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Why Garden for Moths?

Gardeners, Mark Your Calendars For the Gardening for Life Celebration with Moth Expert Jim McCormac

Imperial Moth.

Article and photography by naturalist Sharon Mammoser

If you’re like many gardeners, you probably spend a fair bit of time during winter poring over seed and flower catalogs, dreaming of spring when you’ll be back outside again, your hands in the dirt. Perhaps you’ve read Doug Tallamy’s books Bringing Nature Home, or Natures Best Hope, or maybe you’ve heard him speak, and ever since, have been steadily moving your yard towards native perennials, grasses, and shrubs. Perhaps you’ve committed to shrinking your lawn, adding habitat islands that make your outdoor space more wildlife friendly.

With all the choices in nurseries and garden centers, it can be overwhelming to decide which plants would work best and which offer the most to our pollinators, birds, and other wildlife. There are lots of books out there about gardening for birds, bees, and butterflies. Who doesn’t love when these animals spend time in our yards, giving us the priceless pleasure of watching them?

Have you ever considered planting things for moths, or for the caterpillars of butterflies and moths? If you’re like most people the answer is no, and may even be an incredulous, “No! Of course not! Why would I encourage things to EAT my plants?!”

Let me tell you something my friend and farmer Kim Bailey of Milkweed Meadows Farm often tells people who visit her garden stand. She’s referring to butterflies and moths when she says, “If you want them to come to your garden, plant nectar plants, but if you want them to STAY in your yard, you must also offer host plants.” Host plants are the specific plants that animals eat, live on, and lay their eggs on, and have evolved side by side with these insects over millions of years. Many people mistakenly believe two things: One: that caterpillars can eat anything green; and Two: that all caterpillars in the garden must be killed since, yes! They are feeding on the leaves of your beloved plants.

Elm Sphinx Moth.

Times are changing though and a new way of managing our outdoor spaces is on the horizon, including welcoming moths into our yards. Award-winning author, naturalist, botanist, conservationist and acclaimed photographer, Jim McCormac along with naturalist Chelsea Gottfried recently published a book called Gardening for Moths. It’s a great resource for anyone ready to take the next step in their gardening journey and welcome a key player in healthy ecosystems– the misunderstood, and mostly unloved moth.

Jim says, referring to traditional ways of gardening that focus solely on the likes and dislikes of the gardener, ignoring the needs of wildlife, “Why it is always all about us? People have destroyed enormous swaths of habitat and have directly caused the imperilment or extinction of scores of species…to think of gardens only in terms of botanical architecture and color is to think of a one-dimensional landscape dictated solely by aesthetics. Better, in my view, that the plant and animal twain purposefully connect in a garden.”

Related: Check out our Guide to Growing Your Moth Garden or Moon Garden.

Jim McCormac will be the featured speaker at the second annual Gardening for Life Celebration at the Polk County High School on March 30, 2024. Jim’s passion for the natural world and photography skill will shine through in his presentation, introducing us to the fascinating world of moths and their caterpillars. We’ll learn why we need to roll out the red carpet for them and will get suggestions from Jim on what host plants can get us started. In addition, guests to the free event will be able to buy native plants from some of our best local growers and can meet other passionate nature lovers ready to adopt a new gardening paradigm. We hope you’ll join us!

Update: The Gardening for Life Celebration is currently sold out. However, you can add your name to the waitlist here. If you have tickets for this event and your plans change, please email [email protected] so we can make your slot is available for someone else. To learn more about the event, go here.

Moths can add ecological value as well as interest to your garden.

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