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Herb Gardening for Butterflies and Bees


Butterflies and bees are in trouble. Their numbers are dwindling. The 2013-2014 monarch butterfly migration from Canada and the United States to Mexico was down by as much as 44%. (CNN) A major culprit is the disappearance of one of the monarch’s major food sources, midwestern milkweed. About one third of the food we eat is pollinated by bees. Bees also pollinate trees, wildflowers and contribute to overall biodiversity. Reduced plant diversity, disease and pesticides have taken a toll on our bee population. So what can we gardeners do?

  • plant a wide selection of flowers, grasses, shrubs, herbs, trees, veggies- the more variety the better
  • plant host providing plants (these are the plants that feed the butterfly larvae or caterpillars)
  • try some native plants like milkweed, spicebush, coneflower and herbs like parsley, dill and fennel
  • plant a colorful variety of nectar plants (these are plants that feed the adult butterfly)
  • use as few pesticides as possible, or go with organic disease and insect controls

Here are a few herbs that are particularly beneficial to bees and butterflies. It’s true that the flavor of herbs is best when the flowers are removed, but it’s the flowers that feed bees and butterflies. So plant a few extra and feed our friends!

  • Anise Hyssop- licorice scent, purple flowers, ornamental, perennial, 3-4 ft.
  • Basil- many types, the flowers on basil attract bees, 1-2 ft, annual, basil needs hot weather before planting.
  • Bloodflower- or asclepias – the #1 monarch butterfly attractor, ornamental, annual, 3-4 ft.
  • Bronze Fennel- attractive foliage, ornamental, host plant (or food) for butterfly larvae, perennial 4-5 ft.
  • Dill- Ferny leaves have zesty dill flavor, annual, 2 feet, host plant (food) for the butterfly larvae
  • Lavender- many types, all attract butterflies and hummingbirds, aromatic and ornamental, 1-2 ft.
  • Lion’s Tail- hummingbirds and butterflies love the orange spiky flowers on this  ornamental annual, 3-5 ft.
  • Mint – many types, let some bloom, bees love the flowers, 1-2 ft., all perennial
  • Parsley- all time favorite garnish, biennial, 1 ft., host plant for the butterfly larvae
  • Rue- attractive silver foliage, yellow button flowers, perennial, 2 ft., swallowtail butterflies love
  • Sage- ornamental varieties like pineapple sage, clary sage and Mexican bush sage are hummingbird magnets.

For more information about bees and how to help save them go here www.buzzaboutbees.net/

For more information about butterfly gardening visit the Missouri Botanical Garden’s Butterfly House at www.butterflyhouse.org

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