Gardening with KSAT: How to plant a beginner organic pollinator garden

These plants will guarantee many butterflies, bees in your garden

SAN ANTONIO – If you want to spruce up your garden with color, always pick plants that can also benefit pollinators. Without bees and butterflies, there wouldn’t be essential vegetation needed for food and to keep our planet cool.

You can read more about the importance of our pollinators and the threats they face, by clicking here.

The most important thing to remember when planting a pollinator garden, is to not use any pesticides, herbicides, or chemicals.

Pesticides job is to kill bugs. The whole point of planting a pollinator garden is to attract insects. Remember butterflies and bees are insects. If you use chemicals on your plants, it will defeat the purpose of attracting those super important pollinators, or even worse, it will attract them and then poison them.

You also want to plant heat and drought tolerant plants. SAWS has a great list of these, and most on this list are native and great for pollinators.

One of the flowers I picked for our garden is called Greggs Mistflower. I have these at home. They do wonderful in San Antonio. Not only are they native, but they are also drought tolerant and heat tolerant, and they bloom for a good part of the year (February-November).

And here’s a little secret. This is like candy to butterflies. If you plant this your garden will be filled with all kinds of butterflies for a good part of the year.

I also chose Tropical Milkweed. This is technically not native to San Antonio, but SAWS recognizes it as a water saving plant.

It does great in heat. Most importantly, it’s a nectar source for monarch butterflies and they need milkweed to lay their eggs. If you spot Monarch or Queen butterfly caterpillars on your plant, munching on your leaves, it’s a great thing! Let them eat the leaves and don’t worry as the leaves will grow back and they are helping to pollinate your plant.

It’s important to note that milkweed is a toxic plant to your pets. If ingested by your pets, it can hurt them. I will say this, I have two dogs who are always in the garden and they have never attempted to eat any of my dozen of milkweed plants. However, if your pet is known to eat everything, either don’t plant this in your garden or plant it in a planter that is high up and not in the ground.

I know some might be saying I should be using native milkweed, like not Tropical Milkweed, but I do plant native milkweed from seed at home and it’s very difficult to grow and can be very finicky.

So Tropical Milkweed is a great plant for a beginner garden, like the one we are growing here at KSAT. I know that there is a little bit of controversy. There was a study done that suggested Tropical Milkweed might hurt our Monarch butterflies. But I spoke with the director of the National Butterfly Center and she says there is not enough evidence to back that research up. The National Butterfly Center supports using Tropical Milkweed as a source for monarch butterflies.

If you see yellow dots on your milkweed, those are aphids. You really don’t want them on your milkweed, because they can suffocate your plant. You also don’t want to use any chemicals or pesticides. You can just spray them off with the water hose or gently rub them off with a wet paper towel. You also can send in nature’s defenders. I’m talking about lady bugs. Lady bugs love to eat aphids. You can buy a box of lady bugs from local nurseries.

Just remember, don’t spray the aphids with any chemicals or pesticides, because these will poison the butterflies that land on your plants.

And let’s get planting!

Before you plant you it’s important to place out your plants before you start digging, so you have a good idea of what it’s going to look like. The next step of course is to dig your holes. You don’t want them too shallow but you also don’t want them too deep. A good way to measure is to take your one-gallon planter, if it fits in there. Then that’s probably a perfect size for it. Sometimes I use an auger on a drill to speed up the digging process.

Lastly you want to give your plants a deep watering right after you plant. As they are getting established you want to water often depending on heat and drought. A good way to tell if you need to water, is by touching the soil, if it’s no longer moist, it’s time to water.

For the first two-three months, I water every other day to help them get established. Remember last summer when we had a month of 100 degree consecutive days? No matter how drought or heat tolerant, most of our native vegetation took a hit. During that time, I brought any of my potted plants into the shade to help protect them and hand watered everyday to keep them alive.

This is all worth it when you see a monarch land on your milkweed and lay eggs. Within just a couple of days of planting the milkweed in the KSAT garden, I saw that magical moment happen.

About the Authors

Sarah Acosta is a weekend Good Morning San Antonio anchor and a general assignments reporter at KSAT12. She joined the news team in April 2018 as a morning reporter for GMSA and is a native South Texan.

Azian Bermea is a photojournalist at KSAT.

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