Countryside Corner; Neighborly Garden News
Issue 72, April 2018
Help save the butterflies; create a Monarch habitat!
Watching butterflies visit your garden is one of the joys and wonder of being a gardener, or visiting a garden. Even schoolchildren know that most butterflies sustain themselves solely on a diet of nectar from flowers; hence the importance of providing pesticide-free flowers for them. A few species of butterflies feed on tree sap, or rotting organic matter; Magic Wings Butterfly conservatory, in South Deerfield, sets out platters of over-ripe fruit for some of their butterflies to feed on.
The most important need for Monarchs, besides a clean and reliable food source, is breeding habitat. Unlike some other species of butterflies which will lay eggs and develop on a few types of ‘host’ plants. Monarchs are obligated to only lay eggs on plants in the Milkweed (Asclepias) family. As the young Monarch caterpillars eat the leaves of Milkweed plants, they ingest its toxic sap, which renders the caterpillar toxic as well. The bright colors of the caterpillar and the adult butterfly serve as warnings to potential predators that these insects are poisonous. One other species of butterfly takes advantage of the protective coloration that the Monarch uses; the Viceroy Butterfly, Limenitis archippus, mimics the Monarch Butterfly’s coloration so well, you need to be an expert to tell them apart, and neither can the predators.
If you’ve ever seen a lone outcropping of Milkweed growing along some dusty road, you realize how tough and adaptable it is. Even the swamp Milkweed will grow either in or out of swampy areas, but prefers even moisture. Butterfly Weed likes very well drained sandy soil, and all Milkweeds do well in poor, low fertility soils, so no extra fertilizer is necessary. Most Milkweeds will form dense clumps over time, but respond well to regular division.
By reserving a portion of your garden space to be left as an undisturbed Milkweed patch, you’ll be fostering generations of caterpillars that could help the migration of Monarchs continue through the lifetime of our grandchildren. Despite the toxicity of the Milkweed sap, they are prone to getting aphids, but these are easily washed off with a hose sprayer. Remember not to use any kind of pesticide on your Milkweed plant, and don’t mow your Milkweed patch until you no longer see any caterpillars on the plants, or at the very end of the growing season.
Once you learn to I.D. Monarch caterpillars, you will be able to track the lifecycle of your resident butterflies, and maybe you might get to see one hatch and fly away!
April’s ‘to-do’ list:
It feels like springis having a late start in Western MA. I gauge the progression of spring through the stages of plant development; this is called ‘phenology’. Not much is growing in my garden, but I know with the first spring rains, and a bit of warmer weather, Nature will catch up with the calendar. In the meantime, I’ve got a crop of seedlings started under lights, and much excitement for a new growing season!Lettuce is a cool weather loving crop, and will even tolerate a bit of light shade during the heat of summer. It can easily be grown in pots, just use a container that is at least 12” deep, to accommodate the roots, and 18-20” wide. Fill with regular potting mix, scatter the seeds so they look ‘heavily salted’ on top; lightly firm in and gently water the seeds. Monitor the soil, so they seeds don’t dry out, and you will be rewarded with a crop of your favorite greens in less than 30 days. Best way to harvest; use a scissor to clip as you need it. The plant will re-grow through successive ‘haircuts’.
Prune Roses this month, for the best June blooms. Roses are one of the few shrubs that actually benefit from a severe pruning. The objective is to remove any damaged, dead or diseased canes first, then shape the plant; removing weak and crossing canes, also any shoots growing into the center of the bush. You will then be left with 3-6 strong, healthy canes; to provide frame work for the blooming shoots.
Before the spring rainy season, check gutter downspouts and drains to be sure they are clear of leaves and debris. If you wish to conserve water and utilize your rain-water runoff, consider installing a rain capture system to minimize your dependence on well or municipal water for your utility water needs, or create an eco-friendly rain garden to absorb excess runoff.
Begin staking peonies so they can grow into their supports. Once we receive warmer weather, early blooming Peonies will quickly begin to shoot up. If we provide support early-on, their handsome leaves will soon cover the stakes.
Cool spring weather is an optimum time to over seed your lawn, especially if you’ve noticed some bare spots. If your lawn is completely dry, it would benefit from a good raking, and/or de-thatching, to thin out accumulated organic debris. This allows for better aeration of the soil, and movement of water and nutrients into the root zone of the lawn.
Begin digging and dividing any perennials you didn’t get to last fall. Doing this early, and in cool weather, lessens transplant shock; with minimal effect on their blooming.
Other treatments that should be considered in April (weather permitting) are: lawn applications, tree & shrub applications; lawn aeration; tick prevention applications; just to name a few. Visit the service calendar on our website: countrysidelandscape.net.
April 27 is Arbor Day; plant a tree!
Rhododendrons, and their cousins the Azaleas, are the queens of springtime blooming shrubs. Many hardy types are US natives, with varied blooming times. Surprisingly, some species of Rhododendron are deciduous, and display pleasing fall leaf colors. Rhododendrons like moist, heavily organic soils, which must be well drained. They don’t need full sun, but prefer a lot of indirect light. With planning, you can have a Rhododendron garden in bloom from April through July.
Rhododendron viscosum, the Swamp Azalea is so fragrant; you might smell it before seeing it, as you hike along the edges of swampy meadows. Swamp Azalea flowers after the leaves have emerged; in early summer. This deciduous, New England native grows 5-8’ tall.