Gardening for Butterflies, Birds and Bees forum: Low maintenance Butterfly garden in ohio?

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Name: Gary
Cincinnati Ohio (Zone 6a)
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Gschnettler
Jul 17, 2016 6:12 AM CST
Hi. I have about a 10x10 space on the side of my house where I'd like to put a small flower garden. It doesn't have to be a butterfly garden, but I figure it might as well be. This part of my yard is out of the way and I rarely go over there. I'll mostly only see this garden from my 3rd floor window or when visiting my neighbors (you can see their blue chair and fire pit in the picture) so low maintenance is key.

I am pretty new to gardening but I got a book call Taming Wildflowers and it claims that there are a lot of benefits to Wildflowers including no need to water them, no need to fertilize them and disease resistance. Also, they can attract butterflies.

Assuming that's true, I'd like to find a mix that will work well together. Some of the recommended plants are milkweed, black eyed Susans, bee balm and Purple Coneflower. If I divided the space into 4ths and planted these 4 perennials, would they play nicely with each other or would say the black eyed susans overrun everything? Keep in mind that I only plan to tend to this garden about once a month or less. If any of these are "invasive" and would try to conquer the others, can you please recommend a few that would play nicely with each other?

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Name: Sally
central Maryland
Seriously addicted to kettle chips.
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sallyg
Jul 17, 2016 6:50 AM CST
How is the sun there? All day, or when? Assuming enough sun=

Milkweed has several common cultivated species. The wild species syriaca will fill the entire area. Butterfly weed, a tuberosa, is a garden type that doesn't spread.
Beebalm, Monarda, is related to mint, will spread, and prone to mildew. The area looks a bit confined and maybe a mildew prone site.
Blackeyed susans- I think that garden types don't spread that much. Double check that
Coneflowers, would be great.

Bronze fennel- consider this as food source for some common swallowtail caterpillars. Not sure this is perennial or self sustaining though.

Whatever you plant, do mulch to keep it from growing up with weeds.

I look forward to others opinions on this
..come into the peace of wild things..-Wendell Berry
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Name: June
Rosemont, Ont. (Zone 4a)
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JuneOntario
Jul 17, 2016 6:58 AM CST
Hi Gary! The plants you mention - milkweed, black-eyed susan, bee balm, coneflower - need full sun. Will the flowerbed get enough sun to keep them happy? I have not grown all of these plants together, so I can't tell you how they would compete, but I have found that coneflowers will seed themselves if they are not dead-headed. Also, you may find that bee balm needs a bit more moisture than the other three plants, and its foliage is prone to mildew if the plant is stressed by drought.

If the flowerbed only gets partial sun, you might plant a shade tolerant ground cover such as Geranium macrorrhizum and a couple of small flowering shrubs such as Potentilla 'Abbotswood' and P. 'Pink Beauty'. These need no dead-heading, and once established they would not need watering.
Name: Sally
central Maryland
Seriously addicted to kettle chips.
Charter ATP Member Native Plants and Wildflowers Region: Mid-Atlantic Composter Region: Maryland Birds
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sallyg
Jul 17, 2016 7:09 AM CST
Forgot to mention Sedums, (Hylotelephium) 'Autumn Joy' is very common for example, and skipper butterflies love them for nectar. They do want full sun.
..come into the peace of wild things..-Wendell Berry
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Name: Caroline Scott
Calgary (Zone 4a)
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CarolineScott
Jul 17, 2016 8:11 AM CST
There are special mixes of wildflower seeds for Butterflies, or for Hummingbirds, or for Honey Bees. I would try one of those. See how it looks, and add or tear out what does not work for you.
Name: Gary
Cincinnati Ohio (Zone 6a)
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Gschnettler
Jul 17, 2016 8:47 AM CST
Seems like a lot of you are asking about the sun. Based on my picture, it probably looks pretty shady, but that was taken at the end of the day when the sun was setting. This spot is very, hot and dry and gets blazing sun all day long.

Thanks for all of the advice so far. The problem I have with wildflower mixes is that since I'm new to gardening I can never tell what's a flower and what's a weed. I prefer to keep things more organized, with specific plants relegated to specific areas. For example, my natural inclination would be to put the shortest plant in the front, then a medium sized plant in a row behind it, and then a row of the taller plants behind that.

I would definitely put down some mulch at first, and I plan to lay down some stones with a plastic sheet underneath them to make a path so I can walk through the area without stepping on a bunch of plants. Eventually I'd like the area to be full of plants from edge to edge such that you wouldn't really be able to see the mulch, and so that I wouldn't need to put down new mulch - in my vision the garden should pretty much take care of itself.

Not sure if what I'm proposing is possible, but you guys are the experts and I'm anxious to listen to all of your opinions and ideas.

Actually, what would be best if you would just tell me what you would do if you had this space. If you said, "here are 5 great plants that look great together, survive on their own without any attention and which won't try to invade each other" then I could just use your suggestion.

- Gary
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[Last edited by Gschnettler - Jul 17, 2016 11:44 AM (+)]
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Name: Sally
central Maryland
Seriously addicted to kettle chips.
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sallyg
Jul 17, 2016 10:40 AM CST
My idea FWIW=
Divide the area with narrow paths going from corner to corner, maybe an extra accent stone in the center. Makes triangles.
Four plants, one in each triangle. Each plant will be three or five to start with depending on the size of the starter. Mulch around.
Tallest plant against the yellow wall- monarda
side by side- coneflower, Butterfly weed (tuberosa) OR a perennial with spiky flower, like a Veronica?
front- pentas

Three are perennial, pentas are annual. This could be done in pinks/purple/white tones. Decent nectar plants, don't know if any but the butterfly weed are good for caterpillars.

Or bronze fennel in the tallest spot- food for swallowtails, great flower for many small pollinators. Tall, airy, bronze foliage would look nice against the yellow.

Just one plan. I think dividing with a narrow path or bricks lends a neatness factor and helps you keep the plants confined.
..come into the peace of wild things..-Wendell Berry
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Name: stone
near Macon Georgia (USA) (Zone 8a)
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stone
Jul 18, 2016 7:14 AM CST
Gschnettler said:
Thanks for all of the advice so far. The problem I have with wildflower mixes is that since I'm new to gardening I can never tell what's a flower and what's a weed. I prefer to keep things more organized, with specific plants relegated to specific areas. For example, my natural inclination would be to put the shortest plant in the front, then a medium sized plant in a row behind it, and then a row of the taller plants behind that.


Your description doesn't sound much like a butterfly garden as I understand them.

Butterflies need flowers in their adult stage, but they also need plants to raise their families on.... This often means weeds....

I think I would start out simply.... Toss out some zinnia seeds.... Scatter some carrot seed...
The black swallowtail will lay eggs on the carrots, and as adults, they will visit the zinnia.

The blackeyed susan often has a short bloom time at my house. And depending on The variety.... Some spread by roots.... A lot... Some die and come up from seed... A lot...

Echinacea is always a good choice...

But... When you are trying to train formality into wildflowers, seems a bit of a contradiction.... I suggest getting over the idea of tidy, and learn to appreciate a rambunctious kind of garden, where a weed isn't necessarily a bad thing, and a plant out of place isn't really out of place, but is instead an explorer.

There are some plants that actually need to move around a bit... Trying to make them stay in one place kills them.
Name: Sandy B.
Ford River, Michigan UP (Zone 4b)
(Zone 4b-maybe 5a)
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Weedwhacker
Jul 18, 2016 7:54 AM CST
If you DO decide on a butterfly garden, I agree with Stone; a more "wild" type of planting is better suited for that. If you just want a garden that is attractive to butterflies, though, many flowering plants (maybe most) will serve that purpose, and you can have a more formal type of arrangement. The area that you describe does sound a bit brutal for many plants, though; near the south side of my house is quite a difficult spot for keeping a lot of types of flowers going. Especially since you would like it to be "low maintenance." I think sedum would be an excellent choice, and Echinacea (coneflowers). Maybe iris? Most of the flowers that I grow are in partly shaded, moist areas, pretty much the opposite of what you have there. I'd look for plants described as "sun loving" and "drought tolerant." Smiling
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Name: Kat
Magnolia, Tx (Zone 8b)
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kittriana
Jul 18, 2016 10:44 AM CST
Well, even in our brutal south, the butterflies thrive. The pros of a butterfly mix are that the flowers are chosen for almost continual blooming. It is small for a wild look, but if its that dry, choose a plant like Russian sage, then center other plants away from it in diff hts. I like the divided style, milkweeds Ohio grows are tuberosa (red orange), Purple, Syriacus (white and pinkish), Swamp. Fennel is awesome to grow as the foliage is beautiful, but may need a bit more watering, Cosmos, zinnia, even dill can be used. Yarrow?
kitt
Name: Gary
Cincinnati Ohio (Zone 6a)
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Gschnettler
Jul 18, 2016 10:46 PM CST
Thanks for all of your replies. Yes, I suppose this won't be a true butterfly garden since I don't want to just let it grow and to allow a bunch of weeds. My neighbors sit out next to this area almost every night, so I'd like it to look organized and not wild.

I think I am going to go with Sally's idea of making an X using stones or bricks. As she points out, that'll create 4 separate triangles and then I can just pick out 4 plants - one for each section. At this point, based on all of your suggestions, I think I should try to pick 3 from this list:

- Butterfly Weed
- Bee Balm - if there is a variety that is drought tolerant.
- Tennessee Coneflower. (Purple Coneflower is much too common in my neighborhood)
- Sedum
- Veronica
- Phlox - Jeana (http://www.northcreeknurseries.com/plantName/Phlox-paniculat...)

For the frontmost triangle, I am considering either:

1) putting some annuals in there such as Zinnias or Pentas and perhaps changing it up from year to year. That would be fun.

Or...

2) I found a website that describes bulb flowers for all 4 seasons. So I could maybe put a mix of those in the ground and then just sit back and relax as they go through their yearly rotation.


Thanks for all of your feedback!


Name: Sally
central Maryland
Seriously addicted to kettle chips.
Charter ATP Member Native Plants and Wildflowers Region: Mid-Atlantic Composter Region: Maryland Birds
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sallyg
Jul 19, 2016 4:57 AM CST
Sounds good to me (lol) . There's certainly no shame on adding flowers for butterfly adult nectar.

but consider that spring bulbs like tulips, daffodils, have foliage that has to stand for some time after blooming, to renew the bulb, and often has a period of looking like carp.. Small spring bulbs like crocus come and go more quickly, then maybe as summer bulbs, Crocosmia? I'm not familiar with them but the flowers are bold and few.

Or do some small spring bulbs, even some tulips, then fill with your annual of choice that hides the bulb foliage. (I love my daffodils, but eventually they become big fat clumps with lots of leaves.) You can easily have crocus, plus the Zinnia or Pentas. You could line the crocus closer to the edges, (or along the front,) and plant the annuals inside them. Maybe tulips in the center, so that several annuals can be planted in front and back/sides of them.
..come into the peace of wild things..-Wendell Berry
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Name: Elaine
South Sarasota, Florida (Zone 9b)
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dyzzypyxxy
Jul 19, 2016 2:44 PM CST
Gary, I'd like to add a couple of thoughts to this conversation - whatever you do choose, if you're planting them this summer it's already very hot and new plants won't survive without being watered. Even if you can just lean out the window (like you did with the camera?) with a watering can or two, that will help the new transplants to survive until the days get shorter and cooler. They will need water every day until the weather cools off. By next summer they should have grown some good healthy roots and be more drought tolerant. But that doesn't mean they'll survive and look nice if it doesn't rain in July for 3 weeks.

Also, all gardening is eventually an exercise in trial and error, so you will probably find the plants that suit that area best by trying several at once. Keep the ones that thrive and remove the ones that get overwhelmed. If you want to have just a solid flower bed of flowers, you want the lustiest flowers that WILL spread somewhat and shade their own roots in the hot weather so you don't have to weed and water. It will look a lot nicer for most of the summer if you have to cut back flowers that are growing a bit too big, rather than having to weed and worry over small struggling plants. Go for the vigorous ones! Much better chance of success in this situation.
Elaine

"Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm." –Winston Churchill
Name: Sandy B.
Ford River, Michigan UP (Zone 4b)
(Zone 4b-maybe 5a)
Charter ATP Member Celebrating Gardening: 2015 I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! I helped beta test the first seed swap Region: United States of America Region: Michigan
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Weedwhacker
Jul 19, 2016 6:36 PM CST
Gary, most likely your garden will be a "work in progress" for quite a while (if not forever). Some things will work, some won't; that's just the nature of gardening, I'm afraid.

You could also consider covering the area with a nice layer of mulch (wood chips or something of the sort), and then using plants in large pots -- which you could switch out if you weren't happy with the "look."

Whatever you decide to do, be prepared for some successes and some failures -- it really IS a process! Smiling
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Name: Gary
Cincinnati Ohio (Zone 6a)
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Gschnettler
Jul 19, 2016 8:39 PM CST
No way! I'm sure I'll have total success with my first attempt. <note sarcasm!>

Of course I'll water the plants when they are new. I prefer to grow all of my plants from seed.

There actually is a faucet right next to this area so watering really shouldn't be a problem...now that I think about it. Still, I like the appeal of plants that can take care of themselves for the most part.

Do you all have a copy of the book "Taming Wildflowers" by Miriam Goldberger? If not, I recommend it. In this book she makes the case that everyone's fancy landscaping and exotic flowers (and the lack of wildflowers) is causing a major crisis in the ecosystem, especially for Wasps, Beetles, Butterflies, Birds and Bats. We're not planting the types of plants that the native animals need. Additionally, she says it's a waste of resources to buy plants that need constant watering and fertilizer. Instead, she argues, we should just get plants that are native to our area (North America)...and there are plenty of good choices, which she covers in the rest of the book. These plants will both thrive on low maintenance and will help the ecosystem. None of the other 10 plant books I've read have said stuff like this - they mostly seem to emphasize all of the available hybrids.

How low is low maintenance? Miriam says she only spends 1 hour per year. That is comprised of "20 minutes cutting down dead stems and 40 minutes of occasional weeding throughout the year". She then recommends spending another 20 minutes per year burning spent stems and using the ashes as fertilizer.

So, please tell me if you think she is crazy. If not, I think I'm going to use 4 flowers from her book:

1) butterfly weed - orange
2) lance leaf sand coreopsis - yellow
3) bergamot/bee balm - lavender
4) prairie Blazingstar - purple/pink

I think this will be a good combination of colors and low maintenance plants. They are all drought resistant and attract butterflies. I'm just going to buy the seeds and start from scratch.

Final question: given that it's July, do you think I should buy the seeds now and try to get the plants going before winter, or just plan to grow them indoors over the winter and plant them in the spring?

(Also, I attached another picture. This is the ground view of the area)
Thumb of 2016-07-20/Gschnettler/9bce2d

Name: Sandy B.
Ford River, Michigan UP (Zone 4b)
(Zone 4b-maybe 5a)
Charter ATP Member Celebrating Gardening: 2015 I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! I helped beta test the first seed swap Region: United States of America Region: Michigan
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Weedwhacker
Jul 19, 2016 9:05 PM CST
Gary, the "Taming Wildflowers" book sounds interesting -- but then, I'm a sucker for "all books about gardening" Whistling . We definitely have no lack of wildflowers here in the UP, but, as far as I'm concerned that's neither here nor there -- I really do love growing native plants!

I think the plants you're considering growing in your garden space are excellent choices! As far as 1 hour per year maintenance... well, that might be a bit of a stretch, but you don't have a huge area there so once your plants are established that might actually be realistic. I would actually think it would be best to start your plants from seed in January or February indoors, under lights, and then plant out in the spring... but maybe someone who gardens closer to your zone will have some input about that. Perennials usually start out growing pretty slowly from seed, and in the heat of the summer I think it would be difficult to get them to "take."
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Name: Gary
Cincinnati Ohio (Zone 6a)
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Gschnettler
Jul 19, 2016 10:03 PM CST
I always start my seeds indoors in a little terrarium. I'm sure I could get them to sprout in my kitchen within a few weeks. The question is, if I move them outdoors in mid to late August, will they have enough time to develop such that they can survive the winter? I'm guessing probably not, but thought I would check with you guys to make sure.
Name: Sandy B.
Ford River, Michigan UP (Zone 4b)
(Zone 4b-maybe 5a)
Charter ATP Member Celebrating Gardening: 2015 I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! I helped beta test the first seed swap Region: United States of America Region: Michigan
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Weedwhacker
Jul 19, 2016 10:06 PM CST
I wouldn't do that here... but not sure about Cincinnati.
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central Illinois
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jmorth
Jul 19, 2016 10:41 PM CST
Have you given any consideration to fall Butterflies, especially Monarch nectar attractants? If going on the wild side, especially appealing to all BF is the New England Aster -
Thumb of 2016-07-20/jmorth/26679e Thumb of 2016-07-20/jmorth/43ecfe

another good wild for the fall - Boneset - Thumb of 2016-07-20/jmorth/32e22c

and Maximillian's Sunflower - Thumb of 2016-07-20/jmorth/4527d8

Nothing that's been done can ever be changed.
Name: Gary
Cincinnati Ohio (Zone 6a)
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Gschnettler
Jul 20, 2016 9:28 AM CST
Hmm. New England Aster is in my Wildflower book. It does seems that butterflies tend to come more in the fall, so getting something like an Aster is a good idea. Maybe I should swap out the Prairie Blazingstar and swap in an Aster.

From the wildflower farms website:

Smooth Aster is one of the most attractive and long-lived of all the asters. Blooming from late August through to the end of October, it puts on a fabulous floral display producing clusters of dainty blue flowers long after most flowers are finished. A favourite stopping spot for butterflies, this Symphyotrichum laeve (formerly called Aster laeve) does well in just about any well-drained soil.

So, my new list would be this:

1) Asclepias tuberosa - Butterflyweed - orange
2) Coreopsis lanceolata - Lanceleaf Coreopsis - yellow
3) Panorama Mix Bee Balm Seeds - pink, white, purple,red
4) Symphyotrichum laeve - Smooth Aster - Lavender/Blue

I think this is looking really good. Thanks for all of the feedback!

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