Wherever you live in Oklahoma, take time for butterfly watching this fall. I haven’t seen such a nice variety of butterflies in my garden for a long time. Because of a massive pollinator planting effort throughout the state, I’m also seeing numerous butterflies in medians, shopping centers, city gardens, etc.
All I can say is “Huzzah!”
It’s a marvel to watch butterflies like Monarchs, and they will be gone to Texas before we know it.
We’ve had a gorgeous week for Monarch butterfly sightings. They flew in on a cold front a few days ago, and some have encamped, building up their strength for the next surge in their journey. It’s a minor miracle how quickly they’ve rebounded–at least a little–and the same is true for other butterfly species.
In other words, if you plant it, they will come.
Fall is when I feel lucky to live in Oklahoma.
Not only are we at a crossroads in our highways, but we’re also on the Monarch migration superhighway, and the Monarchs aren’t the only creatures using it. Birds and other insects also follow these air currents.
Enjoy these nice sunny days and cool nights before our first frost–which may happen this weekend. While you’re going around the garden, also look for any empty spaces and think about what you can plant for pollinators in the fall.
Fall temperatures are mostly moderate which is the perfect time to plant perennials.
If planting feels too hard after such a long summer, just go out and sit in the sunshine watching the butterflies and other pollinators flit about. Pollinators are very serious right now, because they don’t have much time left, but they don’t look like it. Really, how can a butterfly look serious? For humans, they are joy on the wing.
Monarch Butterflies are migrating through the state.
I have over a dozen in my garden today. In fact, their joyful flight distracted me as Carol Michel and I recorded this week’s Gardenangelist’s podcast on crocuses, seed-saving and sharing nature through books. If you listen to Apple podcasts you can find the same episode here.
I’m also seeing sulphur butterflies, hairstreaks, Gulf Fritillaries and Spangled Fritillaries, Painted Ladies and so many others including fearless little skippers. That doesn’t even include all the bees and wasps I saw. So many kinds of wasps and not the usual suspects.
Fall is the best time to plant for pollinators.
Oklahoma usually has a nice fall season, and our state is one of the best places to plant for them as we are on the pollinator migration trail. We’re also on the bird migration trail, and yes, that’s due to pollinators too. Birds eat bugs even the ones we find precious.
Sorry about injecting that little bit of reality into things.
What to plant? Well, here are some ideas. For adult butterflies that need nectar sources, plant from the following list for summer and fall flowers. All of these plants are perennial so they should overwinter just fine. If not, I’ll indicate it on the list.
- Asters. My personal favorites are ‘Bluebird’ smooth aster, ‘October Skies’ and Aster tataricus ‘Jindai,’ which is shorter than the regular Tatarian aster. It fits better in my garden. I also like heath aster and A. lateriflorus ‘Lady in Black.’
- Garden mums. ‘Will’s Wonderful,‘ ‘Sheffield Pink,’ ‘Country Girl‘ or ‘Cathy’s Rust’ are all good varieties. What you’re looking for in a mum are nice open flowers with a daisy-like center. That way, pollinators can reach the nectar. These are not your bowling-ball-shaped mums you find in the local garden center each fall. You may need a division from a friend, or order online. Carol and I talked about mums this week on the Gardenangelists and two weeks ago too.
- Phlox paniculata. I know I write about garden phlox a lot, but really, it is a butterfly and moth magnet. I like moths too. A lot. You want any variety that has nectar. The standard passalong is fine as are ‘Bright Eyes,’ ‘Jeana’ and probably ‘John Fanick.’ I haven’t had ‘John Fanick’ in my garden long enough to tell.
- Salvia leucantha, Mexican bush sage. Okay, the solid purple is only marginally hardy in my Zone 7a garden, but it’s worth growing in spite of its short bloom season. The all-purple variety is hardier than the variegated one, or ‘Greenwood,’ the selection with purple and white flowers. I’m such a big fan of this plant I take cuttings each year and grow them in my greenhouse. For those of you who take cuttings, I really like HydroDynamics Clonex Rooting Gel, 100 ml best. I hate the rooting hormone powder because it never stays on the stems.
- Salvia nemorosa ‘Rose Marvel’ was one of my best bee and butterfly nectar plants this year. I also planted ‘Blue Marvel,’ and they liked it too.
- Eupatorium dubium ‘Baby Joe’, is a very dwarf selection of Joe Pye Weed. I also grow ‘Little Joe’ at the back of the border.
For butterfly caterpillars, you have a lot of choices too. I’ve been adding larval sources of trees, shrubs, and perennials for a long time. Here are some of my favorite ones.
- Monarchs. Milkweed of course. In Oklahoma, there are many perennial, native milkweeds. For more information, try the Okies for Monarchs Milkweed Guide. I grow Asclepias incarnata, pink swamp milkweed, A. tuberosa, butterfly weed, and I added A. viridis, green antelope horn milkweed this year. I also grow tropical ‘Silky Gold,’ but it won’t overwinter so don’t plant it now. It used to be difficult to find milkweeds locally–at least I thought it was–but I found many more sources last spring including the Tulsa Master Garden plant sale.
- Giant Swallowtail. Our gigantic state butterfly is very common in my garden. According to the Butterflies and Moths of North America website, their host plants are “Trees and herbs of the citrus family (Rutaceae) including Citrus species, prickly ash (Zanthoxylum americanum), hop tree (Ptelea trifoliata), and Common Rue (Ruta graveolens).” I’m sure I have prickly ash growing in our woods.
- Spicebush Swallowtail. Lindera benzoin, spicebush. I want more of these butterflies in my garden, and I wanted spicebush fruit (drupes) so I planted four trees in the wilder sections of the garden. They have all taken off, and that makes me happy. You should grow this small tree somewhere because it also blooms early.
- Gulf Fritillary. Passionflower vine. There are several different varieties of passionflower vines you can grow. I’ve had great success with Passiflora caerulea, hardy passionflower vine. It’s never overwintered in my garden, but the Gulf Fritillaries have sure enjoyed it.
- Painted Ladies. Luckily for them, they like lots of plants including hollyhocks, thistles, legumes, and mallows.
These two lists are just the beginning of a butterfly and pollinator garden. Maybe I’ll do another post just devoted to that, but I mostly want you to get outside and enjoy nature in all her glory before winter sets in.
If you want to read more about our fascinating butterfly species, please see The Striking Beauty of Oklahoma’s Butterflies in the Xerces Society blog.