Many options for creating butterfly garden

Garden Q&A

Popular butterfly bush is start, but it can't stand alone

  • Northern Maidenhair Fern
Northern Maidenhair Fern (Ellen Nibali, Baltimore…)
March 21, 2013|By Ellen Nibali, For The Baltimore Sun

I want to plant a butterfly garden for my grandchildren. What plants would you suggest beyond butterfly bush?

While butterfly bush quickly comes to mind, it is not the best by itself. It provides nectar but no food for the other life stage of butterflies, i.e. caterpillar. No caterpillars means no butterflies, so caterpillar food sources are important. Butterflies evolved feeding upon native plants, and some species can be very particular, only eating one type of plant. For shrubs and trees, you can try summersweet (clethra), New Jersey tea, buttonbush, dogwood, pussy willow, spirea alba and spirea alnifolia. Summersweet is probably the easiest to find and a butterfly magnet. Some good perennials include butterfly weed, asters, monarda, dill, parsley, Joe Pye weed and turtlehead.

Is there such thing as a no-mow lawn? I'd rather not spend my time, money or energy on mowing forever. I have a big lot that's mostly full sun.

Look into planting hard fescue, a type of fine fescue. This low-maintenance grass should not be mowed at all in the summer. The effect is not as manicured, of course. Mowing all fine fescues during heat or drought will kill them. Mow only 2-3 times in spring and fall to a height of 3-5 inches. Overfertilizing kills them. They require minimal fertilization and no supplemental irrigation. The downside is that they don't tolerate much wear. You might want to plant a tall fescue close to your house if your lawn gets a lot of foot traffic there. You can let fine fescues go to seed, provided you then mow promptly. Planting should be done in late August through early September.

Vultures have moved into a very tall tree above our house and car. To say there are "bird droppings" is an understatement. Not to mention our house looks cursed. What can we do?

Many bird dispersal methods won't work in your instance because the vultures are perched so high. The keys are timing, persistence and diversity. Notice what time they congregate and be ready to pre-emptively target them at those times, every day, until they leave. Subject them to loud noises such as an air horn or distress calls. Try to reach them with a jet of water from your hose. Success has been achieved with vulture effigies and hand-held lasers. The Maryland Wildlife Hotline at 877-463-6497 provides nuisance wildlife advice.

University of Maryland Extension's Home and Garden Information Center offers free gardening and pest information. Call 800-342-2507 or send a question to the website at

Plant of the week

Northern Maidenhair Fern

Adiantum pedatum

Maidenhair ferns twirl sideways through the garden in exuberant whorls unlike any other fern. The black stems, called rachis, pop in contrast to the green fronds. Even the little side leaflets, or pinna, are unusual, fringed on one side like a wing. The bluish tint of maidenhair ferns adds a cool feel to the summer garden. Though they look delicate, maidenhair ferns are not overly picky. They like part or full shade, rich soil and moisture, yet can tolerate some drought. They slowly spread by rhizomes, creating dense patches. To propagate, divide rhizomes and replant at or just below soil level. Deer don't touch them. — Ellen Nibali

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