Tag Archives: butterfly gardens

Want to Attract Pollinators? Easy Fix for Sunny Yards

Pollinator plants surround a small grassy area in my front yard. In the forefront (back row, r to l), you’ll see little Trudy catmint, orange carpet hummingbird trumpet and Mojave sage. In the front row, going counter-clockwise, you’ll see dwarf broom (scruffy blue shrublet), Pawnee Buttes sand cherry, Sonoran sunset hyssop, sunset hyssop, autumn brilliance serviceberry, Rozanne cranesbill, tiger eyes sumac, more Sonoran sunset hyssop and Karalee petite pink dwarf whirling butterfly (a new Proven Winners annual).

When I headed out my front door this afternoon to pick up my mail, about 20 painted lady butterflies fluttered up from my flowers and began flitting around me.  I felt like Snow White in a Disney film!

Granted, there has been an unusually high number of painted ladies along Colorado’s Front Range this year.  I’m just delighted a small flock of them decided to visit my garden.

Don’t forget annuals when planting for pollinators. This Salvia farinacea is a huge hit with bees and butterflies. Notice the painted lady butterfly at the top of the tall spike on the right.

Nearly every plant in my front yard is a nectar source.  And some of the plants, such as butterfly weed, serve as butterfly hosts (egg-laying sites and larval food sources), as well.  Which only goes to show that your garden doesn’t have to look like a weed patch to attract pollinators.

Since installing all these plants, I’ve noticed that my yard has turned into a virtual pollinator factory, with buzzing and flitting going on throughout the day.

What are some of these critters’ favorite meals?  Well, bees go gaga over little Trudy catmint (Nepeta ‘Psfike’ Little Trudy). Hummingbirds and butterflies, meanwhile, feast on sunset hyssop (Agastache rupestris), Sonoran sunset hyssop (Agastache cana ‘Sinning’) and orange carpet hummingbird trumpet (Zauschneria garrettii).

It’s important to ensure you have flowers blooming throughout the growing season to provide a continuous food source.

So in the spring, my serviceberry (Amelanchier x grandiflora ‘Autumn Brilliance’), Pawnee Buttes sand cherry (Prunus besseyi ‘Pawnee Buttes’), Cheyenne mock orange (Philadelphus lewisii), dwarf broom (Genista lydia), ornamental onion (Allium ‘Globemaster’) and soapwort (Saponaria ocymoides) provide sustenance.  Little Trudy begins blooming in early May and keeps going till frost.  Rozanne cranesbill (Geranium ‘Gerwat’ Rozanne) blooms in May, as well, and will keep blooming into fall if you cut it back when it starts fading in late summer.

Small but mighty, this Miss Molly butterfly bush from Proven Winners adds a glorious touch of fuchsia to the garden while feeding butterflies and other insects. This shrub will eventually grow four to five feet high and wide.

Then in summer, lavender (Lavandula angustifolia ‘Munstead’), butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa ‘Hello Yellow’), orange carpet hummingbird trumpet, hyssop, Stella d’Oro daylilies, butterfly bush (Buddleia x USPP 23423 ‘Miss Molly’), Pollypetite rose of Sharon (Hibiscus sp. ‘Rosina’ USPPAF) and snapdragons (Antirrhinum majus in my side-yard rock meadow) generate blossoms.  Except for lavender and butterfly weed, all of these summer bloomers keep generating flowers well into fall.

And, of course, I have annuals blooming in pots and in the ground to provide yet another food source.

Long-blooming orange carpet hummingbird is one of the top two plants in my garden for attracting hummingbirds. The other top hummingbird plant is agastache.

Granted, I have a few plants that pollinators don’t visit for food.  There’s my Kentucky bluegrass, for example.  It doesn’t produce nectar, but it does provide a runway, which butterflies and hummingbirds appreciate for zooming around.  My tiger eyes sumac isn’t a food source either, but its dense foliage can provide shade and storm shelter for pollinators.  As for my groundcover roses, they don’t produce nectar for pollinators, but bees will visit them to collect pollen.

In my rock meadow in the side yard, pollinators can feast on snapdragons, daylilies and columbine, as well as soapwort and prairie winecups. The potentilla in the upper right will be removed soon as part of my efforts to install a large pollinator garden near the back yard patio.

Besides food, host plants, shelter and runways, pollinators require water.  A shallow saucer filled with sand and water will enable butterflies, for example, to rehydrate themselves and ingest important minerals.

If you don’t have many pollinator plants in your garden, consider planting more next year.  You’ll be surprised at the difference they make.

For more information on enticing pollinators, check out Attracting Hummingbirds and Butterflies to Your Backyard by Sally Roth.  Or download the Colorado State University Extension fact sheet 5.504 on butterflies.

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Asclepias: Mother’s Milk to Monarchs & 2017 Perennial Plant of the Year

Perennial butterfly weed, Asclepias tuberosa, serves has a host plant for the monarch butterfly by creating a site for the mother to lay eggs and for the larvae to feed. (Photo courtesy of Dave Powell, USDA Forest Service - retired, Bugwood.org.)

Perennial butterfly weed, Asclepias tuberosa, serves has a host plant for the monarch butterfly by creating a site for the mother to lay eggs and for the larvae to feed. (Photo courtesy of Dave Powell, USDA Forest Service – retired, Bugwood.org)

If I wanted to attract butterflies and had room for only one nectar plant, I would choose butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa).

Butterfly weed is not only a terrific nectar plant for many butterfly species, but is also the sole host plant for the monarch butterfly, whose numbers have been decreasing so steadily that they’ve reached “Near Threatened” status with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). In cold weather, monarchs migrate between more than 1,000 miles between the U.S. and Canada to forests in central Mexico, where they hibernate until it’s warm enough to head back north. Earlier this week, Omar Vidal, CEO of WWF in Mexico, issued a statement urging the eradication of illegal logging in Mexico’s forest cover and asking that habitat loss be tackled in the U.S. and Canada, as well.

In the meantime, the Perennial Plant Organization has selected Asclepias tuberosa as its Plant of the Year for 2017. Shoot, they’re even selling tee shirts to promote this North American native!

With its striking, deep-green foliage and vibrant orange blooms, butterfly weed is a real showpiece in the garden. It grows 12 to 30 inches tall. There’s a newer, yellow variety called ‘Hello Yellow.’ I planted one in my garden last summer, and it lasted till frost, when it went dormant. I’ll see if it emerges this spring.

Several Colorado gardeners have told me they’ve been unsuccessful in growing butterfly weed in our heavy clay soils. Anticipating problems but being curious, I bought a #1-sized plant from a local nursery about five years ago. I amended the soil with organic matter before installing this beauty, and, surprisingly enough, the plant seemed very happy. It popped up reliably the following season.

For those of you who haven’t had luck with butterfly weed, I have a few suggestions:

  • Install a healthy, #1-sized plant from a reputable nursery. Smaller plants don’t seem to establish as well, according to some of my fellow gardeners.
  • Be aware that butterfly weed has a tap root, and if you damage it in any way, the plant will die.
  • Amend the soil if you have heavy clay. I used compost. Another experienced Colorado gardener suggested using sand or gravel for amending. Good drainage is critical.
  • Wait until drier weather to plant it. In other words, don’t plant it in the spring, when there’s more rain. Wait until a summer month.
  • Plant your butterfly weed in full sun.
  • Keep a close eye out for yellowing leaves. If you see a lot of yellowing, you may be over- or under-watering the plant. Over is more likely. Asclepias tuberosa doesn’t like too much moisture. If you can nurse your butterfly weed through its first growing season, you may be home free. Fortunately, the plant spreads nicely, once established.

    Annual butterfly weed, Asclepias incarnata, offers stunning pink, mauve or white blooms. Be careful where you plant it, though, because it reseeds prolifically. (Photo courtesy of Rob Routledge, Sault College, Bugwood.org)

    Annual butterfly weed, Asclepias incarnata, offers stunning pink, mauve or white blooms. Be careful where you plant it, though, because it reseeds prolifically. (Photo courtesy of Rob Routledge, Sault College, Bugwood.org)

There’s an annual butterfly weed, Asclepias incarnata or swamp milkweed, which also serves as a host for the monarch. Swamp milkweed grows four to five feet tall and produces white, pink or mauve blooms.

If you would like to learn more about butterfly gardening, you’re invited to attend my free program, Butterfly Garden Basics, at the Loveland, CO public library, 300 North Adams, on March 29. The program begins at 1pm. Arrive early, though, because I’ve been told that 50 or more people often attend the gardening presentations at this library.

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Zinnias Aren’t Just for Little Old Ladies Anymore

Fireball Blend zinnias produced an explosion of color for people and butterflies alike.

Fireball Blend zinnias produced an explosion of color for people and butterflies alike.

If your grandmother had a garden, I’ll bet she grew two of the foremost little-old-lady flowers known to humankind—zinnias and petunias.  Maybe hollyhocks, too.

This summer, I planted several varieties of zinnias in my garden.  Maybe it’s a sign of age.  Yes, some of them looked like little-old-lady zinnias.  But then there were these other zinnias. . .oh, mama!  They flaunted blazing colors and multiple four-inch single and double blooms on four-foot stalks.  I’m telling you, these zinnias screamed pizzazz!

This isn't your typical grandmother's flower.

This isn’t your typical grandmother’s flower.

What were these wonders of nature?  Botanical Interests® Fireball Blend zinnias.  They burst forth in July with myriad shades of red and orange.

I wasn’t the only one who was thrilled with them; the western tiger swallowtail butterflies were ecstatic!  Those fluttery visitors were all over those blooms.

On top of that, my fireballs kept me in cut flowers for weeks.

Maybe next year I’ll try petunias, too.

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