by Kathy Van Mullekom, a lifelong gardener and gardening writer living in York County, Virginia
Last month, my pollinator perennial garden was an overgrown jungle – one very much alive with beaucoup butterflies. After a couple years of milkweed, bee balm and mountain mint spreading and multiplying, it was time to thin out, clean up and make room for fall-flowering perennials and annuals.
First, I removed the fading foliage of perennials that had suffered lack of water while I was on vacation. Then, I sparingly pruned perennials that still had life in them, leaving ripe seed heads that provide a natural food source for birds throughout fall. As I pruned and cleaned, I also pulled up some of the bee balm that was spreading into my favorite shrubs that provide structure to the pollinator palace – hydrangea, Yuletide camellia, nandina, lantana and wax myrtle. The cleaning also uncovered the hiding place of a teeny baby turtle, which I carefully picked up and placed in a vegetative spot where predators could not see him. I laughed as I moved him, his little legs squirming and struggling to get free.
For fall color and pollinating purposes, I’m planting plenty of asters, including New England aster which is a larval host plant for the pearl crescent butterfly’s caterpillar and a perfect fall nectar plant for many butterflies, moths and insects. Goldenrod (sneezeweed, not goldenrod, makes you sneeze), toad lily, sedums and fall-flowering crocus will add more bursts of color. Then, I’ll place a few pots of lemon yellow mums on the nearby patio and sit back to enjoy several more weeks of seasonal splendor.
photos by Kathy Van Mullekom