If You Want to Attract Monarch Butterflies, Plant a Butterfly Garden Filled with Zinnias, Cosmos, and Goldenrod | Home & Garden



Q: We have Mourning Doves and Cardinals in our yard most of the year and you want to know what we can feed them? During the winter I put suet blocks in there from our woodpecker and several birds like nuthatches and chickadees, although the woodpeckers haven’t passed yet. During the summer, these two birds are in the vicinity and have probably made their nest there. What can I feed them now? We also have chickadees that occasionally come to a suet cake, any suggestions for them?

—Marty, Dalton

A: I can make a few suggestions, but these birds will now find a variety of foods. Mourning Doves feed on sunflower seeds, fruit, and cracked corn (I bought this food for them after hearing they like it, but our doves ignore it). Although I don’t toss bread, they are said to like breadcrumbs once in a while and will make a great treat. Our Northern Cardinals also opt for sunflower seeds and crushed (unsalted) peanuts, and some eat bananas and raisins, but ours have never tried them. The black-capped chickadee, our state bird, will eat crushed peanuts, sunflower seeds, and of course, as you mentioned, suet.

Want to help monarch butterflies?  Plant milkweed to give them a place to lay and hide their eggs

Q: A few years ago I was able to transplant small milkweeds, and now we have a small patch, but they don’t seem to attract any monarchs. And we also have a nice little flower garden. Ideas?

—Phil, Stockbridge

A: I have found that newly planted plots take time to attract various insects. Without milkweed, there probably wouldn’t be any monarch butterflies here. Monarch larvae feed on milkweed, adding the chemical to monarch larvae that makes them unpalatable to predators.

If you want a monarch butterfly garden, there are also other additions to the garden; for other plants that attract this species, add goldenrod (it’s not the cause of your allergies, it’s usually ragweed); this beautiful common wildflower depends on pollinators like butterflies and bees (the dusty pollen of ragweed is dispersed by the wind.) Another plant, this one cultivated, is the butterfly bush which attracts most of the butterflies, including the monarch. In fact, this plant attracts almost all butterflies. A commonly planted garden flower is the cosmos, a family of daisies that attract monarchs. And it is an easy plant to sow in the spring. Lantana is another good flower to plant, as is zinnia. (Our gardens are a mix of natives and non-natives.)

Why this interest in monarchs? The monarch butterfly population has dropped to low enough numbers to be considered endangered by the US Fish and Wildlife Service in some places.

Q: I should have kept the column in the journal you wrote about ground ivy. Our new yard has this ground ivy growing in place of grass. Can you recall the column?

– Anonymous

A: I don’t remember the column, but I remember when we lived in Dalton it was ground ivy, or gills above ground was one of our main weeds; today, here in Pittsfield, we leave any “weeds” that decide to grow in our lawns to feed the bees and bumblebees, and rarely shoot if they interfere. “It grows like a weed” is a saying my grandmother liked to use. To her, we kids were growing like weeds, and to her way of thinking, it probably was. This thought came to me the other morning as I was weeding one of my flower gardens. And didn’t spend much time unless they got obnoxious. And, as I knelt on the damp earth pulling about a dozen weed species, my thoughts drifted to, “Why am I pulling these little adventures out of the ground?” I planted the ancestors of several species that I picked as weeds last week. In doing so, I asserted that one of the definitions of the term weed is “an out of place plant”. Because I found myself pulling up tomato plants, pansies and cosmos.

Neglect malva, known to gardeners as common or cheese mallow, is a small plant which has naturalized from Europe and grows occasionally in our garden and is found in fields (cultivated and wild), gardens and lawns. It is for its small fruit that looks like a miniature cheese wheel and has a delicate flavor. Maybe more on that in another column.

And like many other mints, the gill-over-the-ground I wrote about recently is strongly aromatic due to the presence of volatile oil. My late friend Dave St. James would brew an infused cup of gill-over-the-ground tea in the spring and tell stories of its medicinal uses; one was for hearing aid, although I misplaced it among many other uses I learned about thirty years ago. Like chamomile, it’s not a native, but you’d think it might be.

In Mrs. William Starr Dana’s”How to Know Wildflowers“, published in 1900, we read, “Its common title of gill-over-the-ground appeals to one who is sufficiently uninterested in grazing (as he is obnoxious to cattle) to appreciate the pleasing manner in which this little immigrant from Europe settled here, illuminating the land with such a bountiful profusion of flowers each May. But it’s a little disappointing to learn that this name [Gill] is derived from the French guiller and refers to its ancient use in the fermentation of beer.


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