In the Butterfly Garden, Part II: Transplants and Seedlings to Make a Vibrant Butterfly Garden in Downtown San Antonio

Last week we encouraged you to head into the garden to smother your dead turf with layers of newspaper and mounds of mulch.  This week the turf-to-bed conversion continues.

After giving your new beds  time to settle (with welcome help from recent Central and South Texas showers), you can start plugging in transplants and later, begin seedlings for the spring.

Coming soon: Butterfly Garden at "the Cube" in San Antonio, TX 78210

Coming soon: Butterfly Garden at "the Cube" in San Antonio, TX 78210

I like to recycle plants from one garden to another.  As I mentioned in Part I, last year I moved to Austin from San Antonio and took several plants from my Alamo Heights butterfly garden with me. A large rue bush, several milkweeds, a couple of bulbines–these plants made the 75-mile trek to Austin.

Now I find myself returning to the Alamo City.  I’ll take a few favorite plants back–some of the original San Antonians, as well as Austin finds.   Our new living quarters will be a green built downtown “Cube” (Leed-certification pending) conceived by progressive architect/urban pioneer Hilary Scruggs of Operative Ventures.   The front yard plot has a grey water system that recycles shower, bath and dishwater for landscape irrigation.  That has been an interesting learning experience (more on that another time).

Last week I prepped the area via solarization, using mulch and newspaper to kill the turf.  Now I’ll install a few plants.

Future butterfly garden. Hilary Scruggs "Cube" has a grey water sprinkler system

Future butterfly garden. Hilary Scruggs' "Cube" has a grey water sprinkler system

Here’s what I’m digging up and moving from my Austin bed:

Several milkweeds–brought from my Alamo Heights garden
Rue–the same one I moved from Alamo Heights
Bulbines–moved two from Alamo Heights
Lantana–bought in Austin, will move them to SA
Indigo spires–bought in Austin, will move them to SA
Red sage–bought in Austin, will move them to SA

Fresh transplants will be added shortly, such as:

Italian Parsley–buy at local nursery
Dill–buy at local nursery
Fennel–buy at local nursery

Milkweeds, of course, are the Monarch butterfly and Queen host plant and will ensure plenty of caterpillars.  In late March, the Monarchs leave their overwintering roosts in Mexico, laying the first eggs of the migratory season in Texas.  Milkweeds transplanted now will die back with freezes, but bounce back in the spring.  Many species of butterflies enjoy nectaring on Milkweed.

San Antonio milkweed, born in Alamo Heights, will return home after a stint in Austin

Tropical milkweed, born in Alamo Heights, will return to San Antonio after a stint in Austin

This well-traveled Rue bush will return to San Antonio next week

This well-traveled rue bush will return to San Antonio next week

My well-traveled rue bush is a sturdy, heat tolerant perennial that plays host to the Eastern and Giant Swallowtail butterflies and blooms yellow in the heat of summer.  As soon as the weather begins to warm, the black and blue butterflies deposit their golden yellow eggs on rue, Italian parsley, dill, and their apparent favorite–fennel.  For some reason they don’t care for the curly parsley and I don’t either.  The Swallowtail caterpillars are highly entertaining, and sport crazy yellow tentacles that seem to reach out and fathom the universe when bothered, giving off a weird scent. Kids love them.

Swallowtail on Fennel

Plant fennel now so you can have Swallowtail caterpillars in your butterfly garden this Spring

Another plus to using these herbs as a foundation for your butterfly garden: you can eat them, harvesting leaves and seeds for cooking.  Fennel bulbs can be braised and used raw in salads.  As temperatures rise in June, the herbs will bloom and go to seed, useful for next year or as an addition to dips, yogurt or sprinkled on toast or pizza.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.   After plugging in the transplants by simply cutting a hole in your mulch-covered newspaper, you can  propagate more butterfly plants by starting them inside with this year’s seeds. Cowpen Daisy, milkweed, Frostweed, sunflowers, and Jimsonweed can all be perpetuated by a shallow planting in plastic seedling trays with potting soil.   Get the plants started  indoors, water regularly, and they’ll be ready to transplant in the ground after danger of frost is past (usually March 15).

Cowpen Daisy seedlings in January 2011

Cowpen Daisy seedlings in January 2011

This year I might try pellitory or nettles, which host the Red Admiral butterfly.  Passionflower, host to Zebra Longwings and Gulf Fritillaries, also makes my wish list. Friends at the Austin Butterfly Forum rave about the woody Flaming Acanthus, the host plant to the Crimson Patch butterfly.  That would be a new species for me, and apparently hummingbirds love it.

Until then, my winter garden will remain sparse, as the solarization process breaks down the turf, creating fertile soil.  Likely I will supplement with winter lettuces–arugula, frisee, chard and kale–probably in a container.  Then, later in the spring, we’ll add tomatoes, okra, and peppers or eggplant.   Mixing edibles into the butterfly garden makes for a continuum of interest and activities.  If you’re not enjoying the butterflies or collecting caterpillars, you’ll be harvesting fresh produce.

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This entry was posted in Butterfly gardening, Butterfly Life Cycle, Eastern Swallowtail, Jimsonweed, Milkweed, Monarch Butterfly, Monarch caterpillar, seeds, turf-to-bed-conversion and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to In the Butterfly Garden, Part II: Transplants and Seedlings to Make a Vibrant Butterfly Garden in Downtown San Antonio

  1. Oma says:

    Wow, you have quite a project going. I am a bit ahead of the game, planted dill, fennel and italian parsley about 4 weeks ago, the dill is already starting to bloom. Oma

    • Monika Maeckle says:

      It’s really not that hard, Oma. The above was done in a couple of hours. Nature does the heavy lifting. LEt me know if you want to do at your house and I’ll come help!

  2. Katy says:

    San Antonio welcomes you and your plants back! We need you.

  3. Anna says:

    We are happy you are coming back. Learning so much from your posts. Thank you. We’ve just installed a butterfly garden at our local women’s shelter and can’t wait until spring to see what we’ll have. You have great ideas.

    • Monika Maeckle says:

      Anna, that sounds like a great idea. I often gift people with caterpillars and chrysalises for transitional life events–weddings, births, anniversaries, leaving a job–or an abusive husband. Please keep us posted!

  4. Jody and Ken says:

    Your ambition is terrifying. Just reading about it makes me want to take a nap! 😉 Ken

  5. Monika Maeckle says:

    Ha! Ken, some of are ambitious in the kitchen (more than five ingredients? probably won’t go there), others ambitions are expressed in the garden. Try it some time! Thanks for stopping by.

  6. casatulco says:


    It will be great to have you and your caterpillar buddies close by again.
    Thanks for the very helpful information.
    I just finished removing the last of my grass at the studio, and planted a few butterfly attracting plants for spring. Can’t wait for the magic to begin again.

    • Monika Maeckle says:

      Hey Veronica,
      LIkewise, can’t wait to get through this move. I just heard today that the Monarchs have arrived in Michoacan. Maybe one of ours made it. Perfect for Thanksgiving. Thanks for stopping by.


  7. Teresa Elliott says:

    My caterpillar has stopped eating but is not making the J shape. Is he resting or what? Also, should I leave a light on for him allnight or do they need the dark?


    • Monika Maeckle says:

      Great question, Teresa.
      No light at night. They need the regular cycles of the day. Your chubby guy is probably spinning his little silk button to attach himself upside down in the J-shape. Be patient. Transforming yourself into another life form takes deep, deep concentration. Imagine if you had to grow wings! I bet he will go J-shape within a day, and then chrysalis will follow shortly thereafter. Let us know how it goes.

  8. Pingback: A Year in the Life of A Butterfly Garden: From Turf to a Butterfly Host and Nectar Garden, with Edible Landscape In Between | texasbutterflyranch

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