Preparing the BF Garden!

karen64(6b)April 16, 2013

Over the years my boys and I collected eggs from the swamp milkweed that grew in abundance in the wetlands behind our property and raised them to cats. Over time, the field has become overgrown with sweet gum trees and the milkweed is vanishing. So now, my daughter and I are preparing a bf garden! Its up on a slight slope but still want to give milkweed a shot. I've hand cleared the area of creeping (grrrr) Charlie and will spray the perimeter (my neighbor's yard). I have my milkweed seeds in the fridge one week now, can I pot them up in 2 weeks or longer? I'm assuming this will be timely enough for the bf's to find? My plans so far will include milkweed, verbena, penstemon (although gets mildew here) & butterfly bush. Any other plant choices for NJ zone 6b and considering rabbits? Oh and there are already 2 old garden roses in the background and a knock-out to the right.

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KC Clark - Zone 2012-6a OH

I recommend skipping the butterfly bush. It has proven to be very invasive in NJ. It has been banned on public lands in NJ.

A butterfly garden will attract more butterflies if you include host plants. You mentioned milkweed for monarchs. You should decide what other butterflies you would like to see and plant their host plants. In our FAQ, there is a good host plant list. I'd recommend dwarf snapdragons for buckeye butterflies.

Here is a link that might be useful: New Jersey butterfly list

    Bookmark   April 16, 2013 at 9:48PM
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if you want to plant a butterfly bush, you might consider a sterile cultivar. I'm not sure if these attract as many butterflies, but I'm sure someone in the forums will know,


Click the link for info:

Here is a link that might be useful: Sterile Butterfly Bush Varieties

    Bookmark   April 16, 2013 at 10:17PM
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If you do plant Butterfly Bush, make sure to dead head it.

    Bookmark   April 17, 2013 at 2:14AM
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docmom_gw Zone 5 MI(5)

Parsley, dill and fennel are hosts for the Black Swallowtail butterfly. For this year, I'd suggest putting in some annual nectar flowers like zinnias while your perennials get established. Annual and perennial salvias are great nectar sources for butterflies and hummingbirds. Everyone has had excellent recommendations. Have fun.

    Bookmark   April 17, 2013 at 7:38AM
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Try planting Everlasting and Pussytoes (Not to be confused c Pussy Willow) for American Ladies and Hollyhocks and Globe Thistle (or any thistle; Globe is most esthetic) for the Painted Ladies.
Tulip Poplars (Liriodendron) are a host for the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail.
Lots of violets will attract Frittillaries, whereas False Nettles will attract Red Admirals and Commas.
For nectar, you can't lose c Agastache and Veronica.

    Bookmark   April 17, 2013 at 7:56AM
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terrene(5b MA)

Yes if you a nice sunny spot, plant some annuals for nectar. The tall Zinnia cultivars like 'Cut & Come Again', 'State Fair Mix', or 'California Giants', Tithonia (Mexican sunflower), and Verbena bonariensis are first-rate nectar plants. Butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds love these.

Re: Buddleia - it is not invasive in our cold zone, however I deadhead it regularly anyway. It looks tidier and this encourages more blooms to develop. The butterflies really do love it.

    Bookmark   April 17, 2013 at 9:45AM
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KC Clark - Zone 2012-6a OH

Just because you have not seen it, doesn't mean it is not happening in MA. Given the conditions they want, they will take over.

Here is a link that might be useful: A case of Buddleja davidii regeneration in Massachusetts

    Bookmark   April 17, 2013 at 1:18PM
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Great suggestions! I do have a large main garden which receives butterfly visitors but I wanted to add a garden that can host the milkwood without worry where it will pop up when it seeds. Also, my main garden has a large population of praying mantis that I'm trying to thin out as I find their egg cases. (not killing, just relocating!) By August, the mantis are so large I've seen them eating the skippers. The new garden will be clear across the property. I also did not know the butterfly bush could be invasive. I planted one years back and forgot to cut it back in the fall and it never came back. Also, my neighbor has one but only one and I noticed he also did not cut his back. Its huge but it looks like its coming back for him sparingly so far, not looking too good.

    Bookmark   April 19, 2013 at 9:20AM
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KC Clark - Zone 2012-6a OH

As an alternative to butterfly bush, I recommend buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis). It is native to NJ and it is a host plant for some cool moths, cecropia being one.

    Bookmark   April 19, 2013 at 9:31AM
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Don't spray the creeping Charlie. It is a great early spring nectar plant. It is blooming when very little else is. I see all kinds of bees, bee flies, and early butterflies nectaring on it. I know it can get invasive, but unless you can substitute something else, it is really great. It always looks the worst early in spring when grass hasn't really taken off and it is blooming. Wait till later to see if it really is that bad. Or knock it down in small sections allowing some to bloom each year.

As to butterfly bush, it can become invasive in some circumstances. We have experience with it popping up one year from seeds in large amounts. It is like everything else, one persons weed is another's prized plant.

Butterflies and other pollinators can be specialists or generalists. The type of nectar, pollen, and flower, can all determine if an insect visits the plant. These relationships are millions of years old. They have fossil flowers from the cretaceous period that show nectar structures similar to the ones we see today in plants. Every day they discover aspects of the relationship that are important. For example recently they discovered that citrus plants (as well as many others) produce caffeine in the nectar. It attracts bees and helps them remember where the flowers are located.

The point of this is that our native plants have evolved with our butterflies. Whereas, some of our generalists will use things like butterfly bush, others may be left out. Also, butterfly bush nectar may not have things that other flowers provide. For example, a recent set of studies have determined that if a caterpillar does not eat enough protein before pupation, as an adult female, it will seek out nectar with protein to help increase it's fecundity. So it is best to have a variety of native plants to help provide all the things butterflies need.

Plus if you are lazy like me, you don't have to water natives too much!


Here is a link that might be useful: butterfly bush invasiveness

    Bookmark   April 19, 2013 at 8:19PM
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The creeping Charlie is so abundant in my neighbor's yard I have to knock it back somewhat around the garden, I assume it will strangle every plant. When left unattended for a few years, it became a thick carpet in the area. If I can leave it I will because it is a lot of work pulling it.

    Bookmark   April 20, 2013 at 9:16AM
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i have tons of it in my "lawn" too, and I just keep it out of my beds.
The Ladies and Red Admirals love it, as well as the Pearly Crescent.
Between that, White Clover and Dandelions, I've got my early nectar growing right in my grass. The other people in the building don't mind, and they love the butterflies:)

    Bookmark   April 20, 2013 at 12:47PM
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I understand. These invasives can get overwhelming. I find overseeding with a good strong grass helps a lot. Tilling in small patches and then seeding with grass can work well.


    Bookmark   April 20, 2013 at 8:38PM
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terrene(5b MA)

KC that is very interesting about the Buddleja davidii naturalizing in Mass. I've got 2 specimens in my garden and they've never tossed a seedling in 8 years. In fact the 'Pink Delight' barely thrives. In very harsh cold periods especially without snow cover this species can be killed back in this zone.

I have spent many years and countless hours removing woody invasives from my lot, and neighboring areas, and thousands of $ removing large Norway maples, so I try to observe pretty closely the invasive plants growing around here. But people are introducing new species all the time, and global warming is changing the range of many species so it's best to keep watch on plants that are potentially invasive too.

    Bookmark   April 21, 2013 at 9:25AM
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Here in Madison, WI, they are like a big expensive annual:(
But do they ever bring them in.....
I'm going into mostly natives which can resist rabbits and Japanese Beetles. Tall order for around here. Milkweed is a good start, but as Bananas pointed out, let's not forget the other specialists, too. A good start is a wide variety of native food/nectar sources.
So far I'm having luck c Clethra and Sweetspire. Liatris is a magnet for Monarchs on the way back South.
I also have Hoary Verbena, which the med-small butterflies love.
I'm going to look for Buttonbush this Spring?/Summer.

    Bookmark   April 21, 2013 at 1:59PM
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Today my local garden center put out some milkweed which I purchased. There are small black eggs on one, is this the work of a beetle? I made a list of the plants you all suggested and I'm purchasing some and trading for others. I can't resist the butterfly bush, I promise to dead-head. Although to date in my area they have trouble coming back. Great info bananas!

    Bookmark   April 21, 2013 at 2:48PM
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Leafhead, I have 5 butterfly bushes that all came back in Minnesota last season.

It is likely they will survive our winters, especially with some extra mulch. (I may be in for a sad surprise this spring though)

You can also take "cuttings" to insure your crop.

There are also sterile cultivars available that are not invasive anywhere.

KC...I saw your "alternative" idea for buttonbush. How long is the typical bloom period for that? Tony

    Bookmark   April 21, 2013 at 10:35PM
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That's encouraging news, Tony. Maybe mine will come back from the roots. My Buddhlea Honeycomb shows a little life:)
We'll see...

    Bookmark   April 22, 2013 at 4:29PM
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