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A Field Guide to Raising Butterflies
There is a magical process that takes place starting in late spring through fall in our area. It is the complete metamorphosis of a monarch caterpillar to a butterfly. Looking at the caterpillar, one of the first things that goes through your mind is how does this striped caterpillar become a butterfly? What part of the caterpillar is the wings? Which part is the thorax? Do the legs become wings? It is a wondrous process to witness the transition.
When it breaks through the chrysalis and crawls out, the monarch's wings are completely crumpled up. The thorax or body is huge and filled with fluid. It’s first moments as a butterfly are spent pumping fluid from the thorax to fill and expand the wings. You have to be quick to capture the process. After it looks like a typical monarch, it will rest and occasionally flap its wings to dry them.
A few years ago, I started collecting monarch eggs or small caterpillars and started bringing them inside. Why would I do that? One more thing to take care of, one more thing to worry about. But if you have heard the news, you know monarch populations have dropped off considerably. We have good years, but overall, there are fewer monarchs.
There is a strong statement typically made about monarchs, that they produce a taste that is offensive or toxic to predators. That is true to an extent, but predators get around that sticky issue. First, ants, tree frogs and other predator insects will eat the entire egg. If the monarch survives to hatch, it may still be consumed by those insects and tree frogs.
The bluebird has apparently learned how to eliminate the toxic part of the caterpillar so it can be fed to its hatchlings. That leads to the conundrum of who is more important; the bluebird or the monarch? No fear, by bringing the caterpillars inside your home or inside a protected enclosure, the monarch is protected from food predators. But more importantly it protects them from being infected with one of several diseases which also kills the monarch.
So what can we do to make it easier for the monarch if you cannot provide them a protected home? Giving them plenty of native plants along with various forms of milkweed is a great way to start. Plants like Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium or Eutrochium macrolatum), Meadow Blazing Star (Liatris ligulistylis), and Lead Plant (Amorpha canescens) along with many more, will feed your monarch butterfly once it is released. Milkweed or butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) is important for the butterfly to lay eggs, so keep those within an area of your yard. If you find common milkweed too invasive, swamp milkweed(Asclepias incarnata) is an excellent substitute that is native to our area and is less invasive.
With summer starting to wind down, we still have many monarchs to marvel at before summer is gone. Enjoy them and make plans to actively raise them next year.
Beth Martin is a Master Gardener at Burlington Garden Center where you will find many plants helpful to the butterfly lifecycle. Feel free to contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In August's early days, time seem to pause suspended in deep summer. The harvest stills momentarily, bees buzz on intoxicating nectar, and a relaxed mood dominates when it's too hot to do anything but sit in a hammock under the shade trees.
It's during this time that landscapes are filled with the lacey blossoms of hydrangeas. Some have been blooming since June, but by now there should be a pretty display of white, blush, pink, mauve and even deep red varieties. The selection is vast and can be confusing as to which one to choose. Following is an explanation of hydrangea types. Read on to discover the one that is best for your landscape.
Smooth Hydrangeas (Hydrangea arborescens) are better known as Anabelles and are native to the south eastern part of the US. They are the earliest blooming group typically showing flowers in June. Annabelle's family is quickly growing as more members are introduced such as 'Lil' Annie', 'Wee White', 'Incrediball', 'Invincibelle Spirit, and 'Ruby', and 'Mini Mauvette'. Newer versions of Annabelle have either sturdier stems, larger flowers, or a more compact habit. Flower colors are either white or pink and do not respond to soil pH levels. Most hydrangeas in this group can take sun or part shade. CARE TIP: flowers on new wood; prune back to 18" in late fall or early spring.
Big Leaf (Hydrangea macrophylla), also known as mopheads, have large colorful balls of florets. Plant in morning sun and afternoon shade, and playing with the soil pH can generally change the colors from blue, purple, and pink. Mature sizes range from 3-4' tall. CARE TIP: Most macrophyllas die back to the ground every year in our area. In spring, prune off dead wood and fertilize. Varieties to look for: any from the 'Cape Cod' series are hardy to zone 4 and are beautiful!
Panicle Hydrangeas (Hydrangea paniculata) are woody shrubs that can take six or more hours of sun, and have large, cone-shaped flowers ranging from white to shades of pink and red. 'Quick Fire' is the earliest blooming variety, but by August they all are spectacular! Need something compact? Look for 'Bobo', 'Little Quickfire', and 'Little Lime'. Other varieties can grow 6-8' tall making a great living screen. 'Zinfin Doll' and 'Pink Diamond' are among the fragrant varieties. Many panicle hydrangeas are now available in tree form making them the perfect focal point in a small space garden. CARE TIP: Prune back by one third in early spring.
Mountain (Hydrangea serrata) is a smaller group of hydrangeas originating from the mountains of eastern Asia and are hardy to zone 5. The lace-cap flowers are purple or pink depending on the soil pH. Mountain hydrangeas like morning sun for best flowering which bloom on old and new wood ensuring new flowers all season long. Leaves from the 3'x3' shrubs are used in tea. A variety to look for is 'Tuff Stuff' from Proven Winners.
The final group of hydrangeas is Oakleaf (Hydrangea quercifoia). The leaves resemble oak leaves, and the panicles of flowers are lovely lace-like florets in whites maturing to mauves. Leaves turn a deep burgundy in fall adding another element of interest. When grown in full sun to part shade, they can mature 4-6 feet in height. A variety to look for is 'Jetstream'.
Hydrangeas not only add grace to the late summer garden, but cut stems of most varieties can be enjoyed indoors fresh or dried.
‘I must have flowers, always and always’ wrote Claude Monet.
How many of us can’t identify with this sentiment? It’s the rose, the peony, the lily that make us catch our breath and stop to look twice. Isn’t that what we wait for all winter and spring? Planting annual flowers into containers to welcome us home every night or a garden bed filled with summer blooms give immense pleasure.
Yes, like Monet we must always have flowers, yet there is something noteworthy and plausible about plants with terrific foliage. When the spring perennial flowers have faded, what makes the shade garden interesting? Hostas, Coral Bells (Heuchera), and ferns (especially Japanese Painted Ferns) carry us through summer and fall with variegated leaves, colorful foliage, and contrasting textures.
Consider this: as perennials bloom their allotted times, some only a week or two, what do they look like when they are done flowering? How does that affect the look of that garden bed? And on an even broader scope, how does your landscape look when nothing is flowering?
Adding a few perennials and shrubs with colorful and interesting foliage can take your garden from good to great design. After a quick poll of our staff at Burlington Garden Center, here are a few of our favorite foliage plants:
Aralia cordata ‘Sun King’ (above) is definitely king in the part shade or shade garden. This herbaceous perennial (Spikenard) will quickly grow to 3’ tall in ideal situations and its broad leaves bring a bold chartreuse color among hostas and hydrangeas.
Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’ is a fine-leaf grass for the shade garden. This Japanese Forest Grass cascades over boulders, softens front of the border, and pairs well with Hostas.
For the sun garden, a splash of chartreuse foliage can be provided by Agastache ‘Golden Jubilee’ even when not topped with purple flowers often covered with bees.
Hummingbirds aren’t the only ones that love Penstemon digitalis. The burgundy leaves of ‘Husker Red’ and ‘Pocahontas’ are a pretty contrast when planted near green-leaf perennials.
The Ninebark family (Physocarpus opifolius) seems to add new members every year, and each with attractive foliage – from deep burgundy, to amber, gold and copper tones. With different mature sizes, there is sure to be one for your yard.
Coral Bells (Heuchera), like the one shown above, certainly are a go-to foliage plant for part-sun/part-shade. Burgundy, purple, caramel, silver and shades of greens are all pretty additions to the garden as well as to containers. Heuchera ‘Mystic Rose’ and ‘Green Spice’ are reliable varieties to look for.
Two plants with blue foliage combine well with that of burgundy-leaf plants: Fothergilla ‘Blue Shadow’ (above) is a medium size shrub for sun and part shade. With bottle-brush flowers in spring and beautiful red fall color, it adds interest to the landscape for three seasons. Several varieties of Hosta are easy-care perennials that bring the blues to shady gardens, too.
Once again, it’s Hosta that provides foliage-interest in the shade. Never settle for plain green again! Endless combinations of white, green, blue, yellow, chartreuse make this plant family far from boring.
Our last suggestion for the shade garden not only offers interesting green and white foliage, but a unique, gracefully arched habit. Variegated Solomon Seal, Polygonatum ‘Variegatum’, spreads by rhizomes and will create small colonies over time.
Growing carrots has it's challenges - especially with our clay soil. But knowing a few tips will help you grow them successfully.
First thing to know is that they have a long germination period ranging from 10 to 20 days. It's best to sow the seed directly in the ground, and keeping the seed bed consistently moist is key for good germination. Covering them with burlap or a 1x4 board will help keep the soil moist (check daily and remove after two weeks or once the seedlings have emerged). Overseeding will help ensure a good crop (up to 10 seeds per inch), and thinning is a must (2 -4 inches apart) to allow each plant enough room to size up. Watch this video from Renee's Garden Seeds for helpful thinning tips:
SOIL BED PREP
This root crop will do best when planted in full sun (6-8 hours) and in soil that is well-drained. Sandy soil is ideal, but amending any soil type with compost and cultivated to a depth of 12 inches, should keep them happy.
VARIETIES TO GROW
Nantes and Danvers are probably the most well-known and both are heirlooms. Nantes are good for cooking and fresh eating, but the skin is thin so they do not store well. The flavor is sweet and can mature to 7" long, but they can be pulled early and eaten as baby carrots. Danvers is probably the most reliable in the garden. They grow to about 8", are good for cooking, not as sweet for fresh eating, but they store well.
Just for fun, venture away from orange carrots and grow purple or red varieties. 'Purple Sun', 'Atomic Red', 'Cosmic Purple' are a few on our seed racks this year. New orange varieties in seed packets include 'Shin Kuroda (a short one)', and 'King Midas (long and sweet). If your soil is less than ideal and you've had trouble in the past getting carrots to develop, choose a short, round variety like 'Romeo'' or 'Shin Kuroda'.
OTHER GROWING TIPS:
* Mix seed half and half with sand and scatter randomly across the bed.
* If this is your first time planting carrots, use seed tape. It has the tiny seeds evenly spaced on a biodegradable paper 'tape' and requires minimal thinning.
* Sow carrot seeds beginning mid April, and continue to plant every 3 weeks through mid summer.
*Carrots grow well with salad greens and other root crops like radishes.
*Onions and chives make good companions in the garden repel the carrot rust fly.
*Marigolds, nasturtiums, chamomile and calendula planted nearby will attract beneficial insects.
* Avoid planting carrots and dill together. Even though they taste good together in the kitchen, dill does no favors to the carrot in the garden.
*Another foe to the carrot is the tomato. In fact, if your carrots have been stunted in the past, it could be from being planted too close to tomatoes which excrete a chemical in the soil that carrots don't like.
GROWING GIANT CARROTS
For most gardeners, growing carrots is rewarding enough when the harvest is ready and we taste their homegrown sweetness. But for a few, the goal is to grow the longest or the heaviest carrot. Currently, the heaviest carrot was grown by Chris Qualley in Minnesota and weighed in at 22 lbs! It's pretty interesting to learn how these giant vegetables are grown. Click on this link - you may learn a few more tips on growing better carrots, or you may be inspired to grow your own giant veg.