Category Archives: Schools

Programs for Pre-Schoolers

I was able to watch a program at the Butterfly House and came away with a few ideas.

  • Start with kids introducing themselves – name and age
  • Put color pictures in plastic sleeves to show kids
  • Parts of a butterfly.
  • Read book – Very Hungry Caterpillar.
  • Read the book -Are You a Butterfly” – Judy Allen
  • Song –
  • Have kids color – packets of paper with cardboard, crayons, and picture.
  • Have a list of questions/cards
  • Plant seeds.
  • Small cups with black marker to put on names.
  • Bring in eggs, cats, and plants to show and tell.
  • Use a cart to carry stuff into school

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Planning for a New School Garden

I’m helping a school put in a new school garden and will use this site to keep a record of the things we consider.


  • ASK for Money from garden clubs and other nature groups. The school I’m working with asked one group for $2000 and they gave them $2500!
  • Kirkwood Garden Club, Webster Groves Garden Club, NABA, WGNSS, St. Louis Audubon, Gateway Greening, Brightside St. Louis, Forest Releaf, Kiwanis, Optimist club.
  • Get some help. The teacher emailed me asking for help and to come out to the school and give some advice.
  • Order seed and containers to grow it in. I like the trays with 36 cells per tray and a plastic cover. Here’s the link from Park Seed. I prefer the larger cells and instead of transplanting plants I just let the largest plant live in the cell and snip off the others. Depending on the cost of the seeds, I put anywhere from one to six seeds per cell.
  • Evaluate the area.
  • Do some research on raised beds – see links at the bottom.
  • Evaluating seed starting possibilities.


Park Seed has a professional, but expensive solution to starting seeds and plants for $399.

I use a much less expensive solution in my basement – regular fluorescent lights – $20 to $50 each – that I just hang from the ceiling. I prefer the more expensive, but better shop light from Home Depot.

Another solution I use is a wire shelf unit. I can usually fit nine trays on this four shelf unit. I could also possibly use the top shelf if it has some natural light.Shelves-for-plants-web

Site Analysis – look at the potential site and see what its pluses and minuses will be.

  • Sunshine – does it have enough – what’s the path of the sun – what will be the sunny and shady areas.
  • Water availability – hose? turn-off valve necessary? sprinkler? While raised beds look nicer, they also will dry out faster.
  • Soil analysis – usually pretty bad for most Missouri soils.
  • Drainage – will water drain away from the site?
  • Site level or sloping?
  • Raised beds or in-ground? Stone, wood, concrete block?
  • Paths through the garden areas.
  • Materials for paths – stone, mulch, paving materials.
  • Define the garden area – fence – stone
  • Stay away from playgrounds.
  • Signs for garden?
  • Tool-shed-Storage area?
  • Distance from school? The closer the better usually although you don’t want kids walking through the garden beds.
  • Areas for instruction – tables/benches
  • How easy will it be for maintenance people to work around the area?
  • Who will maintain the garden during the school year?
  • Who will maintain the garden during the summer?
  • Weather Station?
  • How will you get rid of garden waste?
  • Composting – where will this be?
  • Garden Design – get kids involved.
  • Organic vs artificial?
  • What are you going to plant? Vegetables, herbs, butterfly garden etc.?
  • Accessibility – how can you make this wheel chair accessible?
  • Security and Safety – is this area safe for kids to be?
  • Containers for invasive plants.
  • Future Usage – what are the plans for this site in the future? Will the school be using this space for other purposes in the future?

Other Resources

Click to access CSGN_book.pdf

Raised Beds

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School Resource – Educational Science

I found a nice site for schools who are looking for items related to butterflies.

They have curriculum, larvae, books, nectar, seeds – just about anything a school might need.


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Raised Bed Butterfly Gardens


One of the nicest school gardens that I’ve ever helped with used a raised bed system. That year we had a terrible drought so I was concerned about how the plants would do as they baked in the heat. Here’s the result after one year.


  • Pearly Everlasting
  • Gaillardia – great!
  • New England Aster
  • Echinacea
  • Maltese Cross
  • Sedum
  • Shast Daisy – but doing poorly.
  • Slender Mountain Mint
  • Veronica

Died Out

  • Verbena bonareinsis – seems to have died out, but may have reseeded itself.

2013 – we planted 25 extra plants – filling in with milkweed(swamp, annual + seeds), bronze fennel, meadow blazing star, coreopsis and lantana,


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Butterfly Plants for School Gardens

 If you’re thinking of planting a butterfly garden for a school, I’ve put together a number of my best practices. I’ve put many butterfly gardens in the St. Louis area and learned quite a lot in the process. Many of my plants and practices that I do personally in my own garden are not optimal for a school garden. Here’s my list of best practices for a school butterfly garden.

  • Include plants which take less maintenance.
    Putting in the garden is the easy part. The question then becomes, “Who is going to maintain the garden?” Who will pull the weeds, water the plants, clean up the garden in the spring and take care of the garden in the summer. This is no easy chore and why many teachers shy away from these extra responsibilities. While buddleia is a great butterfly attractor, it needs to be deadheaded on a regular basis for it to keep blooming. Also avoid any plants which have the word “invasive” in their description.
  • You need to get at least one adult to commit to taking care of the garden.
    It doesn’t make any sense to have a garden and not have anyone willing to do the upkeep. Ideally you can get someone who will come in over the summer when school is out to do the watering and weeding.
  • You want lots of plants which will bloom in the fall.
    Since most kids are out of school by the end of May, all of the summer blooming flowers will be gone by the time they come back in late August/early September. You want as many plants as possible which will bloom during the fall.
  • Water the plants in well.
    When you first put in your plants make sure that all plants get a healthy dose of water. The first month is crucial so make sure they are well-watered that first month.
  • Use lots of mulch.
    Mulch will keep out weeds and reduce the need for watering. When you’re done planting, cover the bare areas with mulch.
  • Put in paths and edging
    You need to define the garden so kids will know where they can and cannot walk. Kids are enthusiastic and will walk right over your new plants unless you clearly indicate to them  where they are supposed to walk. Walkways will also keep the kids shoes clean for when they go back into the classroom. Raised beds would be one way to do this. Also the maintenance crew will be less liable to “Roundup” the garden if it is plainly marked.
  • Locate the garden close to a water outlet.
    With summers getting hotter and drier lately you will not only need access to water when you put in the plants, but also someone willing to water once a week if it doesn’t rain during the summer. You will need to be able to run a hose to the garden. You’ll probably need a special tool to turn on the water.
  • Sun. Sun, Sun
    You want a location with as much sun as possible. Put tall plants in the back so they don’t over-shadow the smaller plants. Try for six or more hours sun if possible.
  • Consider the ultimate size of the plants.
    Many plants start out small, but may ultimately cover a large area. Keep the larger plants away from the edges. The first couple of years you can fill in with annuals.
  • Buy good soil if possible.
    Most soil in St.Louis is terrible – more of a potting clay then good for new plants. I like a mix of good topsoil and compost. I also like to add fertilizer when we start to get the plants off to a good start. If you can get some with a large pickup truck, this is the cheapest way to buy the soil. Here’s where I buy my soil. I like the Garden Mix. –
  • If you can’t afford good soil, then use a bulb planter to make the holes and plant in those and fill with good potting soil.
  • Start Small
    A 10′ x 10′ garden is much easier to take care of than a garden 100′ X 100′.  Take into consideration how much time the care-taker has to maintain the garden.
  • Stay Away from Playgrounds. Balls and Gardens don’t mix.
  • Use labels to identify the plants.
    I prefer metal stakes with labels made from a P-touch label maker. Here’s where I buy my stakes.
    If you’re planting ten or more species, the teachers will appreciate the plant identification later in the year. Plants change dramatically as they get larger during the year.
  • Plant both Host and Nectar Plants.
    Host plants are necessary for butterflies to lay their eggs and nectar plants to attract the butterflies for nectar. See the tip below for more specifics.
  • Butterfly Gardening Book
    Give the teacher a copy of the “Ten Commandments of Butterfly Gardening.” It’s a FREE download. You can find man more butterfly gardening details in the book. 
  • Perennials are great, but they don’t last forever.
    What I’ve learned from experience is that just because a plant has a “perennial” label doesn’t mean it will last for ten years. Plan on replacing plants in the future.
  • Come back in late fall and plant seeds.
    I like to do this with a class. Collect the seeds in the garden during the summer and fall and let the kids plant in late fall for next years replacement plants.
  • Find a location that is convenient for classes.
    Since the purpose of the butterfly garden is to be a resource for teachers, try and find a place as close as possible to the school.
  • Consider ALL plants for the garden.
    I am currently helping a Boy Scout work on his Eagle project – putting in a butterfly garden for a grade school. One of the suggestions made to him was that this should only include Missouri native plants. While the suggestor was well-meaning, there are a number of things wrong with the idea. Although I always include many natives in the garden, I also include other plants better suited for a school setting.While native plants are great, they may become invasive and may not have the blooming characteristics that you want for a school garden. Also it’s nice to have blooming plants in the fall, so look for plants which will be blooming at that time.
  • Where are you going to get your plants?
    I provide all the plants for the local school gardens, but there may be other free sources. I can guarantee there are local garden clubs whose members might be glad to share some of their plants. PTO’s and other organizations may also have funds available for you to buy plants for the garden. Also remember to try winter sowing seeds to get new plants in the spring.
  • Use small plant containers so kids only have to dig small holes.
  • Bring cleanup tools for when you’re done.
    You might make a mess in the process of putting in the garden so bring along brooms and rakes to clean up the surrounding area.
  • What’s Your Goal?
    While a butterfly garden can provide some beauty and natural area for the kids, it can also be a great learning tool for teachers. Instead of buying larvae to raise in the classroom, teachers can go out to the butterfly garden and collect then naturally. The University of Minnesota has some great teacher tools on their site.

Here’s a list of plants which I recommend for a school garden.

Annuals – Nectar – globe amaranth, dianthus, marigold, salvia- lady in red, zinnia. Host/nectar – tropical milkweed.

Bronze Fennel – host – perennial which black swallowtails use as a host plant.

Butterfly Bush – dwarf. Try this smaller version – it also needs deadheading, but is easier to work with. Not ideal for schools, but when in bloom it’s great.

Dames Rocket – Hesperil matronalis – host plant for cabbage whites and a good nectar plant in the spring. This not like to be transplanted so plant seeds – blooms the second year.

Echinacea purpurea – nectar – may bloom early enough before the school year ends.

False Nettle – host – used by Red Admirals as a host plant.

Gaillardia – nectar – blooms all year long – may over-winter and reseed itself.

Hop Tree – host –  if you have space for a small tree, this is a great host for Giant Swallowtails.

Lantana – nectar – bush type – a great nectar source which fills out a large area. It doesn’t need dead-heading. You will probably need to replant in colder climates – it needs as much sun as possible.

Liatris – nectar – meadow and eastern blazing – a great fall bloomer.

Milkweed – host/nectar – aslcepias incarnata, tuberosa – short-lived perennials. Tropical milkweed is a great annual to attract the Monarchs in the fall. The kids can start this in class and plant them in spring. You can possibly try common milkweed in some school situations – but it can be invasive.

New England Aster – host/nectar – the traditional variety falls over and takes up lots of space. Only plant this where you have lots of space. Plant these in the back. I’m trying a variety called Purple Dome this year.

Pearly Everlasting – host – good host plant for Painted Ladies. Falls over and takes space – not for small spaces – try Pussy Toes instead.

Sedum – nectar – Autumn Joy type – will get large and floppy, but attracts fall butterflies.

Shasta Daisy – nectar – blooms until early August

Slender Mountain Mint – nectar – blooms into fall.

Spider Flower – host/nectar – host for Cabbage Whites. It will reseed itself and blooms into the fall. Put in the back of the garden.

Verbena bonariensis – nectar – a great plant – gets tall.


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Crestwood Elementary – 2nd Graders – 2011

Below is an amalgamation of twenty different letters of thanks from the kids.
Dear Mr. Terrific
Thank you for giving Crestwood second graders good tips on making a terrific butterfly garden.
Thanks to you are butterfly garden is turning out great!
here’s the best part…….
And the second graders love working on it.
We also like water too!

I really didn’t know that you had to tap the bottom of the plant box.
Even if it is hard work on.
It’s dirty and hot but we don’t care!

How do you know so much with butterflies and plant?
Because I think you are like the world’s best planter and butterfly exspert.

I hope you like my letter.

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St. Joseph’s and Girl Scout Butterfly Garden

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Garden Prep – Option #1

One new technique we tried at St. Joseph’s is to cover the weeds and grass with a layer of newspaper – two layers thick. On top of that they put six inches of Top Soil Garden Mix. They put in the plants and then covered them with four inches of mulch. It will be interesting to see if any weeds get through those three layers.

Note – another person recommended using cardboard instead of newspaper and poking holes in the cardboard.

Here’s the test I did in mid-May at my house.

In the area shown, I had some weeds growing and I covered them up with either two layers of newspaper or 4 layers of newspaper or nothing at all. I then covered all areas with 3 1/2″ of compost.

Here are the results 2 months later – no weeds in any area. Also, when I dug up the area to see what happened to the newspaper, it had disappeared i n the 2 sheet area, and there was just a little bit left in the 4 sheet area.

Conclusion – I would probably put down two layers of newspaper next time, just to push down the weeds. I would then cover them with a good compost and dirt mix which is available at St. Louis Composting.

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Plants Per Square Foot

When trying to calculate how many plants to bring to a new garden, here’s a good rule of thumb from my last garden.

Divide your square footage and divide by two. In this particular garden I had 400 sq. ft. and so 200 plants would be plenty.

In actuality, after taking into account the paths, I really only had 300 sq. feet, so I planted 150 plants.

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Garden Helpers in the Spring

Thanks to G, Sal and Frankie for their help this spring.

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