Wordless Wednesday

20160731_124258

This is milkweed, asclepias incarnata. It’s a native that most of us grow to help the monarchs. They lay their eggs on it.

It’s also a wonderful nectar plant. I have watched lots of different pollinators on it. This is the first time I have seen an eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly on it, however.  I guess it is better for pollinators than I realized!

Wordless Wednesday–Time to Slow Down and Watch the Butterflies

BUTTERFLY

Despite my pesticide free garden, there have been decidedly fewer butterflies in my garden this year. I’m not sure if it’s because all of my neighbors use chemicals or if it’s because it’s been a cool summer.

swallowtail

I did manage to catch this swallowtail nectaring on my lantana, however.

Maybe it’s me. Maybe I need to slowdown and watch for the butterflies more!

Wordless Wednesday–For the Pollinators

Passionflower

When I was planting my containers this year, I made a conscious decision that I would plant with pollinators in mind. So I chose colors that would attract them, shapes that would attract them, plants that would attract them–you get the idea.

zinnias

My perennial gardens are already pretty pollinator friendly so what I really wanted to do was to add some annuals and tropicals with a big punch of color that were also good for the pollinators.

pentas

You can see my electric color scheme. Here part of the whole thing. It’s pretty vibrant!

containers

What’s nice is that I am attracting pollinators I didn’t even expect–like my beloved ants! If you see that citrus–a Meyer lemon–in the darker colored pot (it’s not the one not immediately visible in the front left of the photo, but the one behind it), I found the cutest, tiniest ants in the blossoms. I can only imagine that they were feeding on the pollen–there was no evidence that they were doing anything like harvesting aphids or feasting on honeydew or anything like that.

Finally, I’ve had to re-plant part of my wildlife garden too. I’ve gotten some great plants for that. But that’s a post for another day.

 

The Simple Things….continued

I started off my Friday post with a quote from a previous post about “sometimes doing the simple thing is also the best thing for our pollinators.” I sort of intended that post to be about pollinators and then it wasn’t. Sometimes that’s how it works out.

What I had in mind there was that rather than bringing out the big old can of spray every time we see a weed or an insect, there are really much easier approaches to dealing with both. I know I’ve talked about my “Freedom Lawn” (aka lawn full of weeds like clover and violets) as being a lawn that’s beneficial to lots of pollinators.

In preparing an upcoming lecture on pollinators, however, I was a little startled to discover that 5 different species of butterflies, as well as my beloved ants, use the clover and violets as food sources. And I know I talked last year about how the clover was sort of “detouring” the rabbits away from some of my perennials and vegetables. It’s working so far this year as well (with a little encouragement for my rescue dog, Amie, as well!). That’s what I call freedom!

I’ve also talked in the past about how some customers in my retail gardening past would come to me, puzzled, because they would have no vegetables in their gardens. I would ask them if they saw any bees and they’d say no. Then I’d ask about their insecticide use and inevitably they’d be doing a chemical 4 step lawn program and a grub program and probably something else as well.

So I’d try to gently explain that bees were very susceptible to pesticides–the grub control in particular most likely was one of those dreaded neonicotinoid type pesticides–and that they might be working at cross purposes by at best driving away all the bees and at worst killing them. I’d say that if they didn’t want to be hand-pollinating their crops they might want to back away from the pesticide use a little.

This was always very unwelcome news and was usually resisted quite strenuously. And then I’d tell my story about the butterflies. It’s really simple and very effective.

The year before we got married–but I was dating my husband and gardening on the property–I noticed there were no butterflies.  Hmm, I thought, this is strange. What’s wrong here? So I started to read up on them and found that they were very susceptible to pesticides. At that point, way back in 1994, I decided that we weren’t going to use any because I’d rather have butterflies than perfection.

By 1996, when I applied for certification as a backyard habitat, I counted 36 different butterflies and moths on the property. Technically that was only 2 springs without pesticides. It doesn’t take much. Stop using pesticides and they will come. It’s the simple things…..

 

 

 

Wordless Wednesday–A Shrub for Butterflies

Lilac 'Paliban'

This is not a native plant–and yet the butterflies, and a lesser extent, the bees seem to adore it anyway. And neighbors and passersby–because this is in a garden just a few feet from the road–adore it as well.

This is a dwarf korean lilac. Most folks, to the extent they know these shrubs, know the more popular one, ‘Miss Kim.’ This one is called ‘Paliban.’ It’s certainly not a lovely name but it is a lovely shrub. I chose it because it is a little smaller than ‘Miss Kim.’ ‘Paliban’s ultimate size should be 4-6’ tall and wide. ‘Miss Kim’ is a little larger at 4-7′. You may not think that’s a huge difference but if the plant is happy, 7′ is a large shrub. We routinely had customers planting them under windows and then complaining that they were growing up and obscuring the windows! Be careful what you wish for, I guess.

Because this is a post about plants for pollinators, I won’t talk about pruning. You can find that information here.

I routinely find eastern tiger Swallowtails on it, as well as all manner of skippers, an occasional hawk moth and lots of bees: bumble bees, honey bees, leaf cutter bees and others that I just watch and can’t necessarily identify. I’ve even found brown dragonflies on it–lots of them.

So while I am a huge fan of native plants, I am also a huge fan of fragrant plants, and this is one of my favorite fragrant plants. Since it does seem to attract lots of wildlife, as well as the all important pollinators, that works for me!

The “Freedom” Lawn

Before anyone gets too excited, I’d love to claim title to this concept but it’s not mine. As near as I can figure, it dates back to 2005, to a book written by Hannah Holmes called Suburban Safari: A Year on the Lawn. Holmes is a science writer and she spent the year studying nature in her backyard. During this time, she decided that the overly processed and chemically laden lawn that many homeowners had been routinely slave to (oop– my bias is showing) did not need to be the norm.

I’ve been trying to nudge the Spoiler in this direction–with varying degrees of success-for years. It’s not that he disagrees with the “organic” approach–it’s that he has no idea what a “chemical” is. A week or so ago he tried to tell me that Preen was exactly the same as corn gluten. My head hurts just thinking about it!

In any event, we don’t knowingly use chemicals on the lawn. I’m not quite sure what the Spoiler does when I am working–nothing dire I hope.

In any event, the concept of the Freedom Lawn, as I understand it, is to allow the lawn to be more than just a monoculture of grass (even if it is a blend of different types of grasses as it should be–ryes, fescues, blues, etc.)

Instead, the lawn (if, indeed, you choose to have one at all–with Pam Penick’s new book Lawn Gone, some folks may just decide that there’s no need for a lawn whatsoever!) becomes a blend of lawn grasses, flowering plants, native plants and even, yes,–gasp–weeds. This makes the lawn more heat resistant, drought resistant, insect and disease resistant and it will even stay green a lot longer without artificial irrigation in the summer. What’s not to like?

violets

Here for example are those violets that give most homeowners fits. I find them charming–and so do several species of butterflies that use them as nectar plants. If you want butterflies, you’ve got to stop using pesticides. That’s why we’re losing our monarchs and our bees.

veronica and clover

Weeds? Or Wildflowers? You choose. This is clover and creeping veronica. I’ve also got a dwarf native hypericum, also known as St. Johns Wort, growing in the lawn. Now if you don’t want it there, it’s a weed. That’s how clover came to be listed as one of the “weeds” that are killed on all the pesticide products–because the manufacturers couldn’t figure out how not to kill it when they were killing all the other weeds.

But clover actually fixes nitrogen in the soil–in other word, it helps feed the soil. And the rabbits in my yard like to feast on it, leaving my “ornamental” plants alone.

It’s also a benefit to native bees and some butterflies. So you decide: weed or wildflower?

fern

Finally, I’ve got lots of these ferns popping up spontaneously all over the yard. When they get too large for the lawn, I transplant them to my garden beds–we have plenty of shade for them.

But, for those used to the “golf course” look, there’s a lot not to like here. My yard looks nothing like a fairway and is in no way “manicured.”

But it’s a great habitat for all sorts of wildlife.

So you ask yourself a couple of questions: first–look at what I wrote about the heat resistance, etc.

Next, think about this. Right now, every single house in my neighborhood with children has a yellow sign on the lawn that says that some sort of pesticide has been applied. What’s wrong with that picture? Is it so important that those folks not have crabgrass that they’re applying chemicals where their children play–even though we have a law in this state that forbids us to do the same at their children’s’ schools?

That’s a scary thought–and maybe if more folks thought about it, they’d allow a little more clover, violets and other so-called weeds into their lawns–maybe even crabgrass.

I have no desire to put landscapers and lawn guys out of business–two of my neighbors earn their living that way. And they still could, even if more folks chose freedom lawns. There would still be plenty to mow.