Archive for February, 2008

Fluttering Color for your Garden

Saturday, February 23rd, 2008

Many gardeners are becoming interested in growing butterfly gardens. I will be putting together a list at work at the MBGNA gardens, for an exhibit garden about attracting butterflies. Today I’ll write about flowers that the adult butterflies readily come to for nectar. An even more ambitious garden is one that includes plants that the larvae of butterflies need to eat, but that will have to be another blog.

Butterflies are looking for flowers that have lots of nectar and a good landing platform for them to cling to. Small tubular flowers are especially adapted to the butterflies’ probiscus- its’ specially shaped tongue that works like a straw. These tubular flowers cannot be too long or the butterfly cannot reach all the way down to the nectar which is usually at the base of the petals.

So after a quick look at my favorite flower catalog, Select Seeds, I’ve come up with this list of flowers for attracting butterflies.

Thyme

Valerian

Heliotrope

Asclepias incarnata (common name-Red Swallowwort)

Phlox

Allysum

Verbena (all the different kinds of verbena are good. The Verbena bonariensis is very easy to grow here in Michigan)

Thistle

Scabiosa

Columbine

Chrysanthemum

Herbs (many of them are good nectar flowers)

Milkweed (attracts at least 17 different kinds of butterflies)

Queen Anne’s Lace

Liatris (common name Gayfeather)

Gaillardia

Butterfly Bush

Echinacea purpurea (common name Purple Coneflower)

Violets

Lilac

Yarrow

Rudbeckia hirta (common name Black Eyed Susan)

Monarda (common name Bee Balm)

Lupine

Marigold

Daisy

Lavender

Other things you will want to consider when you plant your garden is to have a sunny site yet sheltered from the wind. Butterflies get tossed around by a breeze fairly easily. A shallow container of water is good too. Even just a mud puddle is beneficial to them. They need to absorb some minerals from the mud.

If you want an in depth look at butterfly gardens go to the Washington Dept. of Fish and Wildlife Backyard Wildlife Sanctuary web site and click on Butterfly Gardens.

Happy Gardening! Bye now, Judy

Happy Valentine’s Day

Thursday, February 14th, 2008

Here is a virtual Valentine’s Day gift to you, a loyal reader of our blog. 

Valentine's Day Flower

We only wish that we could give you these Valentine’s Day Flowers in person!

Bob and Judy

De-weeding the wild – part 2

Monday, February 4th, 2008

All too often, when we look around at our landscape in Southern Michigan, what we see is actually not Michigan plants, but alien species of plants from other countries. Any roadside has quack grass, brome grass, Queen Anne’s Lace, chicory, and dandelions growing along it; all weeds and all aliens. Of course not many Native Michigan plants would grow in a spot that is constantly disturbed by snow plows in winter and lawnmowers in summer. Prairie plants, which are Michigan natives, could grow along our roads if they weren’t mowed, and in a very few places they do.

Alien plants colonize disturbed areas very quickly. Their seed usually likes to germinate in freshly disturbed soil such as a roadside. Weedy aliens are not choosy about rich or lean soil. They are considered weeds just because of that and also because they produce so many seeds which are distributed as far and wide as possible. Native plants are usually choosier about soil and habitat, but once established and growing well, they can usually hold their own as long as the soil is not disturbed.

Historically our native prairies thrived in spots in Southern Michigan because those sites were regularly burned. Either started by lightning strikes or intentionally set by Native Americans. So prairie plants are usually deep rooted and have crowns where the growing stems emerge from, safely below the surface of the soil where they’re not killed by fires.

Some species of oak trees are adapted to fire, too. Their bark is thick enough that the living inner cells of the tree are not damaged by the heat of a grass fire sweeping through. So historically in numerous spots in Southern Michigan we had landscapes of widely spaced oak trees with special prairie plants growing in the soil in between the oak trees. These are called oak openings or sometimes referred to as savannas.

When Michigan was first settled, the first places to be farmed were usually these open areas. The settler would naturally be attracted to spots where he didn’t have to go to all the labor of cutting down the trees before he could begin to plow the soil and get a crop in. For this reason many of the oak openings and their special plants were lost. Since the Native American were pushed out, other oak openings were not burned anymore. So in the few openings that weren’t plowed, the shrubs and saplings of the adjacent woods started to grow in the rich soil , shading out the oak opening prairie plants. The edge of the woods slowly crept into the prairie and displaced the prairie plants.

One of the exciting aspects of habitat restoration (and I mean exciting!) is the use of fire to reclaim those prairies. Controlled burns have been used now at least for 20 years to help the prairies that are left, keeping them healthier by burning out the aliens, shrubs and trees that cannot survive the fire and reclaiming their lost edges.

In another blog I will tell you about the places in S. Michigan were these kinds of restoration practices are happening.

Bye now,

Judy