July 17, 2009

Host Plants for Butterflies; Loved By Bees

The garden is buzzing with bee activity as they feed on flower blooms for nectar throughout the gardens. Honey bees and bumblebees are not aggressive. As much as I try to convince them that deadheading is necessary for certain plants to rebloom, they still don't like to give up a bloom. I try to gently shove them away with a gloved hand or tap the plant stalks with a trowel to get them to fly to another plant. The helpful bees are necessary for crops and flowers, so these are welcome guests in my garden.

Foeniculum vulgare 'Purpureum' (bronze fennel) is a wonderful host plant for the Black Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillars. I have four very tall fennel plants in bloom right now. This strong, sturdy and fragrant perennial also makes a great "deer fence" when planted closely together along the outside edges of the garden. The deer may nip a few of the tasty and tender fronds on the sides, but not as much as the human visitors to my garden! When allowed to flower, bronze fennel will reseed in a garden, so be sure to pull the unwanted seedlings in the spring to give to someone else to start a butterfly garden. Bronze fennel is a perennial in zones 4-9.

The milkweed plants are blooming for the bees, but I'm yet to see more than one Monarch butterfly this year. The milkweed plants, both asclepias incarnata and asclepias tuberosa, are ready to serve as food for the Monarch caterpillars.

Milkweed is another deer and rabbit resistant perennial and all parts are poisonous, but not to the Monarchs. The Monarchs use this as protection, since eating milkweed makes the caterpillars and butterflies taste bad to birds! The orange tuberosa is a perennial in zones 4-10 for full sun and lean soil. It usually grows to around 24-26 inches in height. The white and rose blooms of swamp milkweed are perennial in zones 3-8 and prefers to be in moist soil that doesn't dry out. Both plants are late to emerge in the spring, sometimes as late as June here in zone 7, so be sure to mark the locations in the garden.

Where are the Monarch butterflies? Chapel Hill, North Carolina is at latitude 35.94°N, so I can expect to see the Monarch migration here in late September through early October. I usually see the Monarchs as early as August. To find out more about the peak Monarch migration dates, visit the helpful Monarch Watch site.

Photos and words by Freda Cameron; Location: home garden; July 2009
Freelance travel writer. My current fiction writing projects include a completed manuscript and several works in progress.

By the way, my name is pronounced fred-ah, not freed-ah. Thank you.

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