At my Little Cedar Garden, it’s hot, hot, hot, but it’s also beautiful butterfly watching today. I returned home from an appointment and walked around the property looking for butterfly photo subjects. Butterflies and moths make me so happy, and my garden is all about them this time of year.
I first saw a Red Spotted Purple butterfly fluttering around the garage. I’d never seen one here before, or I don’t remember one. It finally landed on the driveway and sipped minerals and water from a puddle. [Click on the photos in the galleries to make them larger.]
Butterflies on parade
To get all of these photos, I simply walked around the garden for about twenty minutes with my cell phone. Later, when I decided to write this post, I went back out with my Nikon D750 on sport mode and captured a few more shots like these of the Queen butterfly. Queens are Monarch mimics, and their offspring love milkweed plants. The adult butterflies really love Gregg’s mistflower, Conoclinium greggii, which I found at a Tulsa plant sale last fall. According to the Texas Butterfly Ranch, “The bloom of the mistflower contains a special alkaloid that male Queens ingest, sequester, and later release as an aphrodisiac to attract females.” Queens do nectar on other plants too.
Queen butterfly Queen butterflies are smaller than Monarchs, but their caterpillars look very similar. I love this dorsal (top) view of the male Queen butterfly on Gregg’s mistflower. Ventral (bottom) view of Queen butterfly. What a beauty!
It’s pretty easy to make butterflies and other pollinators happy in your garden. Just provide both nectar and larval plants. That means, if you want butterflies and beautiful moths, you have to endure some of your plants being chewed up by their caterpillars.
The photos below are all of Silvery Checkerspot butterflies along with an Ailanthus webworm moth in the first photo. If you want to see Silvery Checkerspots, you have to put up with their small black and orange caterpillars on your blackeyed Susans. They especially love Rudbeckia hirta varieties, so I check for them every day in spring and early summer and then move them onto my Rudbeckia ‘Goldsturm.’ It’s not their favorite, but they will eat it and not kill it. ‘Goldsturm’ is so tough it’s hard to kill. That’s a much nicer option than killing Silvery Checkerspot caterpillars. Also, red paper wasps eat them so the wasps will find some of them.
Don’t use insecticides if you want pollinators.
That might seem obvious, but when an invasion of armyworms shows up, people get antsy and start calling, texting, and messaging me–often right after they already sprayed something on their lawn. Carol Michel and I talked about passalong plants, armyworms, and other creatures in last week’s podcast episode. I found armyworms on my Bermuda grass, but I was more irritated by the ones on my ornamental grasses. I spent some quality time outside squishing them which was quite satisfying.
Birds ate a lot of the armyworms on my lawn. In fact, the crows practically held a kegger calling all their friends. When you spray a broad-spectrum insecticide, it kills more than just one pest. It can also hurt birds. If you’re a birder and are now feeling sad, just take the information and do better next time.
"Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better." Maya Angelou
For an organic method to kill armyworms, you could use Bt, Bacillus thuringiensis, but you need to understand two things, caterpillars won’t die until they eat some of the sprayed foliage, and you need to be very careful not to spray anywhere there are other caterpillars. Bt is a species of bacteria harmful to caterpillars and is safe for humans.
I still chose not to spray anything.
What if I accidentally sprayed Bt on some milkweed as I sprayed it on my ornamental grass? The Bermuda grass is on its own. Nothing slows down Bermuda for long.
The bumblebees and carpenter bees come when the butterflies do. Someone wrote me a while back asking how to kill carpenter bees. I was surprised. I don’t kill carpenter bees, and I’m always surprised when someone asks me about pesticides. You should probably ask someone else. I actually move tomato and tobacco hornworms off of my main season tomato plants and onto one sacrificial cherry tomato plant. I live with the bugs and other creatures in my garden. I ignore the holes on leaves. I do get sick of grasshoppers though. I hate how they jump on me all the time.
The longer I garden the more I let things go. Maybe that’s one of the lessons of gardening. My friend and co-podcaster, Carol Michel, has a new book out this week, Digging and Delighted, Live Your Best Gardening Life. Like the other books in her series, it’s a light-hearted look at gardening. Carol combines humor and good gardening practices so you laugh while you learn a thing or two. On her website, she’s having a hardback sale too. You can get an autographed copy directly from her if you want.
If you’d like to read more
Not long ago, I wrote my monthly newsletter, and I had some information on butterflies there too. You can sign up for it or blog posts here on RDR’s sidebar, or on the newsletter itself. If you have any questions, drop me a line. I’m also setting up appointments for garden coaching for September. I’ve been really busy garden coaching even in August.
I hope all of you are well and getting outside to catch sight of beautiful butterflies. It may be hot outside, but butterfly watching is good for the soul.