In my little corner of the world, the month of March usually swoops in like the proverbial lion then gently leaves like a woolly lamb. It appears that's what March will do again this year. Although March is a bit early to start digging and planting in my garden, it's the perfect time to get a head start toward planning, then planting some of my new containers.
After perusing many gardening books during the cold months of winter, I've finally decided what to plant in three new containers I found priced right at a liquidation sale. I'm also going to give my trio of potpourri pots a special name this year--not that butterflies can read, you understand. A charming little decorated sign that says "Potted Potpourri for Butterflies"will be a great eye-catcher, don't you agree? When neighbors and friends come to visit, they will see at a glance that I'll be entertaining "flying flowers" again this summer.
©Terri W., (PA)
Countless numbers of migrating butterflies are already fluttering their way north from their southern wintering grounds. These new generations of butterflies will be seeking nectar for sustenance wherever they can find it on their journey north. After mating, the females will be scouting for host plants on which to lay their eggs. This is serious business for them, as they won't settle for just any old plant as a home for their baby caterpillars. Only specific plants will do, especially for Monarchs.
So you see, it's very important that I have some nectar sources and host plants ready for their arrival.
Would you care to stay for a spell while I assemble the ingredients to plant my "butterfly potpourri?" Great! Just have a seat here in my comfy garden swing. I really must get started so I don't miss any earlybird butterflies.
Some butterflies, like Mourning Cloaks, don't fly south during winter, but just hide under old logs or boards or whatever places feel cozy to them. In the spring they emerge again, looking somewhat bedraggled and moving slowly at first. However, they'll also be seeking sweet nectar to give them a jump-start after hibernating all winter.
Ingredients for Butterfly Potpourri
- Three Glazed/Decorated Clay Planters of Different Sizes
- Broken pieces of clay pottery
- Polyester window screening (one 12" square) and some small pebbles
- Two bags of commercial soilless potting mix
- Slow-release fertilizer granules
- Nectar rich plants for butterflies (3 Lantana camaras)
- Host plants for caterpillars (2 Asclepias and 3-4 Fennel seedlings)
Step 1: Preparing the Pots
My new pots are clay and are finished with a decorative glaze. This is a plus since the glaze makes them non-porous, requiring less water during hot weather. If you are planting in unglazed clay pots, it's a good idea to soak them overnight as this helps them absorb water. Before purchasing my new pots, I also made sure they had adequate drainage holes. Without proper drainage, plants in containers will slowly but surely die.
To prevent the soil from washing out the drain holes, I like to place a small piece of polyester screening material over the holes. Next, I place a few pieces of broken pottery or pebbles on top of the screening. Doing this helps keep any "unwanteds" from crawling in and finding a home in the bottoms of my pots, then dining on the roots of my plants. Not a good thing to have happen!
Step 2: Adding Soil and Fertilizer Granules
I use a commercial sterilized potting mix in all of my containers. Garden soil should never be used in containers. No matter how great your garden soil may look or feel, it contains both weed seeds and detrimental microorganisms that will in all likelihood kill your beautiful plants. My preference is a soilless mix since it retains moisture very well and requires less watering time on my part.
I fill each pot about one-third full of the soilless mixture, then add the recommended amount of fertilizer granules, mixing it thoroughly with the soil. Adding slow-release fertilizer granules to your soil before planting is one of the easiest ways to feed plants in containers. Before adding more soil, I water each pot thoroughly several times, letting the water drain all the way through. This eliminates any dry pockets in the bottoms of the pots. After this first layer of soil is thoroughly dampened, I add additional soil to within six inches of the top rim of each pot, and again water thoroughly.
Step 3: It's Planting Time!
My Nectar Source Flowers
As the nectar source for my butterfly potpourri, I've opted to plant three gorgeous Lantanas (L. camara) in my largest pot. I chose lantanas because butterflies are known to flock to their fragrant blossoms, and also because they bloom profusely throughout the summer. Some butterflies they attract are spicebush swallowtails, monarchs, fritillaries, whites, skippers, and a host of others. You can bet I'll be keeping an eye out for those iridescent beauties!
Lantanas bloom in large colorful clusters consisting of tiny 1-inch fragrant flowers of yellow, pink, red, purple, and white. Many times their blossoms are multicolored. Their foliage is rough and somewhat pungent, while their deep green color lends a lovely accent to their striking blossoms. Lantanas are in the verbena family and originally hail from the tropical areas of South America and South Africa. Although they are only hardy in USDA Zones 8B-11 (I'm in USDA Zone 6), I will treat my lantanas as annuals. They can be found at most nurseries in early spring reasonably priced, and will be well worth their price to feed my "flying flowers!"
Three lantanas will adequately fill my largest container. First I will position them in my container while they're still in their nursery pots. Then I'll dig three holes deep enough so that each plant can be planted just a bit deeper than it was in its nursery pot. After gently removing the plants from their pots, I'll take a moment to carefully spread their roots out before planting them. When all of my lantanas are planted, I'll add another two to three inches of soil, making sure the roots are all covered. Tamping and smoothing the soil gently with my gloved hand finishes the job, followed by a final light watering.
During spring and throughout the summer lantanas need to be watered regularly, but they like to have their soil get slightly dry between waterings. Since I used a slow-release fertilizer, this will provide sufficient nutrients to last for several months. Too much fertilizer will produce lovely lush leaves but not many beautiful blossoms. Lantanas are a fairly low maintenance plant--another big plus for me!
My Caterpillar Host Plants
For popular caterpiller host plants I will plant two Asclepias (butterfly weed) in my medium sized pot. When my Monarch butterflies return this spring they will be looking for asclepias on which to lay their eggs.
I decided to plant my asclepias in a container for several reasons. Asclepias can be invasive in gardens, but since they will be contained I won't have to worry about them taking over my flowerbeds. Without a doubt, newborn Monarch caterpillars could quickly devour my asclepias after they hatch. However, since I'm deliberately planting them for their dining pleasure, I won't mind catering to their voracious appetites. Being able to observe the entire Monarch metamorphosis process would be well worth giving up two asclepias. Wish me luck!
Planting several fennel plants in my smallest pot will complete the planting of my "butterfly potpourri." Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) is a great larval plant for certain species of butterflies. Nurseries and garden centers almost always have a supply of potted fennel in early spring. I find it easier to transplant already grown seedlings in my containers rather than planting seeds. Fennel will also attract beneficial insects to my garden, which is another big plus. Remember, NO INSECTICIDES should be used for pest control if you want butterflies to visit your garden and live!
The wispy green or bronze foliage of fennel will add a nice contrast to my other potpourri plants. When its umbels of small yellow flowers bloom they will also lend another colorful touch. Fennel is easy to grow and won't require a lot of care. As with my asclepias, I will be prepared for caterpillars to feast on my fennel. If need be, I can replace the asclepias and fennel later in the summer with other nectar-rich flowering annuals to attract adult butterflies.
I have to admit, my butterfly potpourri is definitely not the blend of fragrances I would use to freshen my home. However, since my garden is home for my "flying flowers" during spring and summer, I want them to find and enjoy their favorite potpourri right here.