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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.

 

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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)

    Whorled-Milkweed-620x496

    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.

Brugmansia_tree;_closeup_of_white_flower

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.

P1000475_Nicotiana_sylvestris_(Flowering_tobacco)_(Solanaceae)_Plant

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.

Milkweed for Monarchs

by OCMGA Master Gardener Holly Boettcher

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Monarch Butterflies are probably the most recognized and beloved butterflies in North America. Did you know that Monarch Butterflies cannot survive without milkweed plants? That is because their caterpillars feed exclusively on milkweed and no other plant will do.   Monarchs have lost a significant amount of that critical host plant because of shifting land management practices, use of herbicides, and because of loss of habitat in both the United States and Mexico. Here are some simple steps that you can implement if you would like to take action.

Plant Native Milkweed!

Monarch caterpillar

Planting milkweed is one way that you can help not only the Monarch but other pollinators too! If you Google where to buy native milkweed seeds you will find numerous places to order and many are free. You can also purchase plants from an area garden center or our local chapter of Wild Ones during their spring native plant sale. You might contact a local landowner to find out if they are willing to allow you to dig up plants from their property. The plants will do best if you transplant them early in the season and be sure to dig deep to get as much aof their root system as possible.

Be sure to plant milkweed plants that are native to our area.   Look for Common Milkweed, Swamp Milkweed, or Butterfly Milkweed. Avoid planting Tropical Milkweed because the wrong species of this plant has been found to increase odds of the Monarch becoming infected with a crippling parasite. This is most often occurring in warmer environments such as Texas and the Gulf Coast States but is worth a mention in case you are a visitor from the south reading this article! Beginning in the early spring, throughout the summer, and into the late fall, you can search for the Monarch anywhere you see milkweed plants in abundance.

Provide Nectar Plants

Monarch butterflies enjoying Joe Pye Weed

Monarchs also need nectar plants and will sip from many different flowers to nourish themselves throughout the season. Why not plant native perennials that bloom at various times from their arrival, breeding season, and until they migrate in the fall.

Some common plants that will provide nectar are: Columbine, Blue Sage, Spiderwort, Goldenrod, Penstemon, Little Bluestem, Wild Anemone, Pale Purple Coneflower, Joe Pye Weed, Poppy Mallow, Culvers Root, and Blood Root to name a few.

Enjoy

I recently learned that the Monarch Butterfly communicates with both colors and scents. And there are numerous opportunities to observe them when you consider the 4 stages of their life cycle which includes four generations: the egg, the caterpillar (larvae) the chrysalis or pupa, and the beautifully developed butterfly.

Take the time to look for them, preferably with your children or grandchildren. The giggles you share while watching a Monarch sip from a nectar plant, or while sitting under the summer sun watching a Monarch Caterpillar munch the leaf of a milkweed plant is a memory to be savored for a lifetime.

Holly is a regular contributor to Appleton Monthly magazine

 

 

Who Doesn’t Love Butterflies?!

Watching butterflies in their ethereal flights over the garden is surely one of gardening’s greatest pleasures, but since baby butterflies, aka caterpillars, eat the leaves of garden plants, you may want to limit your garden’s attractions to the nectar-producing flowers on which the adults feed.

If you do this, you won’t have nearly as many butterflies (they don’t stick around long if there is no place to lay eggs), but you will also have less of a problem with the raggedy-leaf look.

Butterfly garden containing goldenrod, black-eyed Susans, and Joe Pye Weed.

Alternatively, you can plant flowers for the adult butterflies in your garden, and beyond the garden’s borders leave the weeds that caterpillars are fond of. Of course, weeds don’t stay put, so plan to be vigilant about incursions if you decide to go this route.

Plants for butterflies: butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii), bee balm (Monarda didyma), lilac, black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia spp), cosmos, lantana, gayfeather (Liatris spicata), phlox, goldenrod, and globe amaranth (Gomphrena globosa).

Weeds for caterpillars: clover, wild fennel, milkweed, nettle, Queen Anne’s lace, Bermuda grass, sorrel, and thistle.

Garden plants caterpillars adore: parsley, lupine, hollyhock, mallow, dill, fennel, cultivated milkweed.

Monarchs and Swallowtails

The Monarch caterpillar is almost as beautiful as the butterfly

Monarchs and swallowtails feed on different plants at different stages. There are four distinct stages in a butterfly’s life cycle: the egg, the caterpillar or larva, the chrysalis or pupa, the adult butterfly. Only the second and fourth stages eat, and the caterpillars do most of it.

Monarch caterpillars specialize in various species of milkweed, whose bitter juice makes them distasteful to predators like birds. In its butterfly stage, the monarch may also drink the nectar from goldenrod, thistle, cosmos, butterfly bush, lantana, and lilac.

During its caterpillar stage, the Eastern black swallowtail dines on members of the carrot family, which includes Queen Anne’s lace and parsley. During its butterfly stage, the swallowtail prefers nectar from flowers such as thistle, phlox, clover, and purple loosestrife.

Caterpillar Killers

If you are keen on butterflies, be extra careful about how you apply pesticides, including environmentally benign ones like Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis). As far as the pesticide is concerned, a caterpillar is a caterpillar whether it’s a cabbage looper or a monarch-in-waiting.

Fortunately, caterpillars are comparatively fussy eaters. Those cabbage loopers eat many plants, but only in the cabbage family. They don’t eat carrot family members like the parsley and dill that baby swallowtails dote on.

If butterfly plants are growing close to something you absolutely must protect with pesticide, don’t use a dust, which will spread. Use a liquid, and paint it on the plant with a brush (sprays drift, even on still days).

Butterflies gather water by “puddling”

Water

Give them a place for puddling – Butterflies often congregate on wet sand and mud to partake in “puddling,” drinking water and extracting minerals from damp puddles. Place coarse sand in a shallow pan and then insert the pan in the soil of your habitat.

Now, sit back and enjoy the beautiful spots of color darting in and around your flowers all summer!

 

by OCMGA Master Gardener Vicki Schilleman

In My Backyard: The Sauk County Gardener

One thing you’ll learn about gardeners: we love to share our knowledge and our experiences with other gardeners. Here is a reprint of an article from a fellow gardener in Sauk County that appeared in our State newsletter The Volunteer Vibe.

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Phyllis Both, Sauk County UW-Extension Horticulture Educator

When I was a child many, many, many years ago I loved watching insects.  I would catch and study them under a microscope.  We had a neighborhood with a lot of kids.  We used our imaginations and made up old fashioned games.  My forte was bugs.  I’d catch them, put them in jars and charge a penny to view them.  It was so much fun for a little kid! Now days my interest is a little more extensive and I attend any entomology presentation I can.

Reedsburg-Pioneer-Village-Museum-SignWhen my Master Gardeners adopted a neglected historical site called the Reedsburg Area Pioneer Log Village we each adopted a cabin to beautify. We planted old-fashioned flowers and cared for the cabins to help attract more visitors and school children.  Black-eyed Susan’s, hollyhocks, daisies, and numerous hardy native plants were planted in the very poor soil the pioneers had to deal with.

These improvements helped but it was still not a village. Two victory gardens were planted.  It’s amazing how many people don’t know why the victory garden were planted during WWI and WWII.  It is a great teaching tool.  We loved the gardens but it was still not enough.  We started wondering what the pioneer doctors would have used since a drugstore or apothecary was not available.  An herb garden was built and medicinal herbs were planted.  This garden is another great teaching tool for both kids and adults.

What was still missing?  A prairie!  A natural habitat for bees, butterflies and wildlife was just what the village needed.  After a few summers went by, bluebird houses went up, bat houses went up, and native bee houses went up.

Still something was missing.  My love of the insect world must have pointed me in the right direction.  We decided to create a butterfly trail and add bee hives.  They work well together.  Fortunately three of my Master Gardeners were bee keepers and volunteered to get us started.

Top-bar_brood_comb_from_a_warre_hiveWe built three hives and ordered three colonies with three queens all from California. Our California girls were doing a great job this past summer but only in two of the hives. One of the hives was a bit lazy.  We still got fifty-one pounds of honey from the two productive hives.  We were amazed when the poor producing hive re-queened itself with a Wisconsin lady.  All three hives are buzzing with activity this spring.

I have learned so much about the wonderful community of bees; their leaders, their workers, their gate keepers.  The hives are wonderful teaching and learning tools for out busloads of visitors who have a love of nature.