Let’s make Clarksdale butterfly friendly

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There’s a lot of attention being paid to helping monarch butterflies, and why not? These amazing insects are the only butterfly species known to have a migration pattern similar to birds.

Using environmental cues, they migrate south in the fall to wintering grounds in Mexico. In the spring, they migrate north to breeding grounds across North America. For some, it’s an incredible 3,000 mile journey.

To help monarchs on their incredible journey, many gardeners mainly plant milkweeds and closely related species to provide forage plants for hungry caterpillars.

But today I want to talk about forage plants for what I think are equally important butterfly visitors. Although the various swallowtail butterflies are not world travelers, I love seeing them in my garden and landscape.

Dill, fennel, and parsley are good choices for swallowtail caterpillar forage plants.

Every spring, I get at least one call from a panicked gardener telling me that caterpillars are quickly eating the herbs grown for dinner at home. They want to know what to use to get rid of these caterpillars. After having answered them from the ledge, I explain to them that dill, fennel and parsley are the swallowtails’ natural fodder.

I grow a lot of dill because my wife and I also grow pickles — well, pickled cucumbers. Every jar of dill pickles we make gets a dill flower head. Due to the amount of dill we grow, we always have a lot of caterpillars.

The main dill we grow is Bunch, as this selection has large flower heads that measure up to 6 inches in diameter. This year, I am growing a few varieties of dill that are new to me: Mammoth and Dukat. I’ll let you know how they went.

Dill is easy to grow. About every three weeks my wife goes around the garden and sprinkles some dill seeds where they germinate easily and provide interest and fodder in various places.

I have found parsley and fennel to be a bit more difficult to grow from seed thrown in the garden. I think it is easier to use transplants from the garden center.

Flat-leaf parsley seems to be a better choice for caterpillar forage than the curled, fanciful leaf type, perhaps because it’s easier for the caterpillars to move around.

When it comes to fennel, I like bronze varieties because they are a bit of a different color in my herb garden. Bronze fennel makes a small bulb, while white varieties like Florence make larger bulbs that are ideal for culinary use.

Growing dill, fennel and parsley for swallowtails can be difficult as we can compete with the caterpillars. The solution is simply to plant enough for your dining table and the hungry swallowtail caterpillars.

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