En EspaŅol

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?

Share

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
Can't find the answer in our existing FAQs, submit a question to Mr. Smarty Plants.
Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.
 
rate this answer
Not Yet Rated

Friday - January 05, 2007

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Butterfly Gardens
Title: Winter trim-back of plants in butterfly garden
Answered by: Joe Marcus

QUESTION:

I had a wonderful butterfly garden this past spring, summer, and fall. This was its first year of planting. Should I trim the plants that have died back due to frost? I'm worried about destroying eggs or cocoons.

ANSWER:



You have asked a very perceptive question! It is true that by cutting back your butterfly garden plants you may destroy some butterfly pupae and even some eggs. Many insect eggs will survive through the winter on standing, dead plant material, though more probably overwinter on living plants. Many insects, Lepidopterous and otherwise, overwinter in dead vegetation both as pupae and adults. Quite often, dead flower stalks add winter interest and structure in the garden. Many gardeners find plants in this stage of their lives to be quite artistically structured and beautiful.. Moreover, standing, dead plant matter often provides both shelter and food to overwintering songbirds. Here is a nice article on the topic of butterfly overwintering.

There is another side of the issue regarding this topic, though. Standing dead plant material harbors pests - including butterfly predators - as well as the more appreciated insect species. Also, many serious fungal pathogens overwinter in dead plant tissues. Cleaning up the garden in winter will help reduce the incidence of both pests and diseases in the new growing season. In fact, cleaning up debris and leaf litter before the growing season is one of the simplest and most effective pest and disease management strategies the gardener can employ.

Leave whatever dead plant material you wish to leave until late winter. At that time, cut it back and clean it up. Plants that you suspect may be harboring your butterfly friends, you might carefully set aside near the garden until any insects have had a chance to emerge come spring. By cleaning your garden you'll surely lose some butterfly eggs and a few butterfly chrysalides, but many will still survive and repopulate your garden when the weather warms.
 

More Butterfly Gardens Questions

Texas native variety of butterfly weed
November 19, 2008 - Which variety of Butterfly Weed is the native Texas variety? I want to know which one supplies the proper defense against birds to the Monarch butterfly through it's nectar? I have heard that the n...
view the full question and answer

Plants for attracting butterflies in Austin
April 28, 2012 - My 9 year-old son is interested in finding butterfly eggs this Spring. His 3rd grade class is studying butterflies right now. I found a Wildflower Center article that lists several plants butterflie...
view the full question and answer

Will recycled tire mulch harm butterfly larvae?
December 05, 2012 - I discovered orange butterfly larva in the hardwood mulch under my Turk's Cap. Will it harm the larva if I switch over to recycled tire mulch?
view the full question and answer

What species of Aristolochia occur in Hidalgo County, TX?
August 06, 2009 - What species of Aristolochia or are in the Aristolochiaceae family occur in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, particularly Hidalgo Co., TX. Both Pipevine and Polydamas Swallowtail butterflies occur down h...
view the full question and answer

Non-native tropical Butterfly vine (Mascagnia macroptera) in Houston
February 02, 2006 - HOWDY . . . Miss Smarty Plants !!! I am trying to identify one of the most intriguing, unusual & beautiful vines that I have ever seen. I encountered this vine at the home of an 87 year old widow ...
view the full question and answer

Smarty Plants's Facebook profile Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.

Mr. Smarty Plants wants you to be his Facebook friend. Click the Facebook icon to add yourself to Mr. Smarty Plants list of friends.
E-NEWSLETTER | BECOME A MEMBER | DONATE NOW | MEDIA | SITEMAP | STAFF
© 2015 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center