ShadyGardens Blog

July 19, 2008

Attracting Butterflies into the Garden

Butterflies are probably everyone’s favorite garden creature. They’re beautiful, mysterious, and romantic. It’s a goal of many gardeners to attract these lovely butterflies into the garden.

Butterflies need 3 things: Water, a nectar source, and host plants on which to lay their eggs.

The preferred source of water for butterflies is a mud puddle. This can be easily created by filling a large clay saucer with clean sand. Place this in a sunny spot in your butterfly garden and keep it moist at all times.

Nectar plants are the food source for adult butterflies. You’ll need Butterfly Bush (Buddleia) of course, which is now available in many colors. Lantana can’t be beat for attracting butterflies. Clethra is a large-growing native shrub that produces sweetly scented flower spikes up to 6 inches long in either pink or white and attracts butterflies by the hundreds. These blooms come in August, a time when flowers are more scarce. You’ll enjoy the fragrance as well, which reminds me of fresh honey. Clethra, also known as Summersweet and Sweet Pepper Bush requires moist soil and full to partial sun. Joe Pye Weed comes in many forms. Eupatorium Chocolate has interesting purplish/black foliage all summer and contrasting white blooms in September & October. Eupatorium coelestinum, Perennial Ageratum or Mistflower, displays bright periwinkle blue blooms in August and September. Helianthus is another late-blooming flower that butterflies love—it has large yellow sunflower-type blooms on tall stems. Of course all the beneficial insects, including butterflies, love Blackeyed Susan, Gaillardia (Blanketflower). In September, butterflies are attracted to Stonecrop (Sedums like Autumn Joy, Matrona, and Vera Jamison.) Dianthus flowers just about all summer, and butterflies are particularly attracted to this plant. You can fill in between bloom times of the perennials with annuals like cosmos, marigolds, and zinnias. Just try not to ever use pesticides in your butterfly garden, because then you would kill the butterflies you are trying to attract.

Host plants are those on which butterflies lay their eggs. Yes, the larva will eat the plants, but without a place for the babies to grow into the beautiful adult butterfly, you can’t have the butterflies! So plant extra parsley, dill, fennel, and milkweed, so you can have plenty to share with the butterflies. An added bonus is that these plants also attract many other beneficial insects!

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February 12, 2008

Drought Tolerant Plants for Georgia Native Plant Gardens

As our climate here in Georgia becomes more hot and dry, it is important to make wise choices when considering plants for the garden. Necessary watering restrictions imposed last year caused many of our newly planted garden plants to die. If you don’t want to be faced with those same results again this year, consider plants that actually enjoy hot, dry growing conditions. My husband jokingly states that we live in the ‘Desert Southeast.’ Well, there really seems to be alot of truth to that new nickname, so we’ve added several plants to our garden that originate in the desert southwestern US. Plants from that region are accustomed to hot, dry climates with poor soil and most will adapt well to our climate here. Southwestern native plants need well-drained soil, though, and for the most part, Georgia soil is heavy clay. Some soil improvements will be necessary to help those plants survive here. Now, bear with me for a moment–I know you’re thinking I’m about to suggest you install a cactus garden, but I’m not. Most of the time when we think of the gardens of Arizona, we think only of cactus and yucca, but there’s more out there than that. I’ve compiled a list of garden worthy plants that deserve consideration for Georgia gardens, along with photos to show you how beautiful they are. Some of these recommendations are actually native to the Southeast!

  • Delosperma comes in several varieties with different foliage and bloom color, but my favorite Ice Plants are cooperi and nubigenum. Delosperma cooperi has rather large purple flowers resembling asters on a ground-hugging succulent plant. Delosperma nubigenum has sunny yellow flowers resembling daisies on a very low-growing succulent with jelly-bean shaped leaves that turn red with the onset of cold weather.
  • Gaillardia, often referred to as Blanket Flower or Indian Blanket, has blooms all summer long that, as the nickname implies, have all the colors of an Indian Blanket. The blooms are quite large and bright, visible from a distance, making this plant ideal for roadside gardens. Some even have ruffly or double petals!
  • Rudbeckia (Black eyed Susan) and Echinacea (Coneflower) are probably already in your garden, but seek out some of the new colors which are hard to find but unusually beautiful.
  • Ornamental grasses will provide movement in the garden as well as foliage contrast. The blooms which are usually in the form of a plume or seed head offer additional beauty at the end of the season and also food for some of our native birds! An unusual native grass we grow in our garden, Muhlenbergia capillaris or Pink Muhly Grass, goes unnoticed all year until September when billows of pink cotton candy appear above the foliage–simply spectacular!
  • Bulbs tend to be more drought tolerant, so if a native plant forms a bulb, you can usually count on it surviving a drought and returning when more favorable conditions return. One of my favorites is a California native plant, Dichelostemma, commonly referred to as Firecracker plant. This plant is available in either red or pink blooms and likes dry summers! Other drought-tolerant native bulbs are Solomon’s Seal and Rain Lilies. Zephyranthes candida sends up lovely white blooms usually right after a good rain shower, which is the reason for its common name.
  • Amsonia is a native perennial that really looks like a grass to me. In early summer blue flowers are lovely, but in my opinion this plant is most beautiful in fall when the foliage turns the brightest of gold.
  • Baptisia also has many seasons of beauty–soft blue-tinted foliage appears in spring, vivid blue flowers are next, then large seed capsules that turn black in late summer. Wow!
  • Vines are needed in every garden for that vertical interest, and my absolute favorite of all is the very drought tolerant Cross Vine, Bignonia capreolata. Not to be confused with the also beautiful Trumpet Vine which can be invasive if not controlled, the Cross Vine is much easier to manage. And instead of just plain orange blooms, Bignonia has blooms that resemble a flame–yellow, orange, and pinkish red all on the same flower! Shaped like a trumpet, the blooms are a favorite of the hummingbirds here.
  • I wouldn’t be discussing native plants if I didn’t mention my very favorite native tree, the Red Buckeye. Unlike other buckeyes, the Red Buckeye, Aesculus pavia, grows well in dry soil. The huge red bloom panicles appear in very early spring even before the leaves, and provide food for the hummingbirds just as they are returning from their winter vacation.

    These plants tolerate our winters as well as our hot, humid summers, as long as the soil is well-drained. So as you plan for new additions to your garden this year, remember there’ll be a drought and plant some of our beautiful native American plants that are even more accustomed to the heat than we are!

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