My entire yard is a butterfly garden.
Why? Because I rarely mow it. Part of this has to do with the fact that I’m trying to fallow the ground so it improves in quality, part of this is because the clip attaching my lawnmower blade to the shaft is broken, and part of this is because I’m lazy.
One thing I’ve noticed in this year-long experiment in “letting things grow” is that the amount of wildflowers and other useful weeds has gone through the roof. I can pick a pretty darn good salad or mess of greens just by foraging through my acre of glorious wilderness.
In my semi-suburban, semi-rural neighborhood, my yard stands apart. Most people crop their weedy grass down to a couple inches underneath their oaks, magnolias, pines and hickories. This provides almost no habitat for good weeds and the much sought after flocks of native butterflies.
Butterflies in and of themselves aren’t the best pollinators, but if you have them, you’ll also have moths, hummingbirds, wasps and bees, not to mention some great stomping grounds for beneficial predators like preying mantises, ladybugs, dragonflies, assassin bugs and their pest-eating kin.
I will never win a “Better Homes and Gardens” competition, but I do win in many other ways. My plants yield well and my gardens don’t have nearly as many pests as they “should” have.
You may not want to go completely natural in your approach to lawn maintenance, but I do urge you to leave some spots to go wild for attracting native pollinators. I’ve written on this before, but I was struck again today by how very many insects there are in my yard compared to the average homestead. If you’re not using all of your yard to garden, then use at least some of it to bring in the good guys.
I noticed something very interesting a little while back. While wandering through my front yard food forest-in-progress, I started watching the butterflies wing about over the trees, flowers, brush and weeds I let grow around my young trees. They flitted and chased each other, twirling about in the Florida sunshine like aerial acrobats, darting from bloom to bloom, diving down and winging up again amongst the tree canopy. I watched one in particular fly across my yard and over to the neighbor’s property. After a few moments of hovering about, it turned and wheeled back into my yard. The sandy grass and huge oaks held nothing for it. No food, little shelter, and nothing beautiful that would attract beady little compound eyes in search of paradise.
It wanted a wonderful cornucopia of tasty weed blooms.
What attracts the bejeweled show-offs also attracts the less-lovely workers that will increase your garden and orchard yields. Many of our favorite foods desperately need pollinating insects. In a time where bee hives are failing and pesticides and commercial agriculture has destroyed a sizable number of the good guys, it’s a travesty to keep your land a perfect wasteland of squat non-flowering shrubs and manicured grass. Leave that for landscape designers and retirees with nothing better to do.
You don’t need to go out and spend a small fortune on pollinator magnets like “butterfly plants.” If you want to get a few, go for it – but I’ve noticed that some of the very best hang-outs for our food-increasing friends are the native “weeds” that grow when you start leaving well enough alone.
Bonus: butterflies and weeds make a great theme for 70’s retro-style posters:
About three years ago, I first noticed a large, fleshy weed that appears to be something in the mint family growing amidst the tangle of shoots popping up from an oak I had removed when we bought our house. The tree was too close to my roof so it had to go. Once that dense shade was gone, other plants appeared. This one in particular grew over six feet in one season, then bloomed in late summer. When it did, a massive variety of insects appeared to feast on the little white blooms. Bees, wasps, moths, flies, beetles, butterflies and all types of buzzing creatures mobbed the blooms – and even better, the weed has returned every year since it first grew.
One thing to keep in mind: honeybees aren’t the only pollinator worth their salt. Many of your native bees, though they don’t produce honey, are also very good at transporting pollen from flower to flower. And as for the wasps, some of them hunt caterpillars directly, tearing them into pieces to feed their larva or paralyzing them and packing the still-living carcasses into little mud pots they build here and there under eaves and in barns. Other varieties, known as “parasitic” wasps, will lay eggs directly on hornworms and other bad guys so their adorable little maggot babies can consume their prey from the inside out.
If you don’t leave spaces for them to thrive, they’ll go elsewhere.
Another pollinator that many forget is the lowly moth. When I sit outside at night on the porch, I witness a constant stream of ghostly visitors darting from flower to flower beneath the moonlight. I doubt their population would be nearly so high without the many plants I’ve simply let grow, rather than chopping into shreds with a fossil-fueled dreadnaught.
Beyond the sheer utilitarian power of weeds, having visits from beautiful creatures is valuable in its own right. Who needs a hummingbird feeder when you can grow your own by not mowing?
Relax. Enjoy the beauty around you and know that by letting a little chaos into your life, you’re also helping increase your food supply.
Call it “prepping by inaction.” Or just laziness.
Needless to say, I prefer the former term.
My entire yard is a butterfly garden.