Tag Archives: flowers for butterflies

It’s Blooming! The ‘Better Late Than Never’ Pollinator Garden

Kris - Better Late Than Never Garden Summer Prep 2016

Preparing the beds…

The pretty but very shy bright yellow goldfinches that have found the ‘Better Late Than Never’ Pollinator Garden across from the shop were still coming to the last of the bachelor buttons, larkspur, and some sunflowers that had seeded from last year’s plants when Bert and I began prepping the four beds for a new season mid-June.Better Late Than Never Garden - Early Summer Prep

So, rather than pull every bachelor button and larkspur out to make way for new, I left what had been the prettiest colors of both, including a lovely lavender larkspur. Who knows, maybe some seeds of it will return in next year’s spring garden…Kris - Better Late Than Never Garden Summer Prep 2016

The beds needed some additional organic matter, and we added bag after bag of topsoil, soil conditioner, and PlantTone to each.

Better Late Than Never Garden

Front beds, early July

Bert and I took turns with my heavy pick axe, each strike of the tool working the amendments in without turning the soil, since that would only turn up buried weed seeds to the light where they’d happily germinate and grow. Then I took a garden fork and loosened it even more.Better Late Than Never Garden

Any good garden begins with this all important work. Remember this in your own and always add more  to your soil before replanting for the new season. We usually have bags of soil conditioner and topsoil in stock, and the PlantTone is a great organic amendment that adds nutrients too.

Tall Marigolds and Zinnias - 'Better Late Than Never' Pollinator Garden

Finally the beds were ready for planting. After raking the beds smooth, it was time to sow the zinnia seeds in the two front beds. I also added lots of plants.

Malabar Spinach Vine - 'Better Late Than Never' Pollinator Garden

Malabar Spinach…

'Better Late Than Never' Pollinator Garden Summer 2016Tall cutting marigolds from a small grower north of Birmingham, tall purple and red gomphrena, a beautiful deep purple salvia and peach porterweed for the hummingbirds, angelonia, pentas, purslane, ornamental okra just for fun, pink mandevilla and malabar spinach vines on the two arbors, as well as seeds of moonvine and hyacinth bean to climb them too.

A few weeks later the last of the bachelor buttons and larkspur were pulled out, and the back two beds were planted with lots of sunflowers and tithonia, the orange flower the monarchs loved last year.  Annual milkweed that had returned from seed was already blooming, and I noticed that a yellow lantana and perennial butterflyweed  had come back from last year too.Annual Milkweed - 'Better Late Than Never' Pollinator Garden

Cleome and Zinnias 'Better Late Than Never' Pollinator GardenOf course the old fashioned Cleome, or spiderflowerhad reseeded, but I also added another, shorter variety and a few more perennials this year, including coneflowers and caryopteris on each corner of the two back beds.

Coneflowers...

Coneflowers…

 

 

 

'Better Late Than Never' Pollinator Garden - Looking Through The Arbor

 

 

 

 

Just as plantings change and evolve with the years, so do structures in the garden. Pinkie painted the back fencing white this year, and we added a trellis piece painted a beautiful blue. I think we should try to grow sweet peas on it this fall, though I’ll have to tie string onto it for them to climb on.

The days have passed. It’s now August and the true heat has settled in; the zinnias love it and are in a riot of bloom: California Giants, Cactus, Peppermint Stripe, Northern Lights – beauties every one.Zinnia Collage

Watering, pulling stray weeds, and deadheading are the important chores on hot summer days, but sometimes I have to stop and simply watch. I see tiny skipper butterflies, bees, and even a garden spider weaving its web near the arbor and bench.

Garden Spider - 'Better Late Than Never' Pollinator GardenThe sunflowers and tithonia will be blooming soon. They were planted a few weeks after the zinnias. I look forward to these towering bee and goldfinch magnets, in every color from pale yellow to deep red, and the brilliant orange flowers of the tithonia too. And, just the other day I threw out some seed of tall yellow cosmos, another butterfly flower.image

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunflowers and Zinnias - 'Better Late Than Never' Pollinator GardenThe garden will reach its exuberant crescendo in the coming month before beginning a slow descent into fall. The zinnias will most certainly get mildewed leaves, and the heavy sunflower seed heads will droop on sturdy stems. But for now, it’s summer, and the garden is glorious.

By Kris Blevons

Watching the Butterfly Migration… And Transitioning the Summer Garden to Fall

Tithonia - Mexican sunflowerThe other day I slipped across the street to check the ‘Better Late Than Never’ garden – ostensibly to check new transplants for water. Really, though, I wanted to see if the butterflies were still there. Now, not just any butterflies (Though I admit I’m partial to them all.) but the imperiled monarch butterflies, who, I was told, are coming through now on their migratory paths. And they were still there, sailing through and landing on the Tithonia rotundifolia ‘Torch’,  (Mexican sunflower) feeding on the bright orange blooms. I’m doubly glad now that I left it standing while it was still in full color. I’ve been planting the winter garden under cover of its thickened stems, fully weighted down with its nectar filled flowers.

Monarch butterfly on tithoniaWhether these monarchs spotted the tithonia as they were coming through, or were a result of the milkweed (Asclepias curassavica) that I planted with the tithonia is anyone’s guess. If the milkweed was a factor, it would be very satisfying. Asclepias curassavica, milkweed, and Asclepias tuberosa, butterfly weed, are the plants that monarch butterflies lay their eggs on – the caterpillars then eat the foliage, form their chrysalis and hatch to become the beautiful butterflies I was watching soar through the garden.Monarch butterflies on tithonia

I called out to a mother and her young son about to get into their car.  “Do you see the butterflies? They’re monarchs!” Oh my goodness!”, she answered. “Look at all of them!” Her little boy stood, transfixed, watching them maneuver gracefully through the garden. I told him how special these butterflies are, and that since they’re on a long journey to Mexico, it’s very important that they find the flower nectar to give them strength and energy so they’ll be able to fly such a great distance.

Butterflies like these cosmos, zinnias and marigolds

Butterflies like these cosmos, zinnias and marigolds

Over the next few days more people stopped to marvel at the butterflies, oohing and ahhing at the sight. It’s been such a pleasure to share this experience as fall moves toward winter. Soon the tithonia will have to be pulled up. Until all the butterflies are gone though, I think I’ll leave well enough alone…

If you want a butterfly friendly garden too, provide sources of food, (They love zinnias, cosmos, marigolds, and  tithonia, to name a few.) and  plants they can lay their eggs on. (And that you will allow to get chewed up by the caterpillars!) These include  the asclepias mentioned above for monarchs. Parsley, dill and fennel are commonly planted for swallowtails.

Provide pesticide free plantings, and cultivate a tolerance for the less than perfect garden. Learn to live with leaves that have been munched – more often than not, the culprits causing the problems are simply moving through your garden on their way somewhere else! Simple things like grooming plants by removing yellowed and chewed leaves, and practicing good garden sanitation by keeping fallen leaves and other plant debris out of the garden, will go a long way toward creating a healthy environment for your garden, you, and the creatures that inhabit its space. For even more information, check out this National Wildlife Federation post on butterfly gardening. 

By Kris Blevons

 

 

 

Plant This One For The Hummingbirds – They Love A Cigar (Plant)!

A hummingbird's dream...cigar plant and salvia

A hummingbird’s dream…cigar plant and salvia

Cuphea ignea, the cigar or firecracker plant, originates in Mexico, where it becomes a 2′-3′ tall shrub in warm, sunny spots. In my garden, it dies to the ground each year, reliably appearing late in the spring as temperatures become increasingly warmer. We are probably close to its farthest northern hardiness, so I mulch it well each fall. Even so, I thought for sure it and my other cuphea, C. micropetala, would be goners after this past ridiculously cold winter. But, surprisingly (At least to me!), they are back as happy as ever. And that makes me happy too!

The best part of having these in the sunny garden, though, is the abundance of hummingbirds and butterflies they attract. The sunniest, most protected areas in my garden happen to be practically right outside the front door. What an advantageous site to watch the hummers dart back and forth from salvia to cuphea and back again.

Cuphea ignea

Cuphea ignea

The Latin word ignea means fire, and the  tubular flowers do resemble (sort of) the ends of a lit cigar. But it’s the tubular shape of the flowers and the orangey-red color that attracts all the hummingbirds. Cuphea ignea (and micropetala) are fast growers once heat sets in for the duration of summer. This year I didn’t pinch them back at all to control their height. Since they’d managed to make it through this particularly hard winter, I thought they deserved to be left to grow without any interference; and they’re blooming earlier than normal because of it.

imageI will cut it back some if it gets too “leggy” looking in my front bed. You can alleviate this problem by placing it behind mid-height annuals like angelonia, some salvias, gomphrena, or even foliage plants like sun caladiums or coleus. So, get out in your garden and scout out a place that’s sunny, protected and within easy sight lines and try at least one cuphea so  you can watch the hummers zinging by too.   You won’t be sorry!

If you want a cigar plant for your garden and hummingbirds, we’ll carry it as long as it’s available this summer from our local grower.

By Kris Blevons

Want More Butterflies? Plant Butterfly Weed!

imageButterfly weed, Asclepias tuberosa, is the pretty orange flower, shown in the picture on the right  in my very hot and sunny front border. It’s right at home with other butterfly attractors including salvias,  trailing white lantana, purple and red gomphrena, zinnias, mexican heather, other heat loving annuals and, shown in the picture with the butterfly weed, a yellow hypericum shrub. It also is happy with other perennials.  To be successful in atracting butterflies, you need to have sources of nectar, sources for them to lay their eggs on,  and plants for the caterpillars to feed on…monarch butterflies like to lay their eggs on this asclepias, so it’s a very good butterfly plant to have!

Butterfly weed in my friend Carole Barton's garden...

Butterfly weed in my friend Carole Barton’s garden…

It’s the flowering star right now in my garden and in my friend and wholesale grower  Carole Barton’s garden also. Her very impressive stand of it in the picture to the left must be heaven for butterflies!  Even for those folks opposed to orange flowers, I hope you will try to find a spot for this one anyway…in addition to attracting butterflies it also is a magnet for other beneficial insects including lady beetles and bees.

Since it has a long tap root, take care in transplanting this perennial butterfly weed. It can be difficult to find, but we have these plants available now, if there’s a sunny spot in your garden and you’d like to try it for yourself.  The long tap root also makes it tolerant of drought once established – a huge plus in my book!  It will benefit from deadheading (cutting off the old blooms) after it’s through flowering – if you don’t get this done it may reseed, which might not be a bad thing depending on where you want it! It also reappears quite late in the spring – I worry each and every year that I’ve lost it and then, happy surprise, it reappears…

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