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National Pollinator Week

If you love to eat, you need to help protect our pollinators. Without them, there would be no beautiful vegetables. The flowers and trees also rely on these wonderful winged creatures to spread seeds and fertilizer. With more and more areas being bulldozed and covered with concrete, we need to help our pollinator friends by including in our gardens the types of plants that they need for nourishment.

During National Pollinator Week — and throughout the year — think about protecting these helpful creatures. Additionally, you’ll be able to enjoy the birds, butterflies, and bees flitting through your gardens. Take a minute to review our post from pollinator week in 2015.

https://gardensnips.wordpress.com/2015/05/31/national-pollinator-week/

What’s All the Buzz About?

by OCMGA Master Gardener Tammy Borden

WEB_sphinx-moth2The water streamed out the end of the hose I held to water the impatiens beneath my birch tree. It was then I heard the familiar buzz of a hummingbird zoom by. Despite being among the most fascinating birds of summer, as the days roll by their presence is more familiar and I become accustomed to their antics. But something was different this time. Though it hovered and darted from blossom to blossom with the same agility and precision as a hummingbird, the flying creature was slightly smaller than usual. It was then I realized it was no bird at all, but a moth earning a similar nickname, the hummingbird moth. It’s more common name is a White-lined Sphinx Moth (Hyles lineata).

I dropped the hose and ran to get my camera. When thinking of moths, many may envision images of drab, brown winged creatures most commonly seen hovering around illuminated porch lights. The Sphinx Moth, however, is a colorful insect with nearly a 4” wingspan which is most often seen in early evening sipping nectar with a long proboscis from a wide range of flowers, much like hummingbirds. In my garden, they seem to enjoy zinnias, petunias, salvia, coral bells and impatiens.white-lined-sphinx-moth-0870b-ron-dudley

If you’d like to attract this beauty to your yard, consider adding some of the host plants for the caterpillars, including apple, evening primrose, elm, grape, tomato, purslane, four o’clock and Fuschia. The caterpillars in our area are generally a bright green with spots lining its body and a small horn, resembling a tomato hornworm. While they seem like an exotic species, they are really quite common throughout the United States and southern Canada. They also occur in South and Central America north through Mexico and the West Indies as well as Eurasia and Africa.

Keep a watchful eye on your garden this summer, especially when that familiar hummingbird flies by. It may not be a bird at all. Instead, you might just be witnessing one of these fascinating moths.

 

Care for our Monarchs

Monarch-on-Tropical-MilkweeThe monarch population is at an all-time low. Recent estimates of the monarchs that overwinter in Mexico show their numbers are nearly half of what they were a few years ago. For instance, 60 million monarchs arrived in Mexico in 2012, and, only a few years later, the number was down to 33 million.

While there are a number of reasons for this, one of the biggest has to do with something that we gardeners can fix — lack of milkweed.

Evolution of Milkweed

Twenty years ago, common milkweed was exactly that — common as dirt in every field in the vast stretch of the American Midwest and in the East. This was great for monarchs. Since milkweed is their host plant (where adult butterflies lay their eggs), they never had trouble keeping the next generation going.

Then, Roundup Ready crops showed up — crops that could tolerate the herbicide Roundup without being adversely affected. Unfortunately, one of the plants it killed off was milkweed.

You might not realize just how much milkweed has been affected. Common milkweed still thrives along roadsides today, but it’s been wiped out in millions of acres of agricultural fields. This is why researchers are saying monarchs are in danger — the next generation is running out of food and places to lay their eggs.

Lend a Hand

Luckily, lots of gardeners are helping to fill the gap. Growing common milkweed is a cinch. Just plant it, water it, and wait for the monarchs. With a fragrance as sweet as honey, it’ll attract clouds of nectar-seeking butterflies, as well as egg-laying monarchs. Started from seed, common milkweed can take a few years to flower; started from plants, it’ll settle in faster and soon start to spread via running roots.

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Common Milkweed

With more than 100 species of milkweeds (Asclepias) native to North America, we could fill our gardens with nothing but these fascinating plants. Only a few species are widely available, though, including bright orange butterfly weed (A. tuberosa) and rose-pink swamp milkweed (A. incarnata). Recently, common milkweed (A. syriaca) has soared in popularity as gardeners become more aware of the monarch butterfly decline.

If you like planting outside of the box, there are some little known milkweeds (below) you might try. So go forth and plant milkweed! The next generation of monarchs need your help.

Little Known Milkweeds

purple milkweed

Purple Milkweed

Monarchs will use any milkweed as a host plant, so mix it up with common varieties and these not-so-common options. Also, get to know the native plants in your area, and shop native plant nurseries or online retailers. Here are a few varieties to look for:

  • Green milkweed (A. viridiflora)
  • Heartleaf milkweed (A. cordifolia)
  • Narrow-leaved milkweed (A. fascicularis)
  • Poke milkweed (A. exaltata)
  • Prairie milkweed (A. sullivantii)
  • Purple milkweed (A. purpurascens)
  • Sand milkweed (A. arenaria)

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    Whorled Milkweed

  • Showy milkweed (A. speciosa)
  • Spider milkweed (A. viridis)
  • Tall green milkweed (A. hirtella)
  • Wavy-leaved milkweed (A. amplexicaulis)
  • Whorled milkweed (A. verticillata)
  • Woollypod milkweed (A. eriocarpa)

 

Late Season Blooms to Feed Migrating Monarchs

by OCMGA Master Gardener Rob Zimmer

27224448473_e43172180f_bThere are many great reasons to keep your gardens blooming well into fall, besides the obvious goal of wanting to have a beautiful and colorful garden as long as possible without back-breaking work. Knowing that your efforts to keep the color coming through October is helping to save threatened monarch butterflies is inspiration enough.

While many gardeners will begin to clean up the garden in September, even cutting down annual plants such as cosmos, zinnias and others that have not even begun to fully blossom, the season can be extended even longer, often past first frost. It is possible to have blooming flowers often into December, depending on the weather.

Allowing your garden to continue to bloom as long as possible is a great way to help out monarch butterflies on their long journey south.

monarch-butterflies-on-a-flowerMonarchs from our area, as well as those from further north, are passing through during fall and need our help to continue to fuel up for the long journey to Mexico. By providing a combination of late blooming annuals and perennials, we can help sustain the monarch population by giving them the energy boost they need to continue to wing south.

Planting late blooming annuals such as zinnias, cosmos, marigolds, heliotrope, lantana, salvias, as well as bulbs such as dahlias give monarchs the choices they need in abundant nectar plants to help them on their journey. Incorporating late-season perennials such as meadow blazing star, Joe-pye weed, goldenrod, boneset, false sunflowers and others in the garden provides an even greater variety of nectar sources.

Herbs, especially the many variety of flowering sages and mints, also attract migrating monarchs.

To be even more effective, planting these nectar sources in large masses or drifts serves as a beacon to monarch butterflies passing through our area.

If every gardener in our area dedicated space in the garden to planting late-season flowers, a virtual corridor of food sources would be available to migrating butterflies throughout the state throughout the fall season.

Fragrant Night Bloomers

by OCMGA Master Gardener Vicki Schilleman

Perfume that doesn’t attract insects would be a horticultural oxymoron: putting out the come-hither for pollinators is a flower’s sole purpose, and perfume is a large part of the mating dance. However, not everyone wants to sit in a garden when the bees and other pollinators are moving around, and you can have a fragrant garden that’s low on bees by using night-blooming plants.

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Brugmansia

 

Choices range from the small, inconspicuous, but mightily perfumed annual known as night-blooming stock (Matthiola bicornis) to the many cultivated varieties of Brugmansia, a tropical tree that can grow to 10 feet or more and has been showing up in nurseries under the name angels’ trumpets. All parts of the brugmansia are highly poisonous, but there’s no denying the plant’s appeal. It’s huge flowers blare tropical sweetness from dusk until almost sunup. White is the most common color and usually the most fragrant, but brugmansia also comes in yellow, orange, peach, and pink. Like Chinese hybiscus, mandevilla, and the many other tropicals sold by nurseries in temperate climates, brugmansias are not frost hardy and must be overwintered indoors.

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Nicotiana Sylvestris

 

If you want to stick to annuals, there are plenty to choose from — nicotiana, for example. You’d never know it from the modern cultivars, which lost fragrance when they were bred to stay open during the day, but old-fashioned flowering tobacco (Nicotiana alata) has a very strong night perfume, and so does its much taller, architecturally splendid cousin N. sylvestris.

Other candidates include moonflower vines, night-blooming jasmine, evening primrose, and oddball day lilies like ‘Pardon Me,’ which don’t get going until the sun goes down.