Archive for the ‘Flowers’ Category

Butterfly Magnets

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Earlier this week, I posted about my effort to find a suitable location in which to install my new plant, Duranta erecta, also known as Sapphire Showers. This new plant is shown above. My goal has been to use this plant to solve several simultaneous landscaping challenges. First and foremost, I would like for this plant to obscure the electric meter and other utility interface boxes from view. I need to leave access to these fixtures, but I don’t need to leave them fully exposed to view from the road or the yard. After studying the placement of the underground utility cables, I decided that the best location was just a few feet from where I had originally planned to place it.

Secondly, there are some unsightly stumps in this area, and I would like this plant to shield them from view as well. The stumps themselves are leftovers from some very thick greenery that I took out last year when I started my butterfly garden. Some of that greenery was a cluster of the highly invasive camphor tree, and some of it was anise bush (Illicium parviflorum). Although that is a decent landscaping plant, it was originally planted too close to the house, and it was becoming increasingly difficult to manage. There are actually numerous stumps clustered closely together at various angles ranging in size from about half an inch to four inches or so. I have trimmed them as close as I can to the ground, but there’s still quite a bit left. As best I can figure, it isn’t worth the effort or scraped knuckles it would take to get them the rest of the way to ground level or to remove them by hand. They are also too close to the house to safely operate a stump grinder. So, my goal for now is to simply make them less visible while they slowly decay over the coming years. If you look closely, you will see these stumps in some of the pictures I post now and then.

A third goal for this plant is for it to be an integral, positive addition to my butterfly garden. I have a patch of ground in that garden that has gone bare over the last few weeks, presenting a good opportunity to rework the design. My thought has been to place this plant in that section. When this section is viewed from the front, the first foot or so above the ground is hidden by several rows of flowers and low-to-the-ground flowering shrubs. You can see this perspective in the picture below. All of those plants are species native to Florida, and all of them serve as nectar sources for adult butterflies. Species represented in this section include Lantana depressa, Salvia coccinea (Scarlet Sage), Rudbeckia hirta (Black-eyed Susan), Gaillardia pulchella (Indian Blanket Flower), Coreopsis lanceolata, Silphium integrifolium (Rosinweed), Scutellaria lateriflora (Blue Skullcap), and Asclepias tuberosa (Butterfly Milkweed).

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All of the plants in that section produce showy flowers that attract adult butterflies in search of nectar. But if you really want to attract butterflies to your garden in large numbers, it is imperative for you to plant sources of larval food, that is, you need to feed the caterpillars. Nearly all butterfly species are highly selective with respect to the types of food they can eat as caterpillars. As adults, the females will seek out those plants as a place to lay their eggs. They then hatch out as caterpillars and happily munch away until it is time to pupate, and then emerge as adult butterflies. The butterflies seek out nectar sources for sustenance, seek mates for reproduction, and the cycle continues. So the key to successful butterfly gardening is to plant larval sources specific to the butterfly species you wish to attract, and to plant a variety of nectar sources sufficient to entice the adults into hanging around instead of wandering off elsewhere in search of food.

Because the larval sources in a butterfly garden are intended to be eaten by caterpillars, it is a fairly common practice to position them in places where they are not visible to most passers-by. This is what I have been doing (with mixed success) in what has become a largely bare patch. There are still a few specimens left in this patch, but they blend in so well with the sandy ground and leaf debris, they are nearly invisible at first glance. An example of this is bronze fennel. There really are three decent sized bronze fennel plants in the picture below. They are all along the right-hand side of this picture, but unless you know what to look for, you will have a really hard time finding them. Can you spot them?

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By the way, bronze fennel is a favorite of the Black Swallowtail butterfly, and I have had several of them start their lives here since I started this butterfly garden. I see them fairly frequently nowadays. Another favorite of the Black Swallowtail is rue, which is the plant that inspired the design of the clubs symbol on a standard deck of playing cards. I had several of these in this area, but they all suddenly and mysteriously died in recent weeks. There are also several species of foods that humans eat which serve as larval sources, although I do not have any growing here yet. This includes parsley, dill, fennel (the edible kind), carrots, and others. Expect to see some of these show up here in a future post once I figure out how I want to integrate these food crops into my butterfly garden.

Some plants serve dual purposes as both larval and nectar sources. A classic example is the genus Asclepias, commonly known as milkweed, as mentioned above. There are many species of milkweed, several of which I have growing in my butterfly garden. All of them serve as larval food for the Monarch. In fact, Monarch caterpillars are incapable of eating anything other than milkweed. Milkweed grows natively throughout North America, but it usually gets taken out along with other native vegetation when land is developed. This is why gardeners planting milkweed is so crucial to the survival of this beautiful and unique species of butterfly.

Just a couple days ago, I found the youngster below, happily munching away on one of the many milkweeds in my garden. Monarch caterpillars are voracious eaters, and will strip a milkweed of its leaves and flowers in a matter of days, leaving nothing but nubs and bare stalks. If you look near the left-hand edge of the picture above, at about the same level as the pot, you will see what a milkweed looks like once the caterpillars get through with it. This actually does not harm the plant; it will bounce back completely in a couple weeks or so.

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Another plant that serves a dual purpose is the genus Passiflora, commonly known as the passion vine or passion flower. These take up considerable space, so at this time I only have one specimen, a P. caerulea, or blue passion vine. These serve as hosts for two of the butterflies we have locally, include the Zebra Longwing (our state butterfly) and the Gulf Fritillary. Passion vine flowers are short-lived, but incredibly exotic looking. In the picture below, you can see one that was in my garden a couple weeks ago. One day it was a bud, the next day it was as you see below, and by the third day, it was gone. While present, butterflies will stop by for a drink.

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In the picture below, you can see what the vine looks like, along with a Gulf Fritillary caterpillar. As adults, they look like the one shown back up at the top in the first picture of this blog post. There you will see it enjoying my new plant, even before I placed it in the ground. Take note of its size relative to the flowers on the Duranta.

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In the next picture, you will see another butterfly that stopped by during the time I was conferring with my wife about the placement of the new plant. Look closely. It is mostly white with some black markings, and it is on a flower very near the center of the picture. You will note that this one is much smaller than the fritillary. This butterfly is not familiar to me. I am not 100% sure, but I believe it is a female Checkered White. I arrived at this conclusion after consulting my copy of the Butterflies of Florida Field Guide. If any of you are butterfly experts, please feel free to correct me!

Also in that same short time, a butterfly of a third species paid us and the Duranta a visit. This one was a tiny blue butterfly that was too small and too quick for me to get a picture. By consulting my book, I determined that it was probably a Cassius Blue. The largest specimens of this species have a wingspan of only an inch. I don’t grow any of the larval host plants for either of these species, so we may or may not see some return visitors. Nonetheless, we very much enjoyed the show while it lasted!

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When the butterfly show ended, I proceeded to install the new plant. As you can see by looking at the shovel, it took quite a hole to place it in the ground properly. I had remarkably few roots to deal with, so the digging was fairly easy. It was very nice knowing with certainty that I was digging well away from any utility cables! Once I finished the hole, I filled it partially back in with some Mel’s Mix, augmented with some Plant Tone organic fertilizer. After placing the plant, I filled the hole the rest of the way with Mel’s Mix, tamped it down, and watered it thoroughly.

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So, in this final picture, you can see the finished product. There it is, perfectly centered between the naked milkweed stalks and the invisible fennel! Ah, the joys of gardening!

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Until next time, happy gardening!!

Can You Dig It?

If you live in the United States, chances are that you have heard the admonition to “call before you dig.” As a gardener, you may or may not have given it a second thought. For those of you who may not be familiar with it, this is a nationwide program to coordinate utility notification services for the purpose of assisting people with locating the placement of underground utility lines. I can’t speak for how this is done outside the US, but I would imagine that practically everywhere in the developed world has something similar.

Across the US, regulations vary regarding the extent to which home gardeners are required to use the service, but generally speaking, anyone who damages an underground utility line is liable for the cost of repair, and possibly for secondary damages as well. More importantly, when dealing with buried power lines, it can be a matter of personal safety, so why risk it? Keep in mind that digging is digging, even if you only use hand tools. I can’t think of very many things less pleasant than the prospect of using a spading fork to determine the exact placement of an electrical cable. In fact, I suspect that would qualify as a very bad day.

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I recently decided that whether it was required or not, it would certainly be a good idea for me to use this free service before putting the plant shown above into the ground. The plant is a variety of Duranta erecta known as Saphire Showers. A broadleaf evergreen member of the Verbena family, this plant produces flowers during the spring and summer months, and then produces small yellow fruits popular among birds. The flowers attract both butterflies and hummingbirds. For a period of time in late summer, it will often have both fruits and flowers. It is native to the West Indies, but not Florida, with the possible exception of the Keys (the evidence is contradictory). However, there are no documented cases of it escaping cultivation in Florida. Since it feeds native wildlife without invading wild habitats, it has been deemed “Florida friendly” by the state agricultural extension service. To me, that’s a green light for use in my landscaping.

This plant can grow to about 15 to 20 feet tall, but can also be shaped by regular pruning. It also spreads out about as wide as it is tall. For this reason, I’m seeing it as a nice addition to my butterfly garden, in particular in a place where I would like to obscure the unattractive electric meter and telephone and cable TV connections, which happen to be on the wall right behind the butterfly garden. A portion of that garden has gone bare in recent months, due to some plants dying back. That bare patch is located such that a tall plant there would not block too much sun from the other plants, although it should still get enough for itself. Planting the Duranta in that patch would fill the bare spot, attract butterflies and birds, and grow to hide the eyesores on the wall. But that brings us back to the issue of underground utilities. Where, exactly, are those cables? Do they run straight out from the equipment? Or do they run alongside the wall and then pop straight up to their respective service interfaces?

To make a long story short, I’m glad I called. As you can see from the picture below, the electrical cable (marked in red) runs along the edge of the bare patch, making a wide, sweeping curve before angling across the neighbor’s yard. The phone and cable TV cables, on the other hand (marked in orange), run out from the wall in straight lines but at a slight angle, and then turn toward the back fence, keeping about a one foot spacing between them all the way. I would not have guessed either one of those routings. In the end, I can still use this patch, but I need to alter my plans slightly. I plan to think about it for a few days before sticking my shovel in the ground.

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As a footnote, I also had the technician mark the routes to the edges of the property, even though I don’t have immediate plans in this area. In the picture below, you can see the orange markings heading toward the white fence in the back. I will be taking careful measurements over the next few days before the markings wash away. That way, when I do make plans, I will know what challenges I’m facing.

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So, remember to call before you dig. It’s not just for people with backhoes!

Happy gardening!!

Wordless Wednesday Butterfly Garden

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Wordless Wednesday Celebration

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Giant Swallowtails on Tithonia Torch blossom

I have been trying for several days to capture pictures like these, and finally got the opportunity today! On several occasions, I had spotted these Giant Swallowtails feasting on the Tithonia blossoms, but by the time I could get outside, they had moved on. Today, while I was out doing a routine garden check, they decided it was a good time to stop by. It just so happened that I had my iPhone in my pocket, so here you go!

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For those of you who may be unfamiliar with this species of butterfly, there is a reason they have “giant” in their name. They have a wingspan between 4 and 6-1/4 inches (10-16 cm), making them by far the largest butterfly in the United States and Canada.

I hope you enjoy these pictures!

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After the Storm

Tropical Storm Debby pulled away on Wednesday after dropping a total of about 7 or 8 inches of rain on the area. As the skies cleared and the sun started to dry things out, I was able to return once again to my garden and make an inspection tour. I was actually very pleasantly surprised to find that nearly everything had not only come through unscathed, but seemed to have been relishing the deep, soaking rain. I will use the pictures I took during that tour to give you a quick guided tour.

The pictures below provide an overview of my vegetable garden. The first one shows two of my 4×4 raised beds in the foreground, with my cowpea patch just beyond. Although they’re hard to make out in this picture, I also have a row of green beans (White Half Runner) planted along the fence in the background. Those beans were planted in March and have about run their course, so I will be taking them out in the next day or two.

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The next picture shows my SFG bed, a 4×4 raised bed which is the only bed I currently have planted in strict accordance with Mel Bartholomew’s Square Foot Garden specifications. As you can see, the plants in this bed are thriving, so thus far I give a big, green thumbs-up sign regarding this approach.

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My fourth and final raised bed is the 3×6 bed shown below. Its primary purpose is to be a blueberry bed, but from this angle the two blueberry bushes are hard to discern. One is located just to the right of and slightly behind the bean tower in this picture; the other is in the mirror-image location on the left. The beans you see growing up past the top of the picture are Kentucky Wonder beans, all growing from a single square foot.

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You may notice above that the square just to the left of the beans is empty. I had to remove the cucumbers previously growing there, because sometime during the storm, they succumbed to what I presume was a squash vine borer attack. Here is what they looked like when I found them.

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Moving on to happier thoughts, the next two pictures show some bell peppers (Sweet California Wonder) and the first okra pod (Clemson Spineless) of the season.

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The next two pictures show varieties I have never grown before, and which I am anxious to see on my dinner table. First, you can see a close-up of Lina Sisco’s Bird Egg beans. The pods become streaked with purple shortly before ripening. They are then allowed to dry on the vine before harvesting. The shelled beans themselves are very pretty little dried beans with a white or cream color, mottled with purple. Second, you can see a Fish pepper plant. It is now blooming quite a bit, and although I couldn’t get a good picture showing one, it has some little tiny pepper pods beginning to grow. Like the plant, the pods should be streaked with white.

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I also noticed during this tour that the first of my cowpeas are developing pods. The picture below shows some California 46 Blackeyed peas on their way to becoming harvest-ready.

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As you can see in this next picture, the marigolds are really beginning to come into bloom now.

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And the rose bush I just planted the other day made it through the storm okay, even though it needed to be staked to stabilize it.

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In my butterfly garden, several of the nectar sources are really popping out in blossoms. This picture shows some Scarlet Sage (Salvia coccinea).

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Next is one of only three species of lantana native to Florida, Lantana depressa, so named because it stays low to the ground, rarely exceeding a foot in height.

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Towering above the other plants in the area is this rosinweed (Silphium integrifolium). This is the same blossom that I showed being weighed down by the rain in my Wordless Wednesday Walkaround blog post earlier this week.

As an aside in case you are wondering, I do have other tall varieties planted nearby; they just haven’t grown yet. I am hoping they will catch up by late summer.

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Since the storm left, I have noticed an incredible number of butterflies hanging around, but I have yet to get a picture worth posting. So far, I have seen several Zebra Longwings (Florida’s state butterfly), a couple Giant Swallowtails, a Black Swallowtail, and numerous Gulf Fritillaries. Speaking of Gulf Fritillaries, I found several Gulf Fritillary caterpillars on my passion vine, including the one in the next picture.

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Before signing off, to keep from leaving you with the false impression that everything made it through the storm without problems, I’ll show a couple examples of things that didn’t fare quite so well. First, before the storm I had quite a display of tithonia torch (Tithonia rotundiflora) blossoms here and there around the yard. They are supposed to look like this:

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Unfortunately, most of them now look like this:

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I also have a couple hills of young, still rather tender pigeon pea bushes. The sandy soil nearby must have taken quite a pounding with the rain, as the plants now look like those below. Although they are still standing upright, I am concerned about the sand filtering too much light, inhibiting photosynthesis. For that reason, I will try to gently wash the sand off the leaves tomorrow. However, anyone who has tried to wash sand off themselves or anything else following a visit to the beach will recall that sand doesn’t loosen its grip easily, especially with just a gentle washing.

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I will leave you with that for now. I hope you have enjoyed this brief tour around my garden!

Happy Gardening!

Wordless Wednesday Walkaround

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