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Lamenting the butterfly and using native grasses to bring them back

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Lamenting the butterfly and using native grasses to bring them back

On a recent Garden Bite I talked about plants that host butterfly larvae.  After hearing that, a friend of mine was lamenting the lack of butterflies.  He literally lives within the bounds of a State Park and said he’d felt like something was missing on his walks through the park and realized, after hearing about the larval hosts, what is was.  There were very few, if any, butterflies.  I noted earlier that I had not seen any monarchs on my milkweed.  (plenty of beetle action but no butterflies) Come to think of it, not too many other butterflies.

Large milkweed bugs

Large milkweed bugs

Just 150 years ago one-third of Minnesota was covered in tall-grass prairies, an essential habitat for many species of butterflies, as well as other insects, birds, and wildlife. Today, only 1% of Minnesota’s prairies remain mainly due to agricultural and housing developments.  Overall, native grass host-plants play an integral role to the survival of many prairie butterfly populations. As a result of habitat loss, there are currently 12 species of prairie dependent butterflies and moths on the MN DNR’s endangered, threatened, and special concern list.

Dakota Skipper

Dakota Skipper

So, let’s plant some Little Bluestem!  This very hardy native grass has been documented to support several species of prairie butterflies such as the once common Dakota skipper and Ottoe skipper (Hesperia ottoe).  The Dakota skipper butterfly was historically found in 40 MN counties but is now found in only 11 and is listed as an endangered species statewide.

Ottoe Skipper

Ottoe Skipper

Little bluestem is a warm season mid-height native grass, common to prairies from Minnesota to Texas. It reaches an average height of 3′ with arching foliage and a clumping habit. This native perennial gets its common name from the blue stem color it develops over the summer. In the fall, the little bluestem turns a beautiful bronze-red color.

Little Bluestem

Little Bluestem

Little Bluestem Fall color

Little Bluestem Fall color

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Wasp nests

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Wasp nests

Now’s a good time to inspect your home for wasp nests that are being constructed.

wasp nestIt’s easy to overlook nests when they’re small and there are only a few wasps hanging around. However, that’s the best time to treat them when you can find them. Some wasp nests are built out in the open, like under eaves, and are the easiest to find and control.

Jeffrey Hahn is a University Extension Entomologist, he says, If a small, exposed nest is discovered, there are a couple of options for controlling it. Regardless of which method you use, deal with nests at night when the wasps are not very active.

The easiest method is to spray a wasp and hornet insecticide into the nest to kill all of its inhabitants.

wasp nest destroyer foam

If you want to control it nonchemically, remove the nest by placing a clear glass or plastic container over it and moving the jar so the nest is knocked down into the container. Slide a piece of cardboard (or something similar) so you can bring the jar down without the wasps getting out. Then slide the lid on the jar. Either release them so they can build a nest somewhere else or place them in a freezer to kill them.

Paper wasp

If you see wasps flying in and out of a space, but can’t see their nest, well, those are more challenging!  These are the nests typically not discovered until late summer when larger numbers of wasps are present. Control of these sites is more challenging because spraying into the opening rarely gets into the nest itself to kill the wasps.  Hahn says an insecticidal dust is the best option. However dusts labeled for buildings aren’t commonly available to homeowners and are can be difficult to find. The best option then is to contact a pest management service in your area to treat the nest.

 

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“Muscle” mulch aka organic mulch

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  “Muscle” mulch aka organic mulch

I believe I made myself clear yesterday about my feelings on rock mulch!  So what would I use?

I prefer wood chips.  The above are colored red to add contrast.  (Some people don’t like colored mulch as they think it’s takes away from the plants, as always, it’s your choice) I did this back in 2007 and laid down landscape fabric.  If I had to do it again, I would just cultivate and lay down the wood chips right on the ground.  The weeds find a way no matter what.  The landscape fabric ends up becoming a problem later anyway.  The below pics are from a few years ago when I renovated an overgrown weed patch at my new home.  I pulled weeds, incorporated compost and laid down newspaper, then mulch.  Since those 2 photos below I’ve done a LOT more all around my home!  😉

newspaper and mulch

newspaper shot

This is from the front of my home.  The below bed is now into it’s 3rd season.

live garden

The above is a gentle reminder to create a “donut” of mulch NOT a “volcano”!  ?  By the way, that’s a ‘Parker Pear’ tree that has delivered pears for a few years.  It’s at least 4 times the size now.  It’s planted next to a ‘Summer Crisp’ for pollination.  Very tasty!

There are plenty of other organic options for mulch:

  • non-chemically treated grass clippings
  • shredded leaves
  • pine needles
  • pecan shells
  • cocoa bean – some people think that this is toxic to dogs, I think they’d have to eat quite a bit of it
  • aged corncobs (I tried to find a picture for you but no such luck)

Iowa State University has a good article on Organic Mulches.

 

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“Trophy” mulch aka inorganic mulch

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  “Trophy” mulch aka inorganic mulch

We know it’s a good idea but what KIND of mulch should you get.  Organic vs Inorganic.  The first question to ask yourself is what do I want my mulch to do?  Do I want it to just sit and look pretty or do I want it to work for the money I put into it?   There are good reasons for both options.  Today we’ll focus on inorganic mulch or Trophy mulch as I call it.

Rock Mulch, okay, I have a bias against this stuff.  It’s a pain the b….ack.  Side.  If you’re using it as a weed suppressant than expect to have to use chemicals to kill the weeds that eventually come up through it because moving it is HARD work.

However, there are people who still want it, so if that’s you, then go ahead.  But first, take a sample home.  Most places will allow you to take a sample and see if it’s really the color you want.  Also, I would limit where you put it.

rock mulch stonescape

This isn’t a bad place to use rock, however, you’ll still be cleaning this out from blown leaves and weeds will show up.  LIFE wants to grow!  ;-)

rock mulch display

As you can see there are certainly plenty of choices.

Recycled Rubber Mulch is another inorganic choice…. maybe.  Rubber mulch doesn’t breathe.  No weeds will come up but getting water, nutrients and air to the plants you want to thrive, will be a problem.  There are some studies suggesting it gives off toxins and gets too hot for plants.  There are 2 schools of thought on the subject and I think it’s one you have to decide for yourself.

Recycled rubber mulch

Here’s something I never recommend:

Rubber mulch tree ring

They claim that air, water and nutrients can get through, if that’s true, then so can weeds.  And then you’ve got the weeds coming up through rubber.  Tough to pull!  Also, rocks and rubber heat up.  That’s not a good thing for most plants, they don’t need the extra hot soil.

Here’s some information from Nature’s Way Resources.  Of course they do not recommend rubber mulch but you might want the information they offer.

I haven’t been a proponent of it for plantings but thought perhaps for children’s playgrounds it would be okay.  However, many cities and school districts are changing their minds and replacing it. Before using it, do your research.

 

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Water conservation tips

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Water conservation tips

I started my radio show mentioning this song by Ray Charles, so I thought I’d share it!

While storms have brewed up, dumping copious amounts of the precious liquid very quickly that also means the rain may run off quicker than our soil can soak it in.  So, that means watering, especially our container plants and new plantings that are up to 3 years old this season.

Wilted zucchini

Wilted zucchini

Okay, so this hasn’t happened yet in our neck of the woods… but this time of year, generally, brings dry weather, crispy lawns and a choice for us….  how to water.

The University of Minnesota Extension offers some sound watering tips:

  • Water your garden in the morning, before temperatures rise
  • However, water your containers in the afternoon…  yup.  Research shows that container plantings do better if water in the afternoon.  Nope, I don’t know why
  • Avoid evening watering, as this can lead to fungal growth
  • Mulch, mulch, mulch!  Up to 70 percent of water can evaporate from the soil on a hot day. Mulch is one of the best moisture holding tools you can use. Use coarse mulch at a depth of 3-4 inches.
  • Increase organic matter in your soil.  Organic matter absorbs many times its own weight in water, which is then available for plant growth
  • For those newly planted plants,  water once or twice a week, so the soil is wet to a depth of 12-18 inches for trees and shrubs or 6-8 inches for annuals. If you’re not sure how much water this is, try this.  Water your garden, wait an hour or so to allow the water to sink in, then dig a hole about 1 foot deep. Is the soil moist at the bottom of the hole? If not, water more. If it is sopping wet, water less.

garden 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The first year they sleep zzz

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  The first year they sleep zzz

You’ve planned, purchased and planted those wonderful plants, now it’s time to weed, watch and wonder how long it will take them to become the size of the plants in those plant books!

There’s a great garden adage that rings true most of the time.

“The first year they sleep, the second year they creep, the third year they leap”

Patience has never been my strong suit but through gardening I’m learning to endure it!  It’s worth the wait.  It’s best to buy your plants small, they establish much easier as they won’t suffer as much from transplant shock.  It’s also more cost effective!  Start them with a large planting hole that you’ve added organic matter into and be sure to water them well especially for the first couple of years.  Three years for larger plants.

Grass Sticks

They’re sleeping!

New perennial bed with

New perennial bed  2nd year

3rd year!

3rd year!

And my very own quote:

“The Garden is no place to stress for success, but to soak up some sun and renew your Spirit”

perennial bed 4

 

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Good bug – Bad A!! bug

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Good bug – bad A!! bug

When you think of crickets, you likely think of hot summers.  Likely not, that they’re detritivores and more.  They eat decaying plant matter, among other things.  For a gardeners purpose, that’s okay.  It also means the excrete it back to your soil.  Sounds gross but it’s not a bad thing!  Of course if you have an infestation, like this year’s Earwig population, you might consider them a bad bug.  (Insect!)

Cricket chirping cartoonCricket

Okay, I had no idea but apparently you can buy crickets, keep them in an aquarium type container, feed them, water them, keep them healthy and not stressed …  and then feed them to your reptiles.  The things you learn on the  internet…  There’s even a video of how to keep your crickets happy and healthy until you feed them to your snake.

From the moment the assassin bug hatches, it’s a killing machine.  They eat insects including Japanese beetles and stinkbugs by using their mouthparts to pierce the soft areas between the exoskeleton and sucking out their innards!

Assassin bug

Assassin bug

The above is just ONE of 3,000 types of assassin bugs!  do a google search and you’ll find a gazillion.  Well, maybe not quite THAT many!  Their bite is painful to humans.  Wear gloves or be prepared for a little pain.  These dudes do their duty in the garden but the bite might not feel right to YOU!

The little hoverfly seems like it would be useless but au contraire! their larvae eat aphids.

Hover fly

Hover fly

Tachnid flies look like bristly houseflies and all of them are parasitoids, they kill their hosts!  They help keep garden pest populations down!

Tachnid fly

Tachnid fly

Parasitic wasps are not choosy, they attack and eat all insects but their favorites include aphids, mealybugs and caterpillars.  And then there’s the robber fly.  It’s known as the shark of the insect world.  A powerful predator, they dart from perches and catch grasshoppers, dragonflies, wasps and even japanese beetles.  They paralyze their victims with venom.  Below is a look at just one type of Parasitic Wasp!

parasitic wasp

parasitic wasp

BugGuide is a great site to peruse all kinds of crawly creatures.

Rather than killing insects willy nilly, it’s a good thing to know WHO you’re dealing with.  You might want to keep that wasp or fly or cricket or assassin bug in your garden!

PS, you might find anthracnose in your garden due to the very wet weather.  That’s a fungal disease.  It’s not really something to be too concerned with but identification is always a good thing.

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Drought tolerant plants

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Drought tolerant plants

Not that we NEED them right now, however, as we head into the “dog days” of summer, we will!!  90 some degrees will do that!

Characterisitics of a drought tolerant plant:

  • fuzzy leaves – fine little hairs capture water
  • gray leaves – their light color reflects sunlight
  • large fleshy roots – below ground storage units
  • succulent leaves – above ground storage units

fuzzy leaved Lamb’s Ear

Russian Sage

large fleshy rooted Yucca filamentosa

Sedum ‘Fulda Glow’

And one of my favorites!  Sea Holly

Sea Holly

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Storms and drought

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Storms and drought

Whatever your political bent, our climate is changing.  Things are warming up and our storms are intensifying.  How do gardeners help our plants or, better yet, accommodate our changing climate for our garden?

storm damaged garden

While hopefully nothing like this happened to YOU, there are some tips for changing climates and protecting your plants, as well as some resilient vegetables!

An article in Northern Gardener magazine points out some great ways to do that.  Start by planting and caring for trees properly.  Yesterday I shared with you the recent storm damage to Linden trees planted improperly, beat with a lawn mower and then strangled with plastic tubing.  Here’s the deal, trees, shrubs and fences create protected areas for more delicate plants, so treat them right.  Other areas to plant vulnerable plants are near buildings or under eaves.

Peony support - Lee Valley

Peony support – Lee Valley

Prune strategically and add support for those delicates such as delphinium.  Tall plants without sturdy stems will lay right over and may take more time than you’re willing to give them to recover.  You can place hoops around peonies, yarrows and salvia early on or choose stocky, sturdy plants like yuccas and verbascums.

large fleshy rooted Yucca filamentosa

large fleshy rooted Yucca filamentosa

 

Verbascum

Verbascum

Verbascum

Verbascum

Veggies can take a beating in the heat and humidity and some never recover.  There are some resilient vegetables that and herbs that tolerate those conditions.  Melons, sweet potatoes, oregano and thyme.  Tomatoes like “Sungold”, one of my favorites, ‘Celebrity’ and ‘Heat Wave’ will do well in hot years.  Lettuce almost always bolts and becomes bitter but ‘Buttercrunch’ and ‘Black Seeded Simpson’ are less prone to that.

Tomato 'Sungold' 8-16-15

Tomato ‘Sungold’ 8-16-15

Lettuce 'Buttercrunch'

Lettuce ‘Buttercrunch’

 

 

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Storms take out weak trees

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Storms take out weak trees

My community just recently experienced some damaging storms.  Our City prides itself on it’s lovely flora but after seeing six 8 to 10 inch diameter Linden trees along a boulevard snap, well, I had to take a look.

Linden snapped tree

Linden snapped at soil line

What I found were massively girdled roots and the remnants of plastic tubing around the base of each tree.

arrow points to girdled root

arrow points to girdled root

One of the culprits to the girdled roots was plastic tubing placed around the base of the tree when it was young to “protect” it from the lawn mower…

Linden snapped plastic ring

This tubing has about 4 inches underneath which is where the roots started circling around many years ago

The roots that take in nutrients for the tree are at the surface and that tubing essentially squished them down, so they compensated by trying to grow up the plastic and then rung themselves around the tube in a circle.  Strangling themselves.  The tree may look like it’s fine for years but it’s actually growing weaker.

Roots that go down are mostly for anchoring although some also get more water that way but nutrients are taken in by those surface roots.  That’s another reason to NOT bury your trees in more soil and plant on top of their dripline.  It will die much quicker.

Linden snap 1

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