October - What's in Katie's Garden?

In My Garden (Zone 7-8)

Katie Elzer-Peters
Katie Elzer-Peters is the author of Beginner's Illustrated Guide to Gardening, Carolinas Fruit and Vegetable Gardening, Southern Fruit and Vegetable Gardening, and many other vegetable gardening books. She lives in coastal North Carolina, where she enjoys four-season gardening. 

This month I’m focusing on doing something in my garden that will benefit the creatures that live in it as much as it will benefit me. With the troubling decline in bee populations and everything that goes along with it, I’m adding more pollinator plants to the garden.

There are two types of pollinator plants: host plants and nectar plants. Some species require only nectar plants, but butterflies and moths (insects that go through metamorphosis) require host plants to feed the caterpillars.

A stroll through my garden or a casual observation of the plants in my neighbors’ yards or a trip to a local botanical garden these days results in an overloaded camera and a dead phone battery because I’m flitting around like the butterflies trying to get pictures of them landing on everything in sight.

Here are some of the things I’m planting to welcome butterflies, bees, and other insects to the garden.

Joe Pye Weed

This native perennial blooms in the fall, so it is an excellent addition to the garden. It is a nectar plant for almost every flying insect. If you have a smaller garden look for a smaller cultivator. The straight species can grow up to eight feet tall!


Helenium is the scientific name of this fall-blooming perennial. It has yellow, orange, red, or multi-colored flowers. Honeybees love this aster family plant for nectar.

Mountain Mint 

As with all plants in the mint family, this perennial herb can grow out of control quite quickly. It is absolutely covered with insects every time I pass it, though, so if you can plant it somewhere that it can run wild, or you don’t mind keeping it contained, it’s a keeper. Bee balm is another great pollinator plant.


Bronze fennel is the favorite food of choice for black swallowtail caterpillars. This is a hardy perennial that can get eaten to the ground if you have a lot of very hungry caterpillars present, so plant a lot of it! When not munched to the ground, fennel can grow to heights of five feet if planted in full sun.


This is a cool season herb that will do double duty as late season butterfly larva (caterpillar) food and a culinary delight for your kitchen. If the critters eat it to the ground, it will soon grow back so you have a garnish for your finest Italian dishes and can throw handfuls into hearty soups just before serving. Parsley gives a great vitamin burst!


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Gardening Tip of the Day

  • Some folks call them squirrels, but most gardeners call them "tree rats," as they can really damage bulbs in the garden. Squirrels are everywhere and the best you can do is to discourage them. Repellants work for a while, but a physical barrier is usually the best deterrent. Hardware cloth, a stiff, meshed wire screen with holes of various diameters — use half-inch or three-quarters — can be placed below ground over bulb plantings to protect them until they come up or it can be molded over pots to keep the varmints from digging in the soil.