Monarch butterflies were slow starting this year but Isabel Harris of Warkworth - dubbed the "butterfly lady" - intends that to change next spring.
Normally her swan plants have been laden with caterpillars in November, the butterflies hatching well before Christmas.
This year they were late but once they arrived the plants were soon smothered with caterpillars and stripped bare.
The plants are now recovering and Isabel is growing more in pots ready for the next generation.
"These will be the ones that will fatten up into big healthy caterpillars, turning into big strong butterflies, the ones that will need to survive through the winter, mate and lay eggs in the spring," she says.
Now is the time to plant the seeds and Isabel has giant swan plant seeds to give away.
It is best to plant where you want the mature plants to grow, as once seedlings are bigger than 20cm their root system is well developed and they don't like being moved, Isabel says.
"I like to plant a few plants in 40cm pots, which can be covered with bird netting to keep the butterflies from laying eggs so there will be food available when the plants in the garden have been eaten."
Isabel says if this year's mature plants are looked after they will continue growing and be big and healthy early next spring.
To keep swan plants in good health, trim the tops back, remove the seed pods and flowers.
"Watch out for the orange aphids which will kill the plant if allowed to flourish. Lady bug larvae will eat the aphid but I find they can not eat fast enough and I have to resort to washing the aphid off with the hose or make up a soap spray."
Slugs and snails love swan plants, so keep an eye out during winter as a snail can quickly strip the tender leaves and stalks and ring bark the main trunk which kills the tree, Isabel says.
Butterflies need nectar rich flowering plants to feed on, with suitable shrubs including hebe, bottle brush, buddleia, viburnham, also lavender and echiums.
Flowers such as michaelmas daisy, bee balm, phlox, dianthus, alyssum, cosmos, veronica, sedum are also good food sources. Herbs like parsley and oregano left to flower are popular too.
Monarchs need milkweed to feed the caterpillars - swan plant and blood flower.
Native yellow and red admirals need stinging nettle.
For giant swan plant seeds send a stamped self addressed envelope to Isabel, 1509 State Highway 1, Warkworth, or phone 0272 811 504. Isabel also has native nettle available for anyone interested in encouraging admiral butterflies.
- Rodney Times
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