Q: All September I have seen butterflies, but they won’t stop in my yard. What can I do to attract them next year?
A:Some people say the best thing about September is that the kids are back in school. Hard to argue that, but for me, the best thing about fall is butterflies. Butterflies in fall happen because you planted for them months ago. The good news is that now is the right time to plant for next fall’s butterflies. Two great opportunities this month to find those native perennials are the Mobile Botanical Gardens Fall Marketplace and the Weeks Bay Native Plant Sale.
You can attract butterflies to your yard by planting for them. But you can assure their survival by not killing them.
Seriously, don’t attract butterflies if you intend to blast every bug with a chemical death ray. That’s like calling Fido to dinner and then feeding him poison. A butterfly is an insect. Avoid systemic chemicals. Use only contact sprays, horticultural soaps or oils, exactly by label directions, spot treating only the problem area and spraying early in the morning before the butterflies rise to feed. Plant trap plants for the caterpillars away from your vegetable garden and gently move (by picking the stalk) the caterpillar munching on your culinary parsley or dill to his own plants.
To attract butterflies you must fill two needs: food and shelter. They need shrubs, vines, trees they can hide in, nectar plants to feed the winged adults and host plants for the caterpillars to munch.
Plant large sweeps of perennials to attract the adult butterflies. A lonely coneflower is not very enticing, but a circle of coneflowers and a sweep of purple Blazing Star Liatris, Stokes aster, and black-eyed Susans in front of a fence covered in native trumpet vine and maypop passion vine — now, that’s a full buffet worthy of the good silver.
A few caterpillar host plant suggestions are: citrus, flat-leaf parsley, fennel, dill, passion vine, trumpet vine, pipevine, daisy, hackberry, willow, clover and native milkweed.
Good nectar perennials include: Stokes aster, bee balm, coreopsis, native milkweed, purple coneflower, black-eyed Susan, Liatris, goldenrod, Joe Pye weed, Indian pink Spigelia, azalea, abelia, viburnum, Mexican sage, pineapple and forsythia sages, autumn sage Salvia greggii, trumpet vine Lonicera sempervirens and maypop passion vine Passiflora incarnata.
Q:I recently removed two hackberry trees and would like to plant a new flowering tree for shade. Would Bradford pear be good?
A: Good timing! If you’ve ever watched a tree planted in July slowly gasp its last, you know Dr. John was right when he wrote “Right Place, Wrong Time.” (Now you won’t get that tune out of your head, will you?) We’ve all heard “right plant, right place,” but our climate requires the caveat “right time.” Fall is perfect for planting trees and shrubs because they have the advantage of establishing root growth without struggling in our summer heat.
The Bradford pear, popular after its introduction in 1963, has been around long enough now that we know their weak branching habit is a serious drawback because the branches are susceptible to cracking down the middle in winds. I can’t recommend it. You didn’t specify mature tree size, but other choices in the size range of the Bradford pear include the saucer magnolia Magnolia x soulangeanaor, and if you prefer the glossy evergreen-leaf magnolias, consider Little Gem Magnolia grandiflora Little Gem. Good evergreens with winter berries instead of flowers are luster leaf holly Ilex latifolia and dahoon holly Ilex Cassine Dahoon. Or consider sparkleberry Vaccineum aboreum.
Email us your questions at CoastalAlabamaGardening@gmail.com or call (toll free) 1-877-252-4769, the Master Gardener Helpline answered by Mobile and Baldwin County Master Gardener volunteers.