Friday, February 13, 2009

Spread The Love To Those That Share Your Yard

I was fortunate enough to meet with two garden clubs this week. On Tuesday I was welcomed by the Islands Garden Club for a chat about fruit trees, and on Thursday I met with the Wilmington Island Garden Club for a talk on greening up your garden.

It's easy, when you work in a particular field, to take the knowledge that you've gained for granted. It's very rewarding to feel like what you know is useful to others, so I thank you for letting me prattle on a bit.

Above you see the caterpillar of the Monarch Butterfly. It's one of those little critters that you find nibbling on your plants-specifically on your Milk Weed. It's one of those crawly things that we sometimes fear or maybe pay no attention at all.

We had some show up around the nursery in November. Temperatures were growing cold, so I found myself pulling all of our Milkweed plants into the store so that the little fellows could keep munching. Sound crazy for a garden center to let things eat down its plants? Well, the plants would have been killed back by a frost anyway. Had this situation happened, during the summer, in your own yard, leaf after leaf would be consumed until there was nothing left. More would grow very quickly, though, to the caterpillars' delight.

I had a bunch of little guys facing starvation. On slow days in December you might have seen me picking up caterpillars and moving them to different parts of the plants so that they could feed. I even hurt my thumb scraping some of the stems so that the butterflies-to-be could get the sap that they adore.

Hey, don't judge. I've heard from some of you about the lengths you've gone. Spoonfuls of sugar water, trips to far off places in search of Milkweed. You wouldn't drive to the Skidaway for a kidney, but your itty-bitty friend needed food, so off you went.

A lot of the caterpillars didn't make it. Some died on their own. Some met size 12 shoes. It wasn't pretty. Thankfully, around four made it to this stage, the chrysalis. We didn't know where all of these were though. The caterpillars disappeared. You can imagine with all of the house plants how difficult it would be to find them.

Then one day Yoshi saw Rosco paying close attention to something at a sunny window. A Monarch Butterfly! Quickly, she rescued it from our cat's dangerous curiosity. Then one showed up resting on a basket and another on a houseplant. We set them free and watched them fly high into the trees. We couldn't have felt more proud if we'd released Bald Eagles.

More will show up later this year to lay eggs on other Milkweed plants. Will your yard be ready if they pass through?

What I Can Do For Monarch Butterflies And My Yard

  1. Hold the insecticides, please. So what if your Milkweed has aphids. Your caterpillars don't mind. They'll eat the leaves anyway. On plants other than Milkweed, consider whether insecticide is even necessary. Plants that are in healthy environments can often survive insects and react as if they've received a good pruning. Evaluate case by case.
2. Pay attention to active ingredients, not just brand names. Brand names are designed to sell
a product. Active ingredients tell you what is in the container. You don't need a degree in
chemistry to understand these ingredients, just consult the National Pesticide Information
You can even give them a call at 1-800-858-7378
NPIC is open from 6:30AM to
4:30PM Pacific time, daily.

3. Healthy soil means healthy plants. Healthy soil means more than fertilizer.

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