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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.

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

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Monday - April 01, 2013

From: Houston, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Butterfly Gardens, Compost and Mulch, Soils
Title: Amending soil for butterfly garden in Houston
Answered by: Nan Hampton and Julie Marcus

QUESTION:

My girl scout troop will be planting a butterfly garden at a middle school in Houston. In researching plants to use, we have come across some such as echinacea, rose vervain, galliarda and Texas gayfeather which require rocky, sandy soil. Our area (about 130 sq. ft) is part of a larger fenced in area. The school is bringing in top soil to make up beds for the whole area. My question is, would it be possible for us to amend the soil in a section of our garden so that it would support these plants? There are other plants on our list which require a moister, richer soil. We visited the Wildflower center last spring and noticed that you have many different habitats in different beds. Could you tell us how we could go about creating this in our own garden?

ANSWER:

We aren't sure what sort of topsoil is being brought in for your garden beds, but we suggest you amend the soils for your garden with compost.  It will help build the soil and add nutrients.  All of the plants you have suggested as well as the extra ones we have recommended are very adaptable and will do well in most soil types as long as they are well drained.  Adding compost to your soil will increase its drainage capability as well as adding nutrients for the plants. You might like to visit the Aggie-Horticulture on Soils & Composting to learn more about the benefits of using compost to amend your soil. 

For your garden to be most successful, you should grow plants native to the Houston area.  The flowers you named (listed below) will do well there and they will attract butterflies.  Here are the specific ones that are known to grow in or near Harris County:

Echinacea purpurea (Eastern purple coneflower)

Liatris mucronata (Texas gayfeather)

Liatris punctata (Dotted blazing star)

Glandularia canadensis (Rose vervain)

Gaillardia pulchella (Firewheel)

The Houston chapter of the Native Plant Society of Texas (NPSOT) has an excellent Native Plant Guide that recommends "Native Host Plants for Southeast Texas Butterflies" that grow well in the Houston soil and climate.  The list gives the butterfly species associated with each of the plants. You might consider adding some of the plants on the list since these plants are recommended for Houston and Southeast Texas and will do well in your garden.  For example:

Coreopsis lanceolata (Lanceleaf coreopsis)

Coreopsis tinctoria (Plains coreopsis)

Rudbeckia hirta (Black-eyed susan)

You also might consider becoming part of the Monarch Waystation Program by adding some species of milkweed to your garden. The 'Bring Back the Monarchs' Campaign was created to increase the number of milkweeds and support the dwindling monarch populations. Here are some milkweeds native to Harris County:

Asclepias asperula (Spider milkweed)

Asclepias tuberosa (Butterflyweed)

Asclepias verticillata (Whorled milkweed)

If you haven't seen it already, please visit our How to Articles and to find Butterfly Gardening.  It has information that you should find useful.

 

From the Image Gallery


Eastern purple coneflower
Echinacea purpurea

Texas liatris
Liatris punctata var. mucronata

Dotted blazing star
Liatris punctata

Rose vervain
Glandularia canadensis

Indian blanket
Gaillardia pulchella

Lanceleaf coreopsis
Coreopsis lanceolata

Plains coreopsis
Coreopsis tinctoria

Black-eyed susan
Rudbeckia hirta

Antelope horns
Asclepias asperula

Butterflyweed
Asclepias tuberosa

Whorled milkweed
Asclepias verticillata

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