Creating Butterfly & Herb Container Gardens

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May 2020 Issue
by Meredith M. Deal    Photography by Nancy J. Reynolds Photography

Butterfly and herb gardens are on the rise in popularity and Mother Nature is thankful. We are helping our delicate butterfly populations continue to thrive. It’s been reported that the monarch habitat has dwindled to less than 10 percent of what it was 50 years ago, so planting butterfly gardens is a win-win situation.

Nectar plants, which produce droplets of sugar, and varieties of milkweed provide food to the butterflies allowing them to lay their eggs. Those eggs produce caterpillars and then, more butterflies! Herb gardens not only provide culinary delights for many human meals, they also play major roles in attracting bees, hummingbirds and butterflies. So they are important hosts, too.

We were especially interested in seeing these two gardens created in containers, so we turned to the gardening experts at ACE Garden Center on St. Simons Island for our lesson.

First, we met with Theresa Fouche, a container gardening expert who prepared a colorful, plentiful butterfly container garden. “We are incorporating several different host plants in this large blue Carino bowl, along with several nectar producing flowers to attract adult butterflies.” Theresa shared how a good dirt mass will help the selected bright color florals, along with specific feeding and nectar producing plants to grow. “Many ask why use such bright color flowers? Butterflies are nearsighted and attracted to them.”

Theresa’s Butterfly Container:
> Dianthus (dark red) Cleome
         Perfect for butterfly landings.
> Cone Flower
> Cigar Plant
         Hummingbirds love them.
> Petunias and Baby Zinnias
         Perfect for butterfly landings.
> Buddleia/Butterfly Bush  
> Passionflower Trellis Plant
         Keep separate but in close-proximity, in the shade.

Dawn Hart, ACE Garden Center owner and
butterfly garden enthusiast, gave some pointers:
> Butterfly gardening is a sunshine activity. They like temperatures 60 degrees and above, with bright sun to bask in while feeding on plant nectar.

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They also like shady plants, such as the passion plant due to its bright blooms. Butterflies love three to five brightly colored swaths of colorful plantings, usually umbels, which are tiny flowers with short stalks.

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Container gardens for butterflies need ample water, but left to dry in between.

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Nectar flowers will keep butterflies coming back, so be sure to deadhead all flowers regularly.

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Use flat surfaces and a little saucer of water because butterflies like to perch.

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Use organic products for soil and diluted solutions as part of your regular fertilizing. When planting, use granular fertilizers which break-down over time.

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Hummingbirds and bees are attracted to butterfly gardens, too.

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Pick off undesirable insects or use soap-based products to clean. No pesticides.”

Butterfly Garden Host Plants:
Sales associate, Beth Carden, joined in. “Beth is our butterfly garden resident expert who enjoys showing kids caterpillars and eggs created in butterfly gardens. She gets adults and kids of all ages excited about planting butterfly gardens!” Dawn shared. (The center provides hand-outs on plants, trees and shrubs for attracting butterflies/hummingbirds.)  Beth explained, “You must be willing to sacrifice some plants in your herb gardening for butterflies to use those plants to produce eggs for their offspring becoming caterpillars and then butterflies.”

She pointed to dill plant “Caterpillars use this dill as a host plant. They will eat it until it’s gone and then go chrysalis and morph into butterflies. Curly leaf parsley is a good host plant, too. Any citrus, like a blood orange plant, attract giant swallowtail caterpillars. These caterpillars look like bird poop, so let them be, and they will turn into a giant swallowtail!” Dawn added, “Butterfly bushes are deer resistant and entice swallowtails, monarchs, bees and hummingbirds. They will feast, grow and thank you.”

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Herb Garden:
Theresa selected for the herb garden container a tall, lime green Strawberry Jar conducive to having plants trail out its sides. You can easily grow up to six different herbs in this one pot:

Theresa’s Herb Container:

> Lavender
> Thyme - considered a trailer, as well as these other four:
> Sweet Marjoram
> Mint
> Oregano
> Peppermint

Herb gardens need ample sunlight, a rich well-draining blend of organic and compost soil and air circulation. “The more herbs you cut off, the more it will branch out,” Theresa said. “Here is your townhouse looking container herb garden right outside your kitchen door for you to walk out and snip off whatever you need for your next dish.”

As the herb garden took shape, Dawn added, “You can buy organic and non-GMO seeds or plants for your herb garden. Don’t forget, herbs are not just for culinary use, they are also medicinal, floral scented for use in potpourri and for dyes.” Most popular: Tarragon, Rosemary, oregano, dill. Lavender is popular, catnip, lemon balm, pineapple sage, sweet marjoram, mints, thyme, chives and cat mint. “And, incorporating marigolds into your herb garden will help keep insects out while providing depth and color.”  

See the experts: ACE Garden Center, 2807 Demere Road, St. Simons Island. Open six days a week: 8:30 – 5:30 pm. Call ahead at 912.634.0523 for curbside service or come on in. Ask the experts at ACE for butterfly and/or herb garden advice.

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