A Butterfly Garden

A Butterfly Garden

Part of Ep. 801 Landscaping for Birds

Plant a butterfly garden.  Peggy Lison's Madison garden includes prairie plants and weeds that attract butterflies and wildlife.

Premiere date: Mar 04, 2000

TRANSCRIPT+
Wisc Gardener Transcript: 

Shelley:
We're in a small, urban back yard in Madison. And yet, we're surrounded by prairie plants. This isn't a prairie, per se. It's a butterfly garden. We're in the garden of master gardener Peggy Lison. Peggy, my first question is how is this different from a native prairie?

Peggy:
Well, Shelley, a native prairie would only have natives in it. And this has weeds, such as Nettles and other alien types. That's the basic difference.

Shelley:
Those are to attract the butterflies?

Peggy:
Yes.

Shelley:
Tell me how this came to be. This is just a gorgeous garden.

Peggy:
Well, thank you, Shelley. We moved here and this was lawn. And it was an old rock quarry. And we had one or two inches of soil.

Shelley:
Not great.

Peggy:
No, not very promising, but we outlined it with paint on the grass and dug out the sod and put in a few plants and the prairie seeds. And this is what you have. This took eight years.

Shelley:
So, prairie plants don't mind growing on solid bedrock, then?

Peggy:
No, they don't. Some of them prefer it. It might be called a rock prairie or a goat prairie, which might have even been here in the past.

Shelley:
You said it took eight years to get it to this stage of beauty.

Peggy:
Well, it's eight years old, but really, it was beautiful from the beginning. We did put some annuals in, but in the second year, you can start to expect something like this.

Shelley:
So, people can really enjoy it very soon after planting it.

Peggy:
Yes. Anybody can plant a garden like this and have this much fun.

Shelley:
Now, you said you planted it for butterflies and birds. Have it been successful?

Peggy:
Yes. It's been very successful. We've had 98 species of birds and 40 species of butterflies and counting. And many other exciting things are happening here every day.

Shelley:
Wow. That's hard to believe, in a small downtown back yard, you don't think of 98 species of birds, so that's great.

Peggy:
We have 21 species of warblers that come through here during migration, and owls have nested here, so it's pretty productive.

Shelley:
You said you have some weeds in here specifically for the butterflies. So, what are some specific things we have to do if we're trying to attract butterflies to our garden?

Peggy:
If you want a butterfly garden, you have to have two types of plants. You have to have a host plant for the larval stage.

Shelley:
The caterpillars.

Peggy:
And then nectaring plants.

Shelley:
That's for the adult butterflies.

Peggy:
For the adults to nectar on, yes.

Shelley:
Let's start out with some host plants.

Peggy:
Some host plants would be...

Shelley:
This one right here is Milkweed.

Peggy:
Yes, Milkweed. Violets in the spring. Make sure you have lots of violets. And you would want dill, parsley, Pearly Everlasting, nettles, Queen Anne's Lace...

Shelley:
Queen Anne's Lace in my garden?

Peggy:
Well, only one, because you don't want it to go to seed in your yard.

Shelley:
That's a real weed. Does that attract a particularly exciting caterpillar?

Peggy:
Yes, Tiger Swallowtail butterfly larvae will feed on it.

Shelley:
But really control it.

Peggy:
Yes.

Shelley:
Now, it looks to me like something has been chomping on these leaves. What was eating the Milkweed?

Peggy:
Well, the monarch caterpillar was eating this quite a lot, you can see.

Shelley:
Is this a very special plant, then, to a monarch butterfly?

Peggy:
Yes, they will only eat Milkweed plants.

Shelley:
So, if we don't have this in our yard, we won't see the caterpillar stage.

Peggy:
That's correct.

Shelley:
Okay. It looks to me like there's something else clinging to this leaf. What is this?

Peggy:
The very sweet little guy. This is a milkweed tussock moth.

Shelley:
And again, this is his host plant. This is the only plant he'll eat?

Peggy:
Yes, that's right.

Shelley:
Now, you said that you had earlier a chrysalis from a monarch caterpillar hanging on that. That's the next stage. We have caterpillar, chrysalis...

Peggy:
And then butterfly!

Shelley:
When the butterfly emerges from this chrysalis are they going to be eating this, too, or are they into the nectar?

Peggy:
The nectar, yes. And if this were blooming, they would nectar on this. But they would definitely nectar on the Purple Coneflower. They may nectar on the Brown Eyed Susan.

Shelley:
Which is a nice, pretty plant for us, too.

Peggy:
And the Bergamot. And Blazingstar.

Shelley:
In my garden, I've seen a lot of monarchs drinking off of those. They just go crazy on that plant.

Peggy:
Yes, they love it. And we have another interesting plant that many things use and that's the Cupplant.

Shelley:
That is just enormous, too. Now, birds and butterflies?

Peggy:
Yes. The Chickadees and the Goldfinches will use that to drink out of the cups. What you see in the middle of the leaf is a cup shape. And they use the flowers, and also for seeds. They'll eat the seeds.

Shelley:
It's a real show-stopper, too. I think of that as a full prairie plant, though. You don't have full sun here all day long?

Peggy:
Five hours.

Shelley:
So, it's a real success. Are there specific things that we should do or not do as far as caring for this garden if we're trying to attract butterflies?

Peggy:
Yes, you would want to leave the stalk stand after they're done. All winter, these will stay here, until late spring. That's because if there are larval stages in these plants, you want them to have a chance to emerge.

Shelley:
So, you're just letting them over winter on the stalks.

Peggy:
Correct. And also, you would not use any pesticides or herbicides at all. We never have and we've never had any problems.

Shelley:
Again, why?

Peggy:
These would be killed by it. So, if you're trying to grow wildlife, then you don't want to be spraying it.

Shelley:
And killing it off.

Peggy:
Yes.

Shelley:
And yet, it looks great. So, if you haven't had any problems, maybe nature is balancing itself out.

Peggy:
It seems to balance itself out very well.

Shelley:
Great. Thank you, Peggy. Consider planting some of these native species and weeds in your back yard to attract butterflies.

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