Pesticides on Butterfly Plants

A Not So Quick Word About Pests and Pesticides on Butterfly Host and Nectar Plants

Many years ago, I was shopping for some lumber at a local big box store ( my local Ace in Greencove springs had
stopped carrying lumber) anyway, being me, I stopped in the garden center on a sunny Sunday afternoon and took this
video of litterally just hundreds of bees and wasps visiting the perennial plant sections neatly displayed across
the tidy tables.

As I stood there watching them drink, I could not help but wonder how many would be left alive the next
day. It overwhelmed me, at the time I was implimenting what in the trade is called IPM strategies or
Integrated Pest management, had begun only using organic pesticides like neem or insecticidal soap that prevented
the loss of beneficial insects on my flowers that I grew with insecticides. I had already at that point
started growing my own milkweed plants so that I knew they were safe but was also still buying in flowering
perennial plants from vendors. I could not be sure that the flowers I bought in and did not grow myself were
not doing the same thing? Did I do enough, know enough? How long had it been since I had studied it? ( these are
the questions that plague me when I try to sleep, knowing the impact that I have growing 40 acres of plants is a
world of different than the average home garden. ) It was then that I decided to embark on a journey to
continue to educate myself on how to save those pollinators and attempt to ensure that the growers I was
buying from were not continuing to treat their flowers with pesticides that would harm the pollinators feeding
on them in light of the new studies coming out on the harm they may be doing. I quickly found out I would have
to grow ALOT of things myself, and I have. Although I must say the tide is rapidly turning and there are
alot more consious growers now than in the last 20 years by far.  At times it has been a “bit of
a journey” and at times it has been a “downright struggle” as some years are tougher than
others. There are times it has been an all out joy, as a visit to the perennial section is alive with
life during spring and summer. (Sometimes to the point that it’s a bit overwhelming to a customer trying to
purchase something like the year I decided to grow a new monarda called beebop, they were not kidding! They named
the plant quite accurately and I ended up needing to relocate them away from the other flowers because they were
scaring people)

I hope you join me in the search for more pollinator and beneficial insect friendly plants and gardens at home,
and I know that I will continue to get the occaisional, “Im not buying that, that’s not a healthy one, somethings
been chewing on the leaves”, I can’t win them all, but I will keep trying. A few chewed up leaves here and there
will probably always make people run for the hills, but I will still have a secret delight to myself as I see
pollinators safely and happily feeding on the plants that I have set out and continue to imagine a bee chasing them
back to their cars. 🙂 And hopefully, if theres such a thing as Karma, all of the plant pests I squish, stomp
on and cut in two with my scissors will be balanced out by all the pollinators that are happily buzzing about. Is
that so much to ask for?

A Not So Brief Explanation of The Down Side of Pesticide Free Butterfly Plants

While not everything grown is pesticide free, I still use IPM ( Integrated Best management Practices)
recommended by UFIFAS and the EPA. And will occaisionally treat plants that are not directly being set aside for
butterfly gardens with organic and beneficial insect safe methods.  Our butterfly plants are grown here on
site from seed and cuttings and not treated with herbicides or ANY pesticides. None. ( I know it may be a
bit extreme, but I treat them exactly like I do the edibles that people are going to eat, it was just the
easiest thing for me to adapt to here on a large scale) For this reason you may find some of natures little pests
hanging around on your milkweed plant just like you would when growing them organically at home. If you spot
a few aphids, rest assured that your plant is healthy and thriving and looking just as delicious to those
aphids as it does to your Monarch butterflies. Plants that have been treated with topical and systemic
pesticides will be free of other critters because those same critters munching away will die after feeding on
the leaf and or nectar of the treated plants. That is not something we do not want to do to the butterflies,
bees and other polinators that may stop by. That decision many years ago (actually done for the bees on my
perennial plants that carried over into butterfly nectar plants and then to butterfy host plants) has caused me
more grief than you could possibly imagine over the years, you would be surprised at how many people don’t connect
the two things in their mind. You can not simultaniously feed the butterflies and save the bees while growing a
plant that nothing stopped by to make a meal out of at some point.

So what is there to do? Regular scouting to hand remove and destroy pests,I like to use my daily watering
time to inspect the undersides of the leaves looking for signs of damage or insect inhabitants. Keeping
the plants well fed with natural things like compost tea and growing them in home made compost teeming with
beneficial microarganisms helps to keep them strong and help them naturally overcome a bit of grazing here and
there by chewing or sucking insects. Making sure they don’t stress from lack of water for prolonged periods also
helps. At home you can amend the soil with compost at the time of planting and top dress your perennials with a
shovel full of compost each spring, mulch with chopped up leaves or straw, pine bark etc in the fall and check
weekly for chewing or sucking insects that may be lurking about during the growing season. If you are one of those
hands on gardeners that feels like you need to be doing something like I am, try making and using compost
tea for a bi weekly foliar spray for your plants. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure when it comes to
pest resistant plants.  And last but not least, learn to live with a little bit of damage. You won’t
win every battle with bugs, just keep on trying. I try to remind myself to “not be weary in well doing”
For me, and most importantly, I will just continue to smile and explain to customers when necessary that the
plant they are looking at is commonly used as a butterfly nectar plant or is currently being used as a butterfly
host plant. Explain that the chewed on leaves are missing because the butterfly larva ate them, point out
the big fat caterpillar culprit, tell them what kind of butterfly it will probably become and that there
is nothing currently on the market to spray to treat those aphids that can not also affect the butterfly larva
negatively or wash off the butterfly eggs etc. And that I will be by shortly with a pair of gloves or a forceful
spray from a water hose to “treat” the problem. And walk away hoping that someone at least for a brief moment
had to stop and think that while we plant flowers for our own enjoyment, there is some thing else out there that
likes them even more than we do. 🙂

Click the links below for more information on Pesticides and Pollinators

The problems with pesticides and pollinators:

How you can help: