Birds and Blooms Blog

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Monarch Butterfly 2014 Update

Jill Staake

If you’re a butterfly gardener, there’s no doubt you already know about the plight of the Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus). The last few years have seen a precipitous decline in the numbers of the major migratory population, with scientists estimating a drop of a whopping 90% in the last 20 years. In a recent press release, Tierra Curry of the Center for Biological Diversity tried to put that statistic into perspective, saying, “The 90 percent drop in the monarch’s population is a loss so staggering that in human-population terms it would be like losing every living person in the United States except those in Florida and Ohio.”

Monarchs 2014

A monarch rests on the sand in Michigan.

Scientists agree that the biggest threat to these butterflies is loss of habitat. As most folks know by now, Monarchs require milkweed for their caterpillars. While native to most areas of the U.S. and Canada, milkweed is considered a weed to commercial farmers and ranchers. In recent years, herbicide-resistant forms of crops like corn and soybean have been bred and planted extensively, allowing farmers to spray their fields indiscriminately with Roundup, killing milkweed (and other weeds and wildflowers) and leaving huge areas in the middle of the country devoid of the one plant monarchs really need. (Learn more here, including why milkweed in Texas is especially important.)

Monarchs 2014

Common Milkweed abounds in northern Michigan, as did Monarch spottings recently.

It’s not all bad news, though. Sometimes it takes something really major to get the public’s attention, and this information could be it. A group of scientists and organizations is now pushing to have the Monarch listed as “Threatened” under the Endangered Species Act, which would provide special protection to this butterfly and its habitat. In Mexico, the government has moved to protect the winter roosting sites. Closer to home, local butterfly gardeners are doing all they can to help, adding milkweed to home and public gardens and spreading the word along the way.

On a recent trip to the Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes National Park in western Michigan, I was thrilled to see large stands of Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) everywhere. Even better was the sight of dozens of monarchs flying around the area. By late August, this generation is the one that will soon begin its migration to Mexico. They’ll need all the help they can get to make their 2,000 mile journey, so if you live in the eastern half of the U.S., now’s the time to fill your butterfly garden with late-blooming flowers to sustain them along the way.

Have you spotted monarch butterflies or caterpillars on your milkweed this year? Drop by our Community forums and share your sightings to help Birds & Blooms track where the monarchs were in 2014.

Beautiful Drought Tolerant Ground Covers

With many areas in the United States experiencing drought conditions, replacing thirsty plants with those that need less water is not only becoming more popular – in many cases, it is a necessity with many city governments instituting water restrictions.

If the idea of drought tolerant plants bring to mind a garden filled with boring plants or prickly cacti, then you are in for a pleasant surprise.  Drought tolerant plants can be beautiful!

Earlier this week, I shared with you five drought resistant perennials for the garden.  Today, I’ll show you some lovely, flowering ground covers that you’ll be rushing out to add to your garden whether your areas is experiencing drought or not.

Moss Phlox (Phlox subulata)

Moss Phlox (Phlox subulata)

For a carpet of beautiful flowers, moss phlox is hard to beat.  Small needly-shaped leaves are covered in masses of flowers ranging from white, pink and purple throughout the spring.  This flowering beauty isn’t fussy and can grow in acidic to alkaline soil and thrives in sandy, loam and clay soils.  Moss phlox has one important requirement which is a spot in the garden that receives full sun.

Ground covers can be quite versatile in the garden and moss phlox is no exception.  It can grow in planting zones 2 – 9 and is often used in containers, rock gardens or allowed to spill over a raised bed.  Did I mention that the flowers are fragrant too?

Angelita Daisy/Perky Sue (Tetraneuris acaulis, formerly Hyemonxys acaulis)

Angelita Daisy/Perky Sue (Tetraneuris acaulis, formerly Hyemonxys acaulis)

Adding yellow flowering plants is a great way to add a spot of sunshine to the garden, even on a cloudy day.  The flowers of angelita daisy look like miniature suns with their yellow centers and rays.  This clumping ground cover has dark green leaves that resemble grass.  The flowers bloom from spring into early fall in zones 5 through 7 gardens.  If you live in zone 8 or higher, this drought tolerant ground cover blooms all year long, with the heaviest blooms occurring in spring.

Angelita daisy isn’t fussy and can grow in nutrient poor soils, but does appreciate well-drained soil.  Plant in groups of 3 to 5 for greatest effect in full sun or light shade along pathways, around the base of your mailbox or in containers.

Snow in Summer (Cerastium tomentosum)

Snow in Summer (Cerastium tomentosum)

The silvery gray foliage of snow in summer provides great color contrast when used near plants with darker green leaves.  White flowers appear in late spring on into early summer.  This drought tolerant perennial is a favorite in gardeners who live in the cooler zones of 3 to 7.  This attractive ground cover does best in full sun, but can handle some light shade.

Snow in summer can be used in a rain garden, rock garden or even planted on slopes.  Even when not in flower, the silvery foliage will continue to add beauty to your garden.  This ground cover will spread rapidly, so be sure to plant at least 2 feet apart to allow them room to grow.

Damianita (Chrysactinia mexicana)

Damianita (Chrysactinia mexicana)

The arrival of spring transforms the dark green, needlelike foliage of damiantia into golden yellow.  Flowering occurs sporadically throughout the summer and into fall.  Like many drought tolerant ground covers, damianita is not fussy and grows in poor soils without the need for supplemental fertilizer.

Plant along driveways, next to boulders, on slopes or nearby swimming pools where its sunny color can be enjoyed.  This Southwestern native does need well-drained soil and full sun to grow in zone 7 to 10 gardens.

Trailing Lantana (Lantana montevidensis)

Trailing Lantana (Lantana montevidensis)

Attractive green foliage covered in pretty flowers from spring through fall make trailing lantana a must have for many gardens.  Although this ground cover can only be grown outdoors year round in zone 9 gardens and above, it is a very popular plant in cooler climates as well where it is treated as an annual.  Adapted to acidic to alkaline soils, trailing lantana does best in well-drained soil in full sun to light shade.

In frost free climates, the flowers appear all year long.  In colder climates, it will begin flowering in spring until the first frost.  Suitable for containers, hanging baskets, rock gardens or as a bedding plant – adult butterflies will be sure to seek out the flowers of trailing lantana.  Unlike other forms of lantana, trailing lantana does not self seed and therefore is not invasive in tropical climates.  It’s important to note that all parts of lantana are poisonous.

As you can see, drought tolerant plants aren’t fussy and can add beauty to your landscape while helping you save water by using them to replace thirsty plants.

Need more choices for drought tolerant plants for your garden?  Check out our list of “40+ Drought Resistant Flowers and Plants”.

 

 

Friday Funny Photography: Barred Owl and Owlet

Lorie

Friday Funny Photography: Barred Owl and Owlet

Birds & Blooms’ Friday Fun Photography snapshot for Aug 29, 2014: Barred Owl and Owlet by Diane Miller of Bruce Township, Michigan.

Do you have a clever caption for this fun photo? We’d love to hear it!

Hummingbirds are on the Move in the Eastern US!

Rob Ripma

With the warm temperatures outside it may not feel like fall is approaching, but many birds are already beginning their fall migration. In my last post, I wrote about how many species of warblers have already started to migrate, and today I’ll focus on the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds that are frequenting many people’s hummingbird feeders now. I’ve heard from quite a few folks that have with hummingbird feeders that the number of hummingbirds around has increased substantially, and I’ve noticed at my house, too. Hummingbirds are right on schedule migration-wise, and late August is when we typically begin to see more and more hummingbirds in central Indiana. (Keep in mind that the timing will be different depending upon where you live.)

It's amazing to watch Ruby-throated Hummingbirds as they are feeding at flowers! (Photo by Brian Zwiebel/Sabrewing Nature Tours)

It’s amazing to watch Ruby-throated Hummingbirds as they are feeding at flowers! (Photo by Brian Zwiebel/Sabrewing Nature Tours)

It’s hard to imagine that this tiny hummingbird is already on its way to complete what I consider to be a pretty incredible migration. Most of these hummingbirds will migrate down to the Gulf Coast and then are faced with a choice –  fly over the Gulf of Mexico or go around it. In the spring when the birds are in a hurry to get north to their breeding grounds, a huge number of hummingbirds choose to fly over this enormous body of water, but during fall migration when they aren’t in such a hurry, some individuals choose to take the long way. It might take a bit longer, but it’s a much safer option than flying over open water.

Be sure to enjoy all the hummingbirds over the next month or so and also let us know how many have been visiting your feeders!

Attract Wildife with Rose of Sharon

Jill Staake

On a recent trip to Michigan to visit family, I was captivated by the Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus) bush in their front yard. It was a magnet for everything with wings! One afternoon, I dragged a lawn chair into the shade by the bush to watch for about an hour to see what visitors I could spot, including:

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus)

Attract Wildlife

Ruby-Throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris), female

Attract Wildlife with Rose of Sharon

Honeybees (Apis mellifera)

Attract Wildlife with Rose of Sharon

Attract Wildlife with Rose of Sharon

And plenty more I didn’t capture photos of, including other varieties of bees, wasps, and flies. I also spotted other butterflies using the flowers for nectar, including a Giant Swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes), Great Spangled Fritillary (Speyeria cybele), and Cabbage White (Pieris rapae). Dragonflies were using the branches to perch, and small songbirds flitted in and out of the shelter of the branches. It was simply amazing how this one small bush was providing food and shelter for so many different species all at once.

Attract Wildlife

This Rose of Sharon wasn’t large, but it was able to attract wildlife like you wouldn’t believe!

Rose of Sharon is native to Asia, and usually grown in the U.S. in zones 5 – 8. It blooms summer through fall, and is easy to grow in most soils and conditions. It can be pruned into a hedge or tree form, or left to ramble wild. Find multiple cultivars at your local garden center, or ask a friend or neighbor for a stem cutting from one in their yard to root. (Learn how here.) One word of caution: this non-native shrub is considered invasive in some areas. If you’re concerned, check with your local extension office to find out if Rose of Sharon is right for your yard.

What wildlife do you see on your Rose of Sharon bushes? Come chat about it in our Gardening Forums!

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