Get Growing, tips from Master Gardener Cheryl B. Wilson: Butterfly bushes

Last modified: Tuesday, September 23, 2014
Are you wondering why your butterfly bushes aren’t blooming?

Blame the harsh winter.

Many of us lost buddleias this spring due to the subzero temperatures in December and January. Peter Flynn at Bay State Perennial Farm in Whately reported complete devastation of his buddleias.

If the roots are healthy and there is top growth, don’t despair for next year. Mulching in November or December would be a good practice this fall. Mulch around the crown of the plant. Don’t fertilize this summer — that would only stimulate late growth destined for disaster. In the spring, remove the mulch gradually, trim back dead stems and fertilize lightly, watering well. But be careful; buddleias resent over-watering.

I’m just sorry for the butterflies that usually cluster around the long purple, white, blue and yellow flowers at this time of year.

Luckily some annuals attract the same butterfly species as do fall asters. If you haven’t planted asters for fall bloom already, dash to your nearest supplier and get some ‘Woods Blue’ or other variety so the butterflies have some nectar to sustain them over the winter.

I have noticed several species of butterflies on my annual lantanas in recent weeks. There was a dramatic yellow swallowtail along with one I tentatively identified as a little wood satyr because of its prominent “eyes.” I also surprised a hummingbird either at the lantana in the blue pots or the ‘Mystic Spires’ salvia that is doing well.

Butterflies are among our most endearing garden wildlife. Study some books on the species to decide substitutes for butterfly bushes to plant in your garden to attract these charmers.

POISON IVY: The two worst weeds in our area, in my opinion, are bittersweet and poison ivy. Both are hard to eradicate by organic methods. Both are resident in our gardens thanks to those delightful birds we love to attract to our landscapes. They eat the berries of these plants and drop the residue in the garden.

It is possible, through hard work, to dig out bittersweet. Digging poison ivy is a more dangerous occupation. You need to cover yourself carefully for protection from the oils that can cause severe dermatitis. One friend wraps his arms in the plastic tube-like bags that your newspaper delivery person uses on rainy mornings. When you finish pulling out the poison ivy you simply strip off the bags into a trash bag.

There are plenty of harsh chemicals that can kill poison ivy. The problem is that most of them will kill everything else in contact. Round-up is pretty toxic — and controversial — but it can be applied just to poison ivy by using a cheap disposable paint brush or even a cotton swab. This method is essential if the poison ivy is growing among your beloved lilacs or other shrubs and perennials. Let’s hope that at least it hasn’t invaded your vegetable garden.

August is the ideal month for eradicating poison ivy and bittersweet. The heat and burning sun help the chemicals to work quickly on the rapidly growing plants. Don’t delay if you want to get rid of these noxious weeds this year.

As for making wreaths of the lovely bittersweet berries — forget it! The birds will have a feast and you will have an even larger problem next year. If you do persist in decorating with bittersweet berries, at least dispose of them in a trash bag at the end of the fall season.

CANNING AND FOOD PRESERVATION: If you have more tomatoes than you can handle, tons of cucumbers and other prolific vegetables, there is a workshop just for you on Sunday in Greenfield. Just Roots Farm, the Greenfield Community Farm, is sponsoring a workshop on basic canning, fermentation and other food preservation techniques from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. For details go to http://justroots.org/workshop-canning-and-food-preservation/.The fee is $95, but discounts may be available to income-eligible gardeners.

MUSHROOMS: Learn about wild and farm-raised mushrooms with Fungi Ally at the Amherst Wednesday Farmers Market, 4-5 p.m., Aug. 13 in Kendrick Park. Free.

BEE-FRIENDLY PLANTS: Tom Sullivan of Pollinators Welcome is offering a workshop on bee-friendly plants, Aug. 16, at That’s a Plenty Farm in Hadley. For details, call Sullivan at 863-4480.