Garden Talk

with Rebecca Jordi


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Q: I am just not successful growing butterfly bush along the coast here. What am I doing wrong?

Butterfly Bush

Butterfly Bush

A:   You are doing nothing wrong it just butterfly bush (Buddleia spp) prefers a more inland climate, especially in our sandy soil. They do not like high humidity and watering them twice weekly should be avoided.  They can develop mildew problems on their leaves if they are not getting good air circulation. Well-drained organic soil is the best.  Of course, we do not want you to use any type of pesticides around the shrub as it can kill the butterfly population which should be one of the reasons for growing the butterfly bush. We planted Buddleia Lo and Behold ‘Blue Chip’, which is a trade-marked plant. We have had incredible success with it. This butterfly bush dies back in the winter but returns each year.  It is a dwarf variety and so pretty. 


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Q: What is this caterpillar eating my parsley?

Black Swallowtail caterpillar

Black Swallowtail caterpillar

A:   Thank you for sharing the photo. This is the larvae or caterpillar of the Black Swallowtail butterfly.  The black swallowtail larvae are often confused with the monarch butterfly caterpillar as the colors are quite similar. However, if you look closer you will notice distinctive differences in the yellow and black markings of the two caterpillars. On the black swallowtail caterpillar, the yellow coloring breaks up the black whereas on the monarch the yellow and black seem to form more straight bands. Once you see them side by side you will never make the mistake of confusing them.  It is interesting how different both of the caterpillars look from the adult butterfly.  You would think the adult butterfly would at least keep the same color as the caterpillar – yellow, black and green.  However, the monarch butterfly develops into an orange and black butterfly while the black swallowtail is almost completely black.  Nature never ceases to amaze me.

Monarch Caterpillar

A:   Thank you for sharing the photo. This is the larvae or caterpillar of the Black Swallowtail butterfly.  The black swallowtail larvae are often confused with the monarch butterfly caterpillar as the colors are quite similar. However, if you look closer you will notice distinctive differences in the yellow and black markings of the two caterpillars. On the black swallowtail caterpillar, the yellow coloring breaks up the black whereas on the monarch the yellow and black seem to form more straight bands. Once you see them side by side you will never make the mistake of confusing them.  It is interesting how different both of the caterpillars look from the adult butterfly.  You would think the adult butterfly would at least keep the same color as the caterpillar – yellow, black and green.  However, the monarch butterfly develops into an orange and black butterfly while the black swallowtail is almost completely black.  Nature never ceases to amaze me.   


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Q: How long do butterflies live?

Monarch Butterflies

Monarch Butterflies

A:  The life span of butterflies varies according to the butterfly.  Larvae generally live longer than the adults.  The longest life spans are associated with the migrating Monarchs, Mourning Cloaks, and some moths which can live for about 6 to 12 months.  The caterpillar of the monarch butterfly feeds only on milkweed. The caterpillar of the mourning cloak feeds in groups on the leaves of deciduous trees, including the willow, elm, hackberry, cottonwood, poplar, rose, birch, hawthorn, and mulberry. The adult mourning cloak butterfly feeds on tree sap and rotting fruit. It may also eat nectar from flowers. The shortest butterfly life spans are found among the Coppers and Small Blues butterflies which live in their adult state for only a few days!