Gardening for Butterflies

Gardening for butterflies is actually a two-step process, although you don’t have to participate in both parts of the process if you don’t want to. But remember, the adult butterflies that we see are first caterpillars–and those are the more finicky eaters that you hear about when you hear “monarchs will only eat milkweed,” for example.

It’s actually a little more complicated than that. The monarch caterpillars will only eat milkweed. Adult monarchs will seek nectar from a variety of flower sources. But when adult monarchs go back to lay eggs, again, they seek out milkweed. And again, in different regions of the country, different types of milkweed predominate.

So it’s not just as simple as saying “monarchs eat milkweed.” For more on this complicated–or symbiotic–relationship, take a look at this handout prepared by MonarchWatch.

Other butterflies are equally finicky, if you want to put it that way. Every butterfly that visits your area will have a “host” plant–that’s the plant that the caterpillar form of the butterfly feeds on, as well as nectar plants that they prefer (although they are not as fussy about those)

This awesome list of resources from Prairie Nursery lists host plants for a wide range of butterflies as well as additional resources to find out more.

What else is good for butterflies? In general, sunny spots that are protected from wind and protected from their predators, the birds–so that means no birdhouses in the butterfly garden. Birds love caterpillars, remember!

Make a “puddling” area for them to get water. This is even more shallow than the places where bees drink–if possible, it’s just a wet spot on the ground where they can absorb moisture and even salts from the earth. That can be tough to achieve so some folks fill a shallow saucer will sand, water and even some salt.

This site has some ideas and even an embedded video to give you a sense of how it’s all done.

Finally, what’s most important when watching butterflies is time: take the time to be still in your garden and watch them. One of my best moments last year was the 15 minutes I took to sit in the grass and watch the monarch larva on my milkweed. It wasn’t quite “forest bathing,” but it was certainly peaceful. I highly recommend it.

Herbs for Pollinators?

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I have posted about herbs for bees before, when I was talking about self-cleaning annuals. But I think this group of plants gets over-looked as a pollinator source and it shouldn’t.

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Not only are the blossoms some of the prettiest around (these are chives, from earlier in the season, and yes, they are edible, although you don’t want to put a whole chive blossom on your salad. Better to break it into pieces,) but their colors are the right colors usually for bees and butterflies–purples and blues and whites.

The photo at the top is oregano.

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This is cilantro, going to seed and forming coriander seeds.

And sage (mine got too winter-killed to bloom this year) blooms in a lovely blue.

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Finally, this is anise hyssop (agastache) which is an herb in the mint family. Most folks just grow it as an ornamental perennial but it can be used for tea if it has been grown organically.

So in addition to growing herbs for use, why not grow some for the pollinators too?

Wordless Wednesday

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This is milkweed, asclepias incarnata. It’s a native that most of us grow to help the monarchs. They lay their eggs on it.

It’s also a wonderful nectar plant. I have watched lots of different pollinators on it. This is the first time I have seen an eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly on it, however.  I guess it is better for pollinators than I realized!

Wordless Wednesday–Time to Slow Down and Watch the Butterflies

BUTTERFLY

Despite my pesticide free garden, there have been decidedly fewer butterflies in my garden this year. I’m not sure if it’s because all of my neighbors use chemicals or if it’s because it’s been a cool summer.

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I did manage to catch this swallowtail nectaring on my lantana, however.

Maybe it’s me. Maybe I need to slowdown and watch for the butterflies more!

Wordless Wednesday–For the Pollinators

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When I was planting my containers this year, I made a conscious decision that I would plant with pollinators in mind. So I chose colors that would attract them, shapes that would attract them, plants that would attract them–you get the idea.

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My perennial gardens are already pretty pollinator friendly so what I really wanted to do was to add some annuals and tropicals with a big punch of color that were also good for the pollinators.

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You can see my electric color scheme. Here part of the whole thing. It’s pretty vibrant!

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What’s nice is that I am attracting pollinators I didn’t even expect–like my beloved ants! If you see that citrus–a Meyer lemon–in the darker colored pot (it’s not the one not immediately visible in the front left of the photo, but the one behind it), I found the cutest, tiniest ants in the blossoms. I can only imagine that they were feeding on the pollen–there was no evidence that they were doing anything like harvesting aphids or feasting on honeydew or anything like that.

Finally, I’ve had to re-plant part of my wildlife garden too. I’ve gotten some great plants for that. But that’s a post for another day.

 

The Simple Things….continued

I started off my Friday post with a quote from a previous post about “sometimes doing the simple thing is also the best thing for our pollinators.” I sort of intended that post to be about pollinators and then it wasn’t. Sometimes that’s how it works out.

What I had in mind there was that rather than bringing out the big old can of spray every time we see a weed or an insect, there are really much easier approaches to dealing with both. I know I’ve talked about my “Freedom Lawn” (aka lawn full of weeds like clover and violets) as being a lawn that’s beneficial to lots of pollinators.

In preparing an upcoming lecture on pollinators, however, I was a little startled to discover that 5 different species of butterflies, as well as my beloved ants, use the clover and violets as food sources. And I know I talked last year about how the clover was sort of “detouring” the rabbits away from some of my perennials and vegetables. It’s working so far this year as well (with a little encouragement for my rescue dog, Amie, as well!). That’s what I call freedom!

I’ve also talked in the past about how some customers in my retail gardening past would come to me, puzzled, because they would have no vegetables in their gardens. I would ask them if they saw any bees and they’d say no. Then I’d ask about their insecticide use and inevitably they’d be doing a chemical 4 step lawn program and a grub program and probably something else as well.

So I’d try to gently explain that bees were very susceptible to pesticides–the grub control in particular most likely was one of those dreaded neonicotinoid type pesticides–and that they might be working at cross purposes by at best driving away all the bees and at worst killing them. I’d say that if they didn’t want to be hand-pollinating their crops they might want to back away from the pesticide use a little.

This was always very unwelcome news and was usually resisted quite strenuously. And then I’d tell my story about the butterflies. It’s really simple and very effective.

The year before we got married–but I was dating my husband and gardening on the property–I noticed there were no butterflies.  Hmm, I thought, this is strange. What’s wrong here? So I started to read up on them and found that they were very susceptible to pesticides. At that point, way back in 1994, I decided that we weren’t going to use any because I’d rather have butterflies than perfection.

By 1996, when I applied for certification as a backyard habitat, I counted 36 different butterflies and moths on the property. Technically that was only 2 springs without pesticides. It doesn’t take much. Stop using pesticides and they will come. It’s the simple things…..