plants, using combinations of dwarf lantana, coneflower, mealy blue sage, milkweed, zinnia, penta or verbena. Try this proven combination below.

• Milkweed (tropical or silky gold)
• Mealy blue sage
• Penta (red or pink)
• If you are looking for a “spiller,” substitute verbena for milkweed, salvia or penta.

Medium containers — Try the combination below or choose five pollinator plants. Any plant should work, except large ones like porter weed, hamelia, cuphea and large salvias.

• Salvia (smaller varieties)
• Penta
• Milkweed
• Coneflower
• Dutchman’s pipeline

Large containers — Gardeners have more flexibility with large containers. Plant the combination below or choose any seven pollinator plants for an eye-catching combination.

• Blue porter weed
• Silky gold milkweed
• Tropical milkweed
• Penta
• Coneflower
• Rudbeckia
• Dutchman’s pipevine, verbena or trailing lantana

What other variations can you dream up? Visit the National Garden Bureau’s Plant Combination webpage for ideas.

Get “buzzy” and happy pollinator container gardening!

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