Advice/help for new butterly gardens~please

cghpndDecember 15, 2013

Good morning everyone!

I'll try to keep this short as possible. My apologies for run off and bad grammer as im still sleepy :/

I have a small (container) garden at my home and im still learning about gardening. Ive only been doing this for almost a year. Which i started for the monarchs.
I have mostly swamp and tropical milkweed with a few different nectar plants for the butterflies.
I'm doing a few different gardens 1 is a 200 sq ft garden plot, a school garden and 3 gardens at families homes. They are just the ones I have locked in. Some properties pending...
Now I have plenty of swamp milkweed to put in, but we/they like a diverse garden of butterflies if that makes any sense.

What would yall do to prepare and to keep cost low?
What are reliable butterfly host and nectar plants you have tried?
And where could I get those seeds?
I can get mulch for free thats no problem and card board as Tiffany suggested.

I will not be doing this alone. My dh and in laws, the children will be helping and there will be other parents involved at the school.
This is their first as gardeners. I know more than them and that's really not saying much lol. I'd appreciate any advice and feed back. I know it is alot to take on but hey if it helps the pollinators then im game.
I'm in Northern Va and gardens are in Fredericksburg Va and Spotsylvania Va. Total acreage is about 5.

Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
docmom_gw Zone 5 MI(5)

Definitely check out the wintersowing forum for an excellent, inexpensive way to get seeds started. Have anyone at the school bring in their milk jugs or other clear plastic containers, 2 liter pop bottles are great. If you are planting for the butterflies and pollinators, I can get you started with some seeds, though I'm not in your zone. Others will probably be willing to donate if you send an envelope and postage for return. The first year, you'll need to combine lots of annuals with the perennials, since perennials take a few years to really get established. Butterflies need both nectar and host plants to lay eggs on. Do a google or other search for butterflies that are native to your area and then find out what plants they use for host plants and nectar. Zinnias are one of the most popular nectar annuals, since they are easy to grow and don't become invasive.

Send me an email with your address and I'll put a care package of seeds together to get you started.


    Bookmark   December 15, 2013 at 10:26AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
bernergrrl(z5 IL)

Are you preparing lasagne (or sheet layer) beds? Cost can be low depending on what's available to you at this time of the year. You could use leaves and some grass/other greens, coffee grounds, etc, and layer the browns and greens and top with a little mulch to keep everything in place.

If the soil is in pretty rough shape, be sure to use some healthy soil, or some good living compost to "innoculate" the soil with beneficial microrganisms. Those organisms are the ones responsible for the health of the plants, and the healthier the plants the better nectar and leaves for the butterflies and caterpillars.

As far as what plants to find, I echo what Martha said. I would suggest trying to get plants that are native to the region since they usually are best for supporting the wildlife that is also native to the region; they've all evolved together. But definitely plants like zinnias and Mex. Sunflowers are super helpful as nectar producers. My Mex Sunflowers were flowering through October; they are drought tolerant too. Once established after a few weeks, they didn't need too much supplemental watering.

There is also no potential for them to become invasive here or interbreed with native species.

Googled native plants and VA. One site that came up was Virginia Native Plant Society, and there is a list of plant sales as well as responsible retailers.

I've linked a page that lists some of the common VA butterflies, and they are ones we get in IL too, but the host plants can be a little different.

You are supposed to get a lot of the same fritillaries that we get here, so make sure you have lots of violets and don't clean up your garden in the fall since the caterpillars overwinter (hibernate) in the debris. Black Swallowtail like dill, parsely, fennel, and Golden Alexanders.

That is a good general rule--many butterflies will overwinter in some form during the winter.

That is a nice site--if you click on the indvidual links for the butterflies, it tells you about their life cycle and what their host plants are. Some of the butterflies' information is missing though.

For some of those duskwings, baptisia is a good all round plant to have here. For those adorable skippers, they use native grasses; here I know Little Bluestem will take care of several skippers.

Several of your butterflies use trees--Mourning Cloaks like willows (native ones); Question Marks like elms (but also use hops and/or nettle). Red Admirals like nettles too; here in IL they use Pennsylvania Pellitory (something to look into there).

A lot of people here use False Nettles as great host plant for many butterflies.

You get Buckeyes too! They will eat snapdragons (best to raise those from seed to avoid pesticides), linaria, ruellia, and plaintain.

Pearl Crescents eat native asters.

So, there are lots to attract! :)

This will make your winter so fun as you plan and dream about all of the incredible beauty you will be bringing to the world!

Thank you so much for doing this--especially at the schools.

Please make sure to document with photos and get the word out to the local media.

Another thought is to get your gardens certified by North American Butterfly Association and by MonarchWatch. Then you can get signs and spread the word even more! :)

A good book to have is Life Cycles of Butterflies.

Let us know if we can help you with anything more! We've all been beginners at this! :)

Here is a link that might be useful: Northern VA butterflies

    Bookmark   December 15, 2013 at 5:54PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
runmede(7a Virginia)

I'm located in Northern VA in a little town called Herndon. I've been gardening for butterflies for over 20 years, but only 10 years at my current garden. I grow butterflies and moths. I do have extra plants that I can share with you. I have helped schools create gardens. I did that for about 15 years as a PTA Landscape Chair.

All of the links below are on the Washington Area Butterfly Club webpage, plus there are many more resources there, too.
Larval Hostplant List for Butterflies of the Washington, DC Area
Butterflies Occurring in the DC Area
(This list will cover butterfly species in the counties that you have listed. If you click on the butterfly name it will take you to a longer life history.)


Here is a link that might be useful: Washington Area Butterfly Club, Gardening for Butterflies

    Bookmark   December 16, 2013 at 3:25AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Thanks so much for the wonderful advice. And the time to respond and help me out..

At school this morning I asked the science teacher to spread the word for the jugs and bottles..

Your so right Martha, zinnias are a go to for all of them. I like them too! I ran out of zinnias last year (due to my lack of knowledge) and the seeds I picked from the flowers that did make it, I don't think they are viable lol. But hey Im getting in the habit! I bought a few pack son clearance from Target In August though.

We are going to do the lasagna thingy. They already have a lot of clippings from grass and their compost piles.. Card board etc.. Leaves.. Can I add mulch to that as well? My husband does Tree work so any wood he hauls from a job he usually chips it and gives it away. Can I use that too?

I will defiantly check out every site yall listed! Thanks for taking the time to search those for me. I can not wait to see all of the awesome butterflies! Last year I seen tons of tiger swallowtails and a few skippers. A black butterfly with blue at the bottom that I rescued from the nursery up the road... And the Monarchs I raised.. Oh and Painted ladies..Thats it.. Cant wait for more eye candy.. =)

My home garden is a registered way station, I live right down the street from you in Reston Mona, by Lake Anne.

I never knew that position existed on the PTA. very interesting! And cool!

Thank you all once again for the help, I will be back for more! Now off to reading all the links provided..
Have a great day everyone!

    Bookmark   December 16, 2013 at 9:10AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
docmom_gw Zone 5 MI(5)

The chipped wood works well as a mulch to keep weeds down and keep moisture in the soil. It will break down slowly and enrich the soil. You can always pull it away from any planting site and then replace it around what you've planted. Mulch is a must for me when I garden, because it keeps weeds down and makes pulling what does grow much easier.


    Bookmark   December 16, 2013 at 3:48PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
bernergrrl(z5 IL)


We are having a little bit of trouble with children running through the garden and running over plants (and not that we it's likely since it's the first year) caterpillars/pupae.

I bought some fencing, that low, metal fencing that easy to stick into the soil.

Have you found the same problem, or did you do fencing in the first place? Would love any tips.


    Bookmark   December 16, 2013 at 6:11PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
runmede(7a Virginia)

My kids graduated over 6 years ago so I haven't been back to garden at schools, but when I did we used small fencing like yours. Or the garden was surround by sidewalks and the students stayed on the sidewalk. When installing a garden attention should be given to traffic flow and water sources. A new garden needs to be watered the first year and will probably need water if you have drought conditions.

One of our butterfly gardens was along a fence and sidewalk. A meadow put in by a eagle scout had a rope that was held up by wooden stakes.

Signage helps. All our gardens had signs. National Wildlife Federation Habitat, Native Plant Meadow, Butterfly Garden, etc. The science teacher even put in a Greek and Colonial Garden.

Our vegetable gardens were planted in raised beds.

Wooden nontreated timbers can be used to define pathways. Pathways can be defined further by mulching them with wood chips or gravel.

Here is a link that might be useful: This particular school is part of the Monarch Sister Schools. They partner with schools in Mexico.

    Bookmark   December 16, 2013 at 9:28PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Good idea with the ropes and stakes.
I had someone pull down my way station sign and the cute little garden decorations. It was all on the ground. The zip ties I used for my sign were who would take the time to do that. Weirdos. Theres a main path that goes about 20 feet from my garden.

Hey Martha I just wanted to let ya know I sent you an email.

    Bookmark   December 18, 2013 at 9:34PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Hey Mona, I sent you an email the other day, not sure if it went to your spam box.

You mentioned you have worked with the schools in putting
in gardens.
My ultimate goal is to try to have a garden in every school in Reston. Even to re-establish the garden if they already have one.
Which I know its a long shot but hey I want to at least try.
I have been in touch with my sons elementary school and they are going to let me go ahead and do the garden. They already have the Monarch as part of the 2nd grade curriculum in Fairfax from what I have been told.

How do I become more active or reach out to other schools and the community? Thanks in advance.

    Bookmark   December 21, 2013 at 12:36PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
runmede(7a Virginia)

I didn't get your emails even in my spam folder. I just noticed that this topic had some more messages.

I have been working with the Monarch Teacher Network.

Search and join “Monarch Teacher Network” in Facebook groups.

I helped create the initial gardens at Hunters Woods Elementary in Reston, VA. I also worked a bit on the garden at Dogwood Elementary, Herndon Middle School, etc.

Here is a link that might be useful: Monarch Teacher Network

    Bookmark   December 21, 2013 at 5:17PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Here's my website which has a lot of practical advice.

Also - here is a link specific to school butterfly gardens.

Here is a link that might be useful: Butterfly Gardens in Schools

    Bookmark   December 22, 2013 at 9:18PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
runmede(7a Virginia)


Thanks you for posting this. Lots of good advice.

    Bookmark   December 23, 2013 at 1:20AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
bernergrrl(z5 IL)

Butterflyman's list made me think of a couple things that could be helpful for other school gardens; we created a signupgenius and had parent volunteers sign up for helping out with watering.

We collected fall seeds and then made "seed balls," reworded from seed bombs, for children to take home. They loved getting something from the garden.

An idea I have for some of the summer months when caterpillars are (hopefully) around is to get some kind of a sign up list for those who want to be contacted about what gets found and then possibly having families raise a caterpillar or two (like an American Lady or Black Swallowtail). Might have some kind of a workshop well ahead of time so that families can learn what goes into rearing them.

I think when families experience the full spectrum of butterfly rearing and releasing, they will become evenmore invested in the garden.

We still have children stomping through the garden even with things marked (got that together the past week), but I guess that's to be expected. Perhaps as the plants get larger they will be less likely to do so.

Thanks all.

    Bookmark   December 23, 2013 at 6:25PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
runmede(7a Virginia)

I thought of two more good websites where you all might get some good ideas for gardening at schools:

National Wildlife Federation Schoolyard Habitats

National Garden Association, Kids Gardening

    Bookmark   December 23, 2013 at 10:14PM
Sign Up to comment
More Discussions
Any one ready for spring?
I'm so done with winter! I'm ready for spring . This...
Jacob BergZone4b-5aMN
We need Monarch wings to help injured Monarchs!
We are looking for Monarch wings anyone has saved from...
Did anyone watch the Monarch Butterfly segment on CBS Sunday Morning?
This was interesting and inspirational! The speaker...
kaboehm (zone 9a, TX USA) me ID these guys:-)
Hello! I am currently here in. Tampa, Florida, took...
Monsanto and monarchs
Sponsored Products
'The Garden Girl' Block
$11.99 | zulily
Area Rug: Little Tikes Animal Kingdom Multi Colored 39" Round
$49.97 | Home Depot
Studio Floral Garden Place Mat - Set of Eight
$24.99 | zulily
Good Directions Smithsonian Arlington Vinyl Cupola - 4226SW
$869.99 | Hayneedle
Design House 512566 Trevie 3-Light Pendant - Satin Nickel Finish - 512566
$154.99 | Hayneedle
53" Treated Pine English Garden Bench
Home and Garden Spas Hot Tubs & Accessories 6-Person 51 Jet Spa LPI51PE
Home Depot
Red Cedar Woodland Landscape Screen
© 2015 Houzz Inc. Houzz® The new way to design your home™