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Muskogee, OK
    
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All the Dirt on Gardening

Heat waves should be expected but they always seem to surprise. Weeks of almost 100 degrees in June is discouraging some gareners. It's better to water and mulch with an eye to cooler temperatures ahead.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Start Seeds Now to Attract Butterflies to Your Garden This Summer

Monarch Watch is restocked on their Monarch Butterfly Waystation Kits. You don't have to become an official stop for migrating Monarchs in order to plant the seeds and enjoy the view.

Use the discount coupon code 2008SEED to get 15% off Monarch Waystation Seed Kits. Each Kit includes 12 seeds of 12 plants. Six of the plants are for adult butterfly nectar and the other six are to feed caterpillars. These host plants are where the adults lay eggs and are the plants the caterpillar stage Monarchs eat in order to grow into butterflies.

MILKWEEDS are both host and nectar plants. Aphids love them, so put them in full sun. The information from Monarch Watch on the contents of the seed packs:

BUTTERFLY WEED (Asclepias tuberosa) Perennial; Height: 1 to 2 feet; Blooms summer/fall. Attractive prairie plant with orange clusters of dainty flowers. Attracts butterflies. This drought-tolerant plant blooms from June to September. Host plant for monarch and queen larvae. For best germination rates, seeds should be cold-stratified at least 6 weeks prior to planting. Start seeds indoors, covering with 1/4 inch of fine soil. Transplant outdoors when weather has warmed in the spring. Can be sown directly outdoors, but may take a season to bloom.

SHOWY MILKWEED (Asclepias speciosa) Perennial; Height: 3 to 5 feet; Blooms summer. Beautiful pale pink inflorescence. Blooms June to August. Host plant for monarch and queen larvae. Good nectar plant for butterflies. For best germination rates, seeds should be cold-stratified at least 6 weeks prior to planting. Plant seeds outdoors in early spring. Prefers full sun. Drought tolerant.

COMMON MILKWEED (Asclepias syriaca) Perennial; Height: 3 to 5 feet; Blooms summer. Flower clusters are greenish purple to dull purple. nice fragrance. Blooms June to August. Host plant for monarch and queen larvae. Good nectar plant for butterflies. For best germination rates, seeds should be cold-stratified at least 6 weeks prior to planting. Plant seeds outdoors in early spring. Prefers full sun. Drought tolerant.

SWAMP MILKWEED (Asclepias incarnata subsp. incarnata) Perennial; Height: 4 to 5 feet; Blooms summer. Does well in wet areas. Flowers are bright pink and rarely white. Host plant for monarch and queen larvae. Good nectar plant for butterflies. For best germination rates, seeds should be cold-stratified at least 6 weeks prior to planting. Plant seeds outdoors in a sunny area. Cover with 1/4 inch of soil. Does not like transplanting. Can be grown in containers.

SWAMP MILKWEED (Asclepias incarnata subsp. pulchra) Perennial; Height: 2 to 3 feet; Blooms summer. Does well in wet areas. Flowers are red. Host plant for monarch and queen larvae. Good nectar plant for butterflies. For best germination rates, seeds should be cold-stratified at least 6 weeks prior to planting. Plant seeds outdoors in a sunny area. Cover with 1/4 inch of soil. Does not like transplanting. Can be grown in containers.

TROPICAL MILKWEED (Asclepias curassavica) Annual; Height: 3 to 3-1/2 feet; Blooms summer/fall. Tropical plant with glossy leaves and brilliant red-orange flowers. Sturdy stems make this an excellent plant for windy areas. Perennial in the south. Host plant for monarch and queen larvae. Good nectar plant for butterflies. Plant seeds outdoors in a sunny area. Cover with 1/4 inch of soil. Can be grown in containers.

SWAN PLANT (Asclepias fruticosa) Annual; Height: 3 to 6 feet; Blooms late spring to mid summer. Flower clusters white and cream. Host plant for monarch & queen larvae. Good nectar plant for butterflies. Perennial in frost-free areas. Grows in partial shade to full sun. Cover seeds with 1/4 inch of soil. Drought tolerant.

PURPLE MILKWEED (Asclepias cordifolia) Perennial; Height: 2 to 3 feet; Blooms late spring/early summer. Smooth heart-shaped leaves and purplish-violet & pink flower umbels. Host plant for monarch and queen larvae. Good nectar plant for butterflies. For best germination rate, seeds should be cold stratified for 2 to 3 weeks. Seeds also may be planted outside in the fall. Plant does best in full sun but can handle partial shade. Requires well-drained soil. Drought tolerant.

General Nectar Plants
COSMOS, Dwarf Sensation Mix (Cosmos bipinnatus) Annual; Height: 1 to 2 feet; Blooms May-November. Flowers have a yellow center disk with rays of white, pink and red petals. Sow 1/16 inch deep in the spring after danger of frost. Germinates in 7 to 21 days. Seedlings are not winter hardy. Requires full sun and well-drained soils. Do not fertilize. Fertile soils produce tall, lanky plants with few blooms.


JOE PYE WEED (Eupatorium purpureum) Perennial; Height: 5 to 7 feet; Blooms July-September. Small pink flowers in large dome shaped clusters on sturdy green steams with purple leaf nodes. Good butterfly nectar plant. For best germination rate, seeds should be cold-stratified for 2-4 weeks prior to planting. Plant outdoors in an area of full sun to partial shade. Grows best in moist soil.

FLOSS FLOWER, Blue Horizon (Ageratum houstonianum) Annual; Height: 1-1/2 to 2 feet; Blooms summer. Puffs of mid-blue flowers on long stems. Sow late winter to mid spring at 60 degrees (F) in a good seed compost. Keep soil damp but not wet. Germination usually takes 10-15 days. When seedlings are large enough to handle, transplant and grow in cooler conditions. Gradually aclimitize to outdoor conditions for 10-15 days before planting after all risk of frost, 6-12 inches apart in a sunny spot in good garden soil.

PURPLE CONEFLOWER (Echinacea purpurea) Perennial; Height: 2 to 3 feet; Blooms summer/fall. Produces beautiful, large purple flowers with bronze, dome-shaped centers on long stems. Plants are drought resistant, but can tolerate moist soil. Good butterfly nectar plant. Select a sunny location and plant seed in early spring. For best results, mix seed with a cup of sand for better distribution of seed over the planting area. Keep moist until plants begin to grow. Water only when necessary.

TITHONIA TORCH, Mexican Sunflower (Tithonia) Annual; Height: 4 to 6 feet; Blooms summer/fall. Vivid orange-scarlet single flowers measure 3 inches across. Stands heat well. Attracts hummingbirds and butterflies. Makes an excellent cut flower. Plant seeds in a sunny location after all danger of frost has passed. Sow seeds 1/4 inch deep, 6 inches apart, thinning to 2 feet apart when plant reaches 3 inches tall.

VERBENA (Verbena bonairiensis) Perennial; Height: 3 to 6 feet; Blooms summer/fall. Tall, self-supporting plants. Clusters of tiny lilac purple flowers are very fragrant. Good nectar plant for butterflies. Plant seeds outdoors in early spring, covering with 1/4 inch of soil. Prefers full sun. Reseeds itself freely.

Many other flowers can be interplanted with butterfly weed and the other seeds offered above to attract butterflies. Others that are easy to grow from seed, love to bake in the summer sun, and bring a butterfly show - Asters, Joe Pye Weed, Staghorn Sumac, Elderberry, Zinnia and Calendula.
Triangle Flashback Calendula from Johnny's Selected Seeds
Solar Flashback Calendula from Johnny's Selected Seeds
Deja Vu Calendula from Johnny's Selected Seeds

Get some seeds and plant them now so they can have a few weeks of cold nights in order to germinate.

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Sunday, February 3, 2008

Do You Know About Vermicomposting or Mazus Reptans?

Photo: February Fussing over plants in the shed.
VERMICOMPOSTING
In preparation for my compost worm giveaway at Muskogee's Earth Day celebration, I'm reading "Worms Eat My Garbage" by Mary Applehof and have set up a Google alert for anything related to vermicomposting.


In case you don't know, vermicomposting is practiced by making a container of moist, torn newsprint, kitchen food scraps and Red Wriggler worms. The worms eat through the materials over time, creating the most perfect way to maximize the use of kitchen scraps.


Reading on the web, some people get into the hobby to reduce landfill, others do it to produce sterile fertilizer for their garden or houseplants. The stuff pigs and cows produce is called manure. The stuff worms produce is called castings and it sells for big bucks at the organic garden shops online.

One blogger claims that Red Wriggler castings are the purest humus in the world and that they prevent harmful nematodes, bacteria growth, pathogens and fungi.

If you know about vermicomposting from experience or find useful information on the Internet, please let me know about it before my first 1,000 worms arrive at the end of February.

MONARCH WATCH
The Monarch Butterfly support network, Monarch Watch now has a blog with up to the minute updates on Monarch Butterfly waystations, migrations, tagging and population numbers.


NEED HELP SELECTING A GROUNDCOVER THAT CAN BE WALKED ON?
Classy Ground Covers is offering a variety of discounts during February - a sort of a pre-season jump start. For example: 50-bare root daylily plants for $53.50 and 50 hostas for $68.50. Plan to put all these in pots with good, sterile, potting soil for a few months until after our last freeze date on April 15. The site has links to help you choose plant possibilities.

I liked this semi-evergreen choice for zone 7, full sun - Mazus reptans (Purple Mazus: Scrophulariacaea).

Further research indicated that it grows 2-inches tall, prefers moist soil, can take occasional foot traffic, is NOT invasive, no pests, no disease problems.

Perennial Gardening on the Prairies, a Canadian garden site shows the plants a year after they were grown from seed. The site owner said the runners could become a problem but the lcoation I'm thinking of would not support vigorous growth.

Have you heard of or grown Mazus reptans? If so, let me know how well it grew for you.

Stepables is a company that garden writers learn about during conferences but we do not see their products in very many plant outlets. Their plant search link provides a quiz to help you identify the plant choice that is right for your yard.

Thinking about an area between the back door and the hammocks, I put into the quiz: Walk on it twice a day, in full sun, low water requirements, any height, any growth rate, zone 7, any color, clay soil.

The result was four choices that I had not considered - Links to more information on Mineature Veronica Speedwell, Lotus Plenus ('Double Bird's Foot Trefoil'), Sedum John Creech and Helichrysum Dwarf Strawflower.
Lots of attractive possibilities to consider. I especially like those I can start from seed.

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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Monarch Butterfly Caterpillars, Good Reason to Preserve Plant Species, Move Herbs Indoors

The Monarch Butterflies are still very busy making babies on the Asclepias. Sadly, the large caterpillar on the patch of Asclepias in the front was destroyed by spiders feeding themselves dinner. Monarch Watch at the University of Kansas has an online resource for all things Monarch.
These are in a backyard planting. In the top photo, there are two sizes of caterpillar and lots of yellow aphids on the top of the photo. Aphids and Asclepias go together but you can't spray the aphids without harming the tiny Monarch eggs and hatchings.
The bottom photo is another fairly large caterpillar. We have yet to find a chrysalis so we don't know if all the caterpillars are being eaten by birds and spiders or if they are just more shy than the Fritillary Butterflies who have their chrysalis on everything from the brick walls of the house to the lightening rod ground wires.

Monarch caterpillars eat only the leaves of plants that are members of the Milkweed plant family. Since Asclepias is native to the coastal regions, we have to plant it here. Once you have a successful planting, it will seed itself and you will see migrating Monarchs in your garden.

CBS News Online reported that 70 % of plant genes are shared by human genes and that 60-percent of the medicines used by cancer patients are from plant, soil and bacteria sources. More useful medicines come from plants than from chemical sources.

It is time to bring in herbs for the winter windowsills. Organic Gardening online provided tips: Dig up the herb, plant it in clean soil and leave it outside, under a tree for a week. The plant has to get used to the lower light conditions that will prevail in your home even in a sunny spot. Go to their link to read which herbs work best for the move indoors.

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