As summer nears its end, gardeners longing to fill their flowerbeds with the flutter of butterflies, bees and hummingbirds must quickly design a space for the preferred plants of the insects and birds.
However, two state experts explained designing such a garden is no easy task. Factors of building a butterfly or pollinator garden include plant selection, location and maintenance. But a few ideas come to mind.
Picking the plants
Pollinator plants attract fluttering butterflies, busy bees and hungry hummingbirds looking for nectar, and each has its own preference.
“Primarily, butterflies like something they can land on with a flat bunch of flowers,” said Sally Wise, coordinator for the pollinator garden at Wilshire Trails Park. “Hummingbirds like something with a deep bloom that they can put their beak in. Bees really like them all.”
Wise said different butterflies prefer different bushes and shrubs as both host plants and pollinators. Host plants provide food for caterpillars as well as a space for the insects to form chrysalises before becoming butterflies.
“Blueberries are good, Joe-Pye weed and Maypop Passion Flower are a better option,” she said, noting Joe-Pye is a native plant.
Wise said native honeysuckle, not Chinese honeysuckle, also will attract butterflies and other pollinators.
In South Georgia, botanists have found new amaranths with its variety of colors grow well there.
“At the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens, we are growing the Qis Carmine, and I am beyond thrilled,” said Norman Winter, director of the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens. “The plants reach around 24 to 36 inches in height with a 12- to 15-inch spread and just keep blooming.”
Finding a location
A prime real estate spot for amaranths and other pollinator plants is best in sun, because it will bloom more, Winter said.
“When you find your (amaranth), select a site in full sun with fertile, well-drained soil,” he said. “I have seen many fine gomphrenas in part sun, but blooms are more prolific in full sun. Those blooms will also bring in butterflies.”
Butterfly gardens also require space for the plants to grow along with an adequate variety of flora to attract different pollinators. Winter recommends a little extra spacing in the South because the warm weather encourages growth.
“The seed companies are recommending a 5- to 6-inch spacing, but I think 8 to 12 might be the best in the Deep South,” he said. “Just be sure to plant them at the same depth they are growing in the container. Add a layer of mulch to conserve moisture and retard weed growth.”
Avoiding specific plants
Amaranths also are not invasive, meaning it will not grow and spread throughout a garden or space. Invasive plants, however, grow uncontrollably.
The butterfly bush, or Buddleia, has become less commonplace since it has been titled invasive.
“I’m not pulling up the butterfly bush in my yard, but I’m not planting anymore,” Wise said.
Instead, the pollinator garden coordinator encourages using native plants, but she admits they are limited when it comes to pollinators. However, some are less invasive and still attract butterflies.
“American beautyberry is a great one, spicebush and the passion vine are all good alternatives to the butterfly bush,” Wise said.
At the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens, Winter grows amaranths with a mixture of other plants.
“We are growing ours in pollinator gardens with lantanas, mistflowers, milkweeds and a host of other butterfly magnets,” he said. “The Qis carmine we are growing seems to be a favorite of the little skippers, and it seems to be a preferred perch for hunting dragonflies.”
Wise agreed about the need for variety in a pollinator garden. She said the creatures need nectar as well as a place to grow. Including host plants among the nectar plants ensures butterflies can feed, grow and flourish in a garden.
“Host plants are what the caterpillars will eat, but we don’t tend to think of them because they don’t have as many flowers,” Wise said. “But if we don’t have host plants, we don’t have butterflies.”
She mentioned milkweed is ideal for monarchs, and swallowtails enjoy parsley.
Once the plants are in the ground at the ideal location with a mixture of plants around, maintaining the pollinator garden is key, Winter said.
“Feed plants about every six weeks with the same fertilizer used in bed preparation,” he said.
Winter said gardeners also should avoid insecticides at all costs.
Once the butterflies, along with the bees and hummingbird have feasted on the blooms, the dried up blooms need should be removed.
“(It is) to keep the plant tidy and to keep those little, round flowers coming, too,” Winter said.
But don’t toss the blooms.
“In addition to being good in vases, they are superior dried flowers,” Winter said. “Many gardeners use the little ball-shaped flowers around the home in potpourri dishes.”