Saturday, April 25, 2015

"The best place to seek God is in a garden. You can dig for him there."
~George Bernard Shaw

A post from the Laguna Beach Independent dated February 28, 2014. Written by Laguna local landscape architect and former councilperson Ann Christoph entitled "Village Matters", reminds us of a time when Laguna Beach had its own viable Monarch butterfly overwintering site at Smithcliffs before it was developed for homes:


The following article dated April 23 on our California drought situation, is written with the perspective that gardens are not to blame for our water woes, and the amount we use to sustain our landscapes is miniscule when taking into account the greater picture of overall water usage. That's not to say we should use this precious resource indiscriminately; we need to be good stewards of our resources, whether they're bountiful or we are experiencing a paucity. I tend to agree:

Home Gardeners are NOT the Problem!

We've recently touched upon buddleias and the lantanas for butterfly gardens. Now, let's move on to another marvelous nectar plant, Pentas lanceolata. A plant with several common names including Egyptian Star Flower, or Star Flower for short, Pentas is the common name I prefer to use.

Buddleia: king
Lantana: queen
Pentas: prince or princess. Does anyone know of an adjective that's PC gender neutral for prince/princess? Princer? Princeperson?

Another easy care stellar nectar plant, Pentas deserves a spot somewhere in any self-respecting butterfly garden. Prefers full sun along the coast as most heavily flowering plants do, but thrives especially well in part sun/part shade environments, more so inland. It is somewhat frost sensitive; perennial in areas where temps don't dip below 25°F.

Breeders have done remarkable things with garden plants, but alas, with the princely Pentas, they have sacrificed nectar production for beauty in form and colors. Grandma's old tried 'n true Star Flowers she had to stake up because of their rangy growth was offset by the prodigious amounts of nectar these small, star-shaped flowers literally dripped from their tubed mouths.

Today's modern offerings give us compact plants that don't require staking, and larger, more colorful blooms than grandma's. In their quest for garden bling, these same breeders didn't take into account one of the key features (I think) of Pentas, and that is their ability to attract butterflies and hummingbirds from the farthest reaches of a garden. Today's nursery offerings are hollow ghosts of things past. Like Justin Bieber, cute little boy toys without any substance inside.

 Justin Bieber

Butterflies pass them up (and bees for that matter). They don't contain nectar, or very little of it to warrant foraging around within their blooms for meager pickings. Some gardeners think that the modern varieties have no nectar all. I must agree from personal observations I've done on the newer offerings. But wait!

There is a strain of modern Pentas called 'Butterfly' that retains old cottage garden nectar production with compactness and colors desired for today's gardens. I have yet to see any offered in local nurseries. I did find 'Butterfly' seed for sale online last year, bought some, and successfully germinated them. Unfortunately, they succumbed to disease, as I kept them a bit too moist and roasted them in the sun when I moved them outside from under their grow lights indoors.


Learning from past mistakes, I started some new Pentas 'Butterfly' a few weeks ago. I'll know to keep the moisture down and slowly introduce them to the outside this time. On a lark, I did buy a beautiful looking Pentas at the nursery last year, and sure enough, I haven't seen one butterfly or hummer visit it. Not one.

 Pentas lanceolata 'Butterfly White'

Pentas lanceolata 'Butterfly Deep Pink'

Pentas lanceolata 'Butterfly Deep Rose'

Pentas lanceolata 'Butterfly Red'

Online Availability

When searching for Pentas seed, be careful of claims that with their particular variety: "Butterflies adore them!" That may be true, although the only modern Pentas variety I know of that truly attracts butterflies is the aptly named 'Butterfly' series. Others may claim to, but may get away with it by transferring the qualities of heirloom selections over to modern offerings within their online and catalog descriptions. Do they truly transfer prodigious nectar production of yore to present? I couldn't guarantee that without reading up on them via independent testing.

Pentas Butterfly Mix -

Some of the sites selling live plants will list other Pentas varieties along with 'Butterfly'. Make sure you order from the 'Butterfly' series.

Garden Crossings -

Almost Eden - 

Morris Plant Nursery -

Caring for your Pentas

Although not drought tolerant, Pentas can forgo regular waterings; just make sure they get water when showing signs of distress. Monthly feedings are appreciated during the active growing season up until roughly mid September when it's wise to harden them off for winter's cold by not fertilizing Pentas until the following spring growth. Cutting back stems the beginning of spring encourages plants to stay more compact.


Well worth the little bit of space to grow one. Like the old 70's Alka-Seltzer TV commercials advised: "Try it! You'll like it!"

Friday, April 17, 2015

"But these are flowers that fly and all but sing:
And now from having ridden out desire
They lie closed over in the wind and cling
Where wheels have freshly sliced the April mire."

~Robert Frost

A couple of things. One, is that the blog now has a Labels and Categories list on the right side of the page that will help anyone interested, to find specific information in the archives. It will get fine tuned in the next couple of weeks. Two, I received a request to include more photos of the Container Butterfly Garden, which have been sorely absent. I'll start posting photos of it in the upcoming newsletters.

Butterfly season is happening pretty much in earnest now here at the Butterfly Container Garden. I'm seeing Painted Lady, Gray Hairstreak, Gulf Fritillary, and of course, Monarch butterflies. Several broods of Monarch cats have cycled through already. I found one chrysalis  hanging from a pot rim a couple of weeks ago, and last week, a freshly eclosed Monarch adult was spotted still unfurling and pumping its wings, soaking in the sun's rays. 

With the early show of Gulf Fritillaries here, I earnestly desire to see some of their cats host on the passion flower vines growing in the garden, these plants being the exclusive food source for this butterfly species. I saw no cats on the vines last year, but I didn't see many fritillaries either. Perhaps that will change this season. Many folks mistaken Gulf Fritillaries for small Monarch butterflies, but they are a distinct species.


Agraulis vanillae, Gulf Fritillary

Danaus plexippus, Monarch butterfly

If Buddleia is king of butterfly plants, then Lantana would be queen.

Lantana is one must have flowering butterfly nectar plant that deserves prominence, or at least some space in a butterfly garden. The two most popular species of Lantana are Lantana camara and Lantana montevidensis. My experience with both points to L. camara as a more successful butterfly magnet than L. montevidensis, but again, as with other plants, that may be attributed to butterfly regional preferences.

One can see it's a member of the mint family: from the aromatic scent of its mint-like shaped leaves when crushed, to the general arrangement and clustering of their flowers. Lantana, both L. camara and L. montevidensis are drop dead easy to grow in SoCal gardens. Butterflies are attracted to it; skippers love it and swallowtails are constant visitors!


Lantana camara "Confetti"

Personal experience with the various lantana species and varieties has pointed to L. camara "Confetti" as being the most productive butterfly attractor I've come across so far. The "Confetti" I know has florets comprised of pink outer little flowers, turning to yellow ones in the center. I've seen lantana listed online as "Confetti" with various other colored florets, but the above photo is what it should look like, not straying from the pink to yellow.

Pretty much all of the other L. camara varieties will attract butterflies profusely, although I find this particular variety to be better at it. A side benefit of lantana is the berries it produces that attract a variety of birds. And speaking of berries, they will drop and tend to sprout seedlings in well irrigated gardens. These seedlings usually aren't many and pull out rather easily, but resist the temptation to pot them up or transplant somewhere else in the garden, as these seedlings don't come up true from seed, most times reverting to a wilder form consisting of sparse flowers and straggly growth.

Swallowtails, and especially the various skipper species love lantana. If you live in an area with a sizable population of skippers, it won't be long before your shrubs are festooned with flitting, bouncing, and entertaining skippers. 

Lantana Care:

An undemanding plant, all it needs is average garden watering and full sun to part shade to promote better flowering and bushier growth (Don't over water!), plus a little fertilizer periodically during the growing season. The sunnier and warmer, the better lantana grows. It's not too fussy about soil, but will perform better in more fertile environments.

L. montevidensis being a prostrate grower, needs cutting back at the edges to keep it in check. Older plantings will eventually mound up in their centers, so if you wish to keep it looking uniform, a yearly topping will produce flatter growth. Quite drought tolerant once established, L. montevidensis makes for a colorful ground cover. Good for retaining slopes, as it tends to root where stems touch the ground, creating a fine mat of ground stabilizing roots. Planting it at the top of a wall and allowing it to cascade down the front makes for a visually stunning effect, especially against the color white.

L. camara grows as a low to medium height shrub which works well as both an accent plant and a small hedge or border. Once grown to size, I trim mine back pretty hard in the late winter (around here the end of February), allowing it to fill back in bushier and loaded with blooms. Trimming it back a little throughout the growing season will only give you a green bush, as the flowers grow on the branch tips; that's why I cut mine back hard, allowing room for it to bloom continuously as it grows back out.

Does extremely well in containers.

Average watering and occasional fertilizing during the spring and summer months is all that's needed to keep this plant happy as a clam, producing myriads of butterfly enticing flowers.

The different Lantana camara varieties come in a broad range of colors, mainly in the reds, through pinks and oranges, and ultimately yellows. There are a few whitish flowering lantanas available also now.






Lantana montevidensis colors include purple, yellow, and now a clean white. Industrious plant breeders are beginning to introduce various other colors and multi hued varieties, along with L. camara/L.montevidensis hybrids. Heady times!




Saturday, April 11, 2015

"Gardening is cheaper than therapy and you get tomatoes."
~Author Unknown

Monarch migration is happening in earnest now all across the states. The Monarch Butterflies Migration Google Earth Tour video is an excellent learning aide incorporating Google Earth and YouTube, producing a very informative narration:

Monarch Migration

We've touched upon the importance of milkweeds in the butterfly garden -- they being the only host plants for Monarchs -- and are good nectar sources for butterflies in general. We'll get back to them in subsequent posts, but let's digress a bit for now and get acquainted with other potential butterfly plants for our own gardens. We'll start off with the king of butterfly nectar plants, Butterfly Bush, also known as Buddleia.


Typical Buddleia davidii bloom, or inflorescence. At times mistaken for lilac.

If a person were to place only one butterfly nectar plant in their yard, the highly recommended Buddleia would be the premier choice hands down. Those of you who frequent Alta Laguna Park in Laguna Beach may be familiar with this plant, as there are quite a few of them growing around the irrigation control panel and small adjacent lawn near the park entrance. During butterfly season, these bushes can be loaded with various butterfly species irresistibly attracted to the sweet scent of their blooms.

I prefer to use genus species when referring to plants, as common names can be confusing. There are several other non related plants with the same common name, "Butterfly Bush". Scientific names can also be perplexing at times when their taxonomy changes for who knows whatever reasons. At times, it seems these name changes may be the result of taxonomists attempting to maintain job security within the hallowed halls of centers for higher learning.

Buddleia, also spelled Buddleja, the "j" pronounced as "y", has become more popular in gardens as of late. This increased interest has resulted in an influx of new cultivars, ranging from new flower colors to a greater selection of growth heights.


Buddleia flowers come in various colors.

Standard Buddleias tend to grow over eight feet tall. Due to its increased popularity in the landscape, horticulturists have been very busy hybridizing and producing selections that are better suited for many of today's smaller yards. The nursery industry is even beginning to offer diminutive 1-2 ft. round varieties, perfect for edgings, planting in masses, or potting up in smallish containers. The Container Butterfly Garden is home to the semi-dwarf variety, 'Nanho Blue'.


Buddleia davidii, 'Nanho Blue'

'Nanho Blue' is a fairly compact grower to about 4-5 ft. tall and is growing well in a medium sized pot. Whatever butterfly species stray into the garden, they always stop by the buddleia and linger, sipping the abundant nectar offered by its blooms. Many of the larger nurseries now carry dwarf and semi-dwarf varieties along with the tried and true standard ones. The Green Thumb Nursery close to me has an excellent selection of various Buddleias. If interested, check with your local nursery about special ordering these plants if they don't regularly stock them. With today's extended selection, one is pretty much assured of finding a suitable Buddleia variety that is "just right" for that one spot or for a particular container.


Buddleia flowers are found in white such as B. davidii, 'White Profusion'...


...all the way to an extremely dusky shade in B. davidii, 'Dark Knight'.

Reading glowing reports of 'Dark Knight' as being a particularly magnetic butterfly plant, in the past role of Parks Gardener for Alta Laguna Park, I planted several of them in the park not more than fifty feet from the generics growing by the irrigation control panel.

I was sorely disappointed at how they fared as butterfly attractors. They hardly received any visitors, while their generic cousins by the irrigation control panel harbored many, many butterflies that lingered until all of their blooms were spent. This is not to say that the reports I read were false or misleading; it does illustrate the fact that butterflies can have regional tastes. Most of the reports I read originated in the Midwest or back East, but here in SoCal -- at least up in Alta -- the verdict is "Phfffffft!" for 'Dark Knight' (Your mileage may vary.)


B. davidii, 'Pink Delight'.


B. davidii, 'Royal Red'.


B. davidii, 'Harlequin'.

There is (or was) 'Harlequin' growing in the Alta Laguna Park Butterfly Garden whose blooms are/were as deep, rich, and florescent as shown in the photo above. Truly, a remarkable color. It's also a variegated variety in which the foliage and color of the blooms compliment each other admirably.

Buddleia x weyeriana
Buddleia x weyeriana

B. davidii x B. weyeriana, 'Bicolor' is the offspring of crossing B. davidii
with B. weyeriana, resulting in this particularly beautiful inflorescence.


B. davidii


B. weyeriana

As one can see, 'Bicolor' is a wonderful blend of both parents, taking on the best bloom qualities of each.

Care and Feeding of Butterfly Bush:

Buddleia is one of those easy care plants that once planted and settled in, pretty much takes care of itself. Average watering is all that's needed, and food requirements aren't demanding. For more and bigger, better blooms, a good feeding or two with a balanced fertilizer during growing season is appreciated. Cutting off spent blooms will help prolong bloom time. Some of the newer, more compact varieties are sterile, so deadheading isn't so important except for looks. To deadhead a plant is to cut off spent blooms before they go to seed. Those at Alta I let go to seed, and over the course of years I transplanted quite a few seedlings around the park and gave others away to interested park goers.

How to Deadhead Buddleia

Early winter pruning is recommended, although not absolutely necessary. A yearly pruning does encourage more and higher quality blooms the following years, and makes for a less rangy, fuller plant. Pruning a consistently maintained mature Buddleia takes only a matter of minutes: easy peasy as the saying goes.

Pruning Buddleia

The above video recommends pruning back Buddleia in April, but in SoCal coastal/intercoastal areas, late winter is a better time due to our early springs (or lack of true winters depending on how one looks at things). I cut mine back around late January to early February. If yours are beginning to bud, it's time to prune. Below is a link to a downloadable PDF document on how to cut back a Buddleia:

How to Prune and Shape Buddleia

For serious butterfly garden gardeners, I would highly recommend including a Butterfly Bush in your plant palette. Once you see how attractive they are to your butterflies, you will be amazed at how many more of them come visit and linger in your garden.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

"When weeding, the best way to make sure you are removing a weed and not a valuable plant is to pull on it. If it comes out of the ground easily, it is a valuable plant."
~Author Unknown

Below is a little refresher video on the importance of milkweed in the garden, and a good intro for those new to the blog and butterfly gardening. The hostess is particularly amusing as she expounds on the generous, anthropomorphic male attributes of one particular milkweed plant species, Asclepias physocarpa, wrongly referred to in the video as Asclepias fruticosa, a closely related species:

A. fruticosa vs. A. physocarpa. For all intents and purposes, both are admiral candidates for a butterfly garden.


 (Also amusingly known as Family Jewels Plant.)
Asclepias physocarpa;   syn = Gomphocarpus physocarpus

Flowers of A. physocarpa

There is some confusion as to the taxonomy of this particular species, and is at times confused with A. physocarpa. I know it as A.physocarpa rather than A. fruticosa, and believe that the video is using the wrong nomenclature for the illustrated plant.

The Container Butterfly Garden is home to three rather large A.physocarpa that have been excellent host plant additions here. Monarch caterpillars seem to love it. I find this plant to be as popular a host as is A. curassivica. It's easy to grow, produces prodigious amounts of caterpillar food, and the seed pods are curious-looking enough to be a show stopper.

Easy to grow from seed. There are several volunteer seedlings that have popped up in the garden that I will share with anyone if they survive and want to try one. If you wish to try sprouting some seeds of your own, Joyful Butterfly sells packets of seeds for a reasonable cost. As with A. curassivca, A. physocarpa should be pruned way back in the early winter to minimize Oe spores and urge lingering Monarchs to begin their yearly migration.

Here is a graphical illustration of the Monarch annual migration cycle from a article entitled: Wind Beneath Their Wings. Graciously brought to my attention by Karen Schwager of Laguna Beach, California.
The illustration records the adventures of the Midwestern and Eastern race of Monarchs. Our Western race overwinters along the California coast vs. Central Mexico where Midwestern and Eastern Monarchs overwinter.

 On the continuing saga of Tropical Milkweed and Oe spores:

Is Tropical Milkweed Killing Monarch Butterflies?

You be the judge. Personally, I see no reason to castigate A. curassavica for its association of harboring Oe spores more so than native species, and may be causing SoCal, south Texas, and southern Florida races of Monarchs to overwinter in their spring and summer stomping grounds without migrating to traditional Monarch overwintering sites, if these faults are mitigated by following the advice of the article above.

Two opposing views on planting Tropical Milkweed. One is by, the other by

Gardeners' Good Intentions Are Killing Monarch Butterflies

Don't Stop Planting Milkweed