En Español

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?


Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions

Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.

rate this answer
Not Yet Rated

Monday - April 18, 2005

From: McAllen, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Butterfly Gardens
Title: Optimum pruning time for butterfly garden
Answered by: Nan Hampton and Joe Marcus


I am planting a butterfly garden that I would like to be pretty as well as beneficial for butterflies. If I am going to have both host plants and nectar plants in the garden and the butterflies will be using the plants for their entire life cycle, when is a good time to prune the garden?


There are several factors that enter in here; for instance, whether your plants are herbaceous or woody, annuals or perennials, spring bloomers or summer bloomers. If your plants are annuals, you probably want them to set and drop seed to produce new plants for the next season. In that case, you don't want to prune anything until at least 1/2 the seeds have set and dispersed. Some annuals respond favorably (some don't) to pinching off the tops to encourage them to branch and bush out. If your plants are perennials and the butterlies are using them for both nectar and caterpillar hosts, you don't want to remove any blooms or potential blooms and you don't want to remove too much foliage while the caterpillars are still feeding. Maintaining adequate foliage for larval food is the most important aspect. For perennials that die back in the winter, you can remove dead foliage, but check to see that you are not removing any attached overwintering cucoons or pupal cases. Your safest time for pruning summer-flowering bushes or trees is in the winter--late November through early February--when few butterflies are active. However, if you have spring-flowering bushes or trees, it is best to prune after they have flowered in the spring since the flower buds are setting in the fall and winter pruning will remove them. If your plants have gotten too bushy or rangy, you could probably do some judicious pruning almost anytime, being careful not to remove flower buds or too much of the plant at one time. The bottom line is that your pruning strategy pretty much depends on the plant.

More Butterfly Gardens Questions

Is Passiflora 'Purple Haze' a host to Gulf Frittilary butterflies?
September 14, 2011 - Is the passion flower purple haze (pasionaria purple haze) a host plant to gulf frittilary butterflies as is the passiflora incarnata passion flower?
view the full question and answer

Foundation plants for Albuquerque.
July 01, 2012 - Hello, I live in Albuquerque. I am looking for some native/xeric low water usage plants for foundation plants for my home. They will be foundation plants for a two story home that has a large ponde...
view the full question and answer

Perennial native plant to attract butterflies/hummingbirds
January 24, 2013 - Need 3-6 foot perennial native plant to attract butterflies/hummingbirds in Paris Texas...full sun, with sprinkler system
view the full question and answer

sources of milkweed in Bastrop, Texas
April 22, 2015 - Where can I buy milkweed in Bastrop County? Can I plant in containers in garden soil? Thanks
view the full question and answer

What would replace non-native orange tree leaves in butterfly hatchery?
July 17, 2009 - I have a very small orange tree that currently has dozens of caterpillars on it that look like bird droppings. I think I have narrowed them down to a swallowtail butterfly. I would love to let them ma...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
© 2016 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center