Monday, August 24, 2015

As the Milkweed Turns (A Soap Opera)

I planted Cinderella Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata 'Cinderella') in the back of my kitchen garden last year. Milkweed is the one and only host plant for Monarchs – the only plant they will lay their eggs on and the only plant the caterpillars will eat. There are a few different native milkweeds, Cinderella being one of them.

I find the flowers of Cinderella Milkweed to be truly beautiful. They start out in mid to late June as these tight, pink buds, then when they open the outer petals are pink, but the inner ones are white. The flowers grow in clusters. My plant is about four feet tall this year.

Not only is this plant popular with Monarchs, bees and wasps love it, too. When it flowered, it was constantly covered with them. Mostly they were the smaller bees.

Just look at the hum of activity...

I need to get my bee book out to try to identify these guys.

One day in early July, I noticed these crazy-looking caterpillars on the underside of the leaves.

By the next day they were devouring the leaves.

I had to find out what these caterpillars were, with their long, furry tufts. Turns out they are Milkweed Tussuck Moth Caterpillars. You might be tempted to pet one since they look so fuzzy and soft, but from what I have read, touching one could cause skin irritation.

These fascinating fellows are veracious eaters. I was tempted to try to wash them off with the hose so they didn’t destroy my milkweed, but I couldn’t bring myself to do that. Milkweed are host plants for them, as well, and they eat the leaves much for the same reason the Monarchs do – it makes them toxic to predators. In the case of the moths, which are night owls, it helps to keep the bats away. With Monarchs, it helps to keep the birds away. The good news is, the moth caterpillars tend to eat the leaves from the older shoots and Monarchs go for the younger shoots. The younger moth caterpillars appear grayish and the older ones are the orange, black, and white hairy ones.

I would go out and check on my caterpillar friends every day. Then one day they vanished. Poof! Right into thin air. Never saw them again. Did they wonder off to some other plant to make cocoons and then turn into moths? That is one thing I am not sure about. Need to do some more research on that.

After the Milkweed Tussock Moth caterpillars were gone, I thought my milkweed was safe. In late July / early August, it started to form pods and then the hairy seeds emerged. I find the pods and seeds to be pretty gosh-darn cool.

That’s when I noticed the Small Milkweed Bug.

I only saw the one, but I am sure there were more. These bugs feed on the seeds of the milkweed.

What could possibly happen next to my Monarch host plant? Aphids. Yes, aphids. The nastiest bugs you could ever have and they love milkweed. I didn’t know what they were at first. I noticed these brightly-colored, yellow-orangish eggs all up and down several of the stems.

I tried brushing them off with a small paintbrush, but there still are so many. I am hoping they don’t kill my Cinderella Milkweed because I love it so much and want the Monarchs to be able to use it. I do have other milkweeds and, knock on wood, those don’t have aphids. However, this is my only Cinderella variety and I’d like to keep it please!

What will happen next? Will Cinderella find her prince charming who will save her from these nasty bugs? Or will she meet a dreadful end? Tune in next week (or next year) to “As The Milkweed Turns.”

Friday, August 21, 2015

Guest Blogging for the Morris Arboretum

I am super-excited to announce that I will be doing some guest-blogging for the Morris Arboretum! They had posted on their website that they were looking for garden writers who didn’t necessarily have to be journalists or professional writers, just enthusiastic nature-lovers or gardeners. I reached out to them and sent some links to my blog. Now I will be writing some short articles on various topics that they propose, as well as some that I come up with on my own. It is purely a volunteer thing. I am so incredibly excited. The arboretum is a beautiful place with not only amazing trees, but gorgeous garden areas, as well. I have also taken many classes there over the years. In fact, it is really where I first started expanding my garden knowledge and therefore has a special place in my heart. I will let you know when some of my posts start showing up on their blog. In the meantime, here are links to six photos that I took with my phone on a recent visit and posted to my Instagram: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.

Also, here are some photos that I had taken there a couple of years ago when I was working on my photography skills.

My Save The Pollinators Website is Finally Complete

Earlier this year I posted about a web design project I was working on in the night classes I had been taking. I finished my web design certificate in April and one of my last projects I created was called Save The Pollinators. When I first blogged about it, I had the design complete, but not the text. Now the text is finally finished. I am looking into turning this into a “real” website with its own domain. In the meantime, here is a link to the finished design with text: Save The Pollinators. Maybe it will inspire others to learn more about our pollinator friends, their importance, and what we can do to help them.

The Flower Garden in June

Woah, June. That was a long time ago. But that is the way it is these days. Here is what was going on in the flower garden in June.

I often feel like June is an “in between” time for my flower garden. Lots of lush greens, but not a whole lot of color.

Some of the roses are sometimes still blooming, so that is at least a bit of color. The pink shrub rose is my favorite, however, I have absolutely no clue what the name of it is. I inherited this rose from the previous owner. I actually dug out several roses from the yard because they are my least favorite garden plant. Pretty in May, but usually plagued with insects and disease the rest of the year. Not the case with this lovely pink rose. It blooms off and on throughout three seasons and never shows signs of any troubles. It is a real focal point of the flower garden.

We tied up the Cascade hop vines this year along the side of the shed/workshop. The hops really went to town and produced tons of cones. So much so that we brewed with them in August. More about that in a later post.

The daisies were starting to bloom in increasing numbers. I have said it many times – daisies are such happy flowers. Something about that yellow center surrounded by bright white petals. So simple, so pure. Give me a bouquet of daisies any day and it will bring a smile to my face.

The purple coneflowers started to bloom in June. They are a real fav with the bees.

Near the purple coneflowers is the Raspberry Wine Monarda, another favorite of my bee friends. The Monarda really starts to put on a show in late June. My garden path runs in between the Monarda and coneflowers and when you walk down the path you are literally surrounded by bees.

The shady area in the back of the flower garden is beginning to take off. Hostas and Christmas ferns call this little area home. The ferns were so full and green this year.

A new addition to the flower garden this year is Summer Glow Agastache. I like the soothing yellow flowers with the purple bits that attach them to the stem. They aren’t very showy, though. However, I did catch one of the hummingbirds at these flowers at least once, which is always a good thing.

The left side of the yard is the area that was an overgrown mess just a few years ago. Now it is a small border and a decent amount of lawn.

It is definitely not the vast display of plants that you find on the other side of the yard. I purposefully focused on plants and shrubs that would need little care and that had more foliage interest.

A favorite combination here is the Ninebark and the Magic Carpet Spirea. The bright green leaves next to the dark, purplish-maroonish leaves is pretty awesome. It gets even more interesting in June when the Spirea blooms its bright pink clusters.

Another flowering shrub on this side of the yard that is colorful in June is the Minuet Mountain Laurel. I have only had this a couple of years and unfortunately, I am afraid this year might be the last. It seems to have gotten some sort of disease. I will miss these beautiful flowers.

I was a little late getting out the fairy garden display this year. Had to do it, though. It brings out the little girl in me.

The small stone “pavers” are bits of limestone from the Longwood Gardens fountains. They are revitalizing the fountains and unsalvageable parts were allowed to be used in a class that I took earlier in the year.

New to the garden this year is the gnome garden. My younger sister gave me these pieces for Christmas. She thinks I’m a total dork for being into fairy and gnome gardens.

Dork or not, and yes, I probably am a dork, I love to garden. And although June doesn’t seem to be the most floriferous time of year, it is still rather lovely.