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

Soil improvement near Kerrville, TX
December 11, 2010 - We live in the Kerrville area; the soil is extremely shallow and deficient. The yard consists of mainly native plants, with a concentration of plants for butterflies and birds. What kind of soil and ...
view the full question and answer

Replacement for Globe Thistle in Virginia
June 15, 2013 - Hi, We are trying to get our garden to be 100% North American Native and are at about 90% native to our region. One of the last plants we have to replace is our Globe Thistle. Do you have a good r...
view the full question and answer

Non-invasive plants for hummingbird and butterfly garden
January 20, 2009 - Hello :) I've been building a huge Hummingbird and Butterfly garden. Up until now I've only had the Milkweeds and Dill for host plants for the Monarch and Black Swallowtail Butterflies. I'd love t...
view the full question and answer

Growing butterfly weed as a girl scout project
July 30, 2012 - We have a group of girl scouts who want to sell 'crafts' at a farmers market. I am wanting to steer the moms and girls in a different direction. I was wondering if you think that butterfly weed woul...
view the full question and answer

Groundcover and Butterfly attractants for LaRue Texas
May 02, 2012 - LaRue, TX - Would like a native low growing plant as a groundcover. I would like it for six+ hours of sun, drought tolerant, and ones that butterflies might enjoy, while deer won't. Some winter int...
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
© 2014 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center