Each year I become more and more aware of the need to plant host plants for our native butterflies, moths, and pollinators. As a maintenance supervisor, I am one of the lucky few in our area that get to see landscapes transform through the year, as well as being able to evaluate landscapes. Each year I see the same thing, declining numbers of pollinators amid increase uses of pesticides on our farm lands, turf, and landscapes. Anyone who has a large area currently in turf that backs up to farmland can help create a habitat for pollinators and birds alike.
The idea is to create a barrier between the turf and landscape area and the farmland with a strip of native plantings that will become a host site for butterflies and moths, and provide nectar sources for pollinators. We need these insects to pollinate our fruit and vegetable crops, trees and shrubs, and some of our crops as well. By planting a large strip with multiple species of plants we can insure that we will have the pollinators we need for years to come.
The first thing to do is to decide exactly where this strip of plants is going. If you have a large expanse of turf, along the edges of your property will be the best choice for these natives. For landscapes with less turf or ones that have close neighbors, you can still add a strip of natives to the edge of your property; it just may not be as large. If you have a fence, start inside the fence and make it look as if it belongs with the landscape, adding edging and a natural curve to it.
To begin picking plants for the strip, it is best to find a seed mix that is rich in native grasses, forbs, and annuals. A good mix will contain at least eight species of grass, fifteen species of forbs, and six annuals or biennials. For help it deciding what to plant, refer to some of our other posts. Or you can take a look at the following list of common butterflies and their host plants. Do not just plant for your favorite butterflies, like monarchs, but try to include plants that are good for multiple insect species.
Butterfly/Moth Common Name Genus
Variegated Fritillary Violas, Pansies Viola
Silvery Checkerspot Asters, Sunflowers, Liatris Aster, Helianthus
Pearl Crescent Asters, Sunflowers, Liatris Aster, Helianthus
Question Mark Elms, Hackberry Ulmus, Celtis
Eastern Comma Nettles, Hops Urtica, Humulus
Mourning Cloak Willow, Cottonwood, Elm Ulmus, Salix, Populus
American Lady Pussytoes Antennaria
Painted Lady Cherry, Elm, Oak Prunus, Ulmus, Quercus
Red Admiral Nettles Urtica
Common Buckeye Plantains Plantago
Red Spotted Purple Cherry, Apple, Cottonwood Prunus, Malus, Populus
Viceroy Willow, Poplar Salix, Populus
Hackberry Emperor Hackberry Celtis
Little Wood Satyr Bluestems, Switchgrass Andropogon, Panicum
Silver Spotted Skipper False Indigo, Wild Senna Baptisia, Cassia
Funereal Duskywing False Indigo Baptisia
Arogos Skipper Bluestems Andropogon
Soapberry Hairstreak Soapberry Sapindus
Frosted Elfin False Indigo Baptisia
Henry’s Elfin Redbud Cercis
Bordered Patch Sunflowers, coneflowers Helianthus, Echinacea
Black Swallowtail Golden Alexanders Zizia
Zebra Swallowtail Pawpaw Asimina
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Ash, Cherry, Apple Fraxinus, Prunus, Malus
Clouded Sulphur False Indigo, Black Locust Baptisia, Robinia
Cloudless Sulphur Wild Senna, PartridgePea Cassia, Chamaecrista
Juniper Hairstreak Eastern Red Cedar Juniperus
Eastern Tailed Blue Brier, Bundleflower Schrankia,Desmanthus
Spring Azure Dogwood, New Jersey Tea Cornus, Ceanothus
American Snout Hackberry Celtis
Monarch Milkweed Asclepias
Tussock Moth Milkweed Asclepias
Luna Moth Birch, Sweetgum Betula, Liquidambar
Catalpa Sphinx Catalpa Catalpa
Snowberry Clearwing Snowberry Symphoricarpos
Nessus Sphinx Grape, Virginia Creeper Vitis, Parthenocissus
Virginia Ctenucha Bluestems Andropogon
Site preparation is very important. Often, areas that have been in turf for an extended period of time may be compacted and lacking in various nutrients and micro-organisms. If you are planning to add a pollinator patch in the spring, and you have the space, you can start by burning the turf off the area you want to plant in the winter. Follow burning with a soil test, taken at various locations along the patch. Be sure to mark these soil test sites, you will want to test them yearly to see how your soils are changing. Hand scatter seed over patch, trying to get seed scattered evenly. You may need to burn each year for the first five to ten years, then after that every third year may work. If you are planting in an area where burning is not feasible, then till the turf under and spray with a natural herbicide such as acetic acid (vinegar) mixed with soapy water. Try not to use any synthetic chemicals or herbicides on the patch.
Once you have established a patch of natives for pollinators, you can sit back and enjoy the results of increased pollination of fruits and vegetables and the increase of bird species.