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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.

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