Magnificent Milkweed

You are probably wondering how anything with the word ‘weed’ in it could possibly be magnificent. For butterflies, bees and a host of other insects, milkweed is a major source of food. Of course, most gardeners know the importance of keeping such wild species of plants around. The more pollinators that you can get into your garden the better! I think that once you find out about milkweed you’ll agree that it truly is magnificent!

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On one of our evening walks we stopped at a large mass of milkweed plants. The sun was low in the sky and rays of light were bouncing off of the plants leaves. The bees were buzzing in and out of the tiny pink blooms. They worked quickly as if in a hurry to finish before sundown.

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Bees were buzzing!

The sweet scent of the flowers was heavy in the air on that warm evening. We searched for Monarch butterfly caterpillars. There were none to be found. Just the bees and a Japanese beetle or two.

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Evening sun…

Every time after that we searched for the butterfly larvae only to find nothing.

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Lovely pink blooms.

Each year at our local library, the children’s librarian raises many Monarch butterflies in jars for the children. Some years ago she was able to find some to grow in the wild. Last summer she couldn’t find any. After contacting a Monarch butterfly organization, she was able to obtain a quantity of larvae. Each child that signed up named their caterpillar. As the days and weeks went by the larvae would one by one form the ‘j’ shape and start the process of metamorphosis. When we stopped at the library we had to check on ‘Rockland’ or this year the name of choice was ‘Snake’. This year our little guy didn’t make it but our dear librarian found some in the wild to use as replacements.

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Library larvae!
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Our little caterpillar!

One day, we got the call that our morphed butterfly was ready to be released. The library has a dreamy little garden in it’s front courtyard. There we let our female Monarch butterfly ‘Snake’ go. She didn’t take off immediately. She flitted around the library garden with a male butterfly. Landing on hot pink zinnias, tall verbena and prickly purple cone flowers. The late afternoon sun made the whole occasion quite serene. One of the butterflies landed on my sons arm and stayed a while. Finally we let them be. Leaving them so that they could start their long journey southward.

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Beautiful Monarch butterfly!

Benefits of Growing 

Do you have room to allow some wild milkweed to grow on your land? If you do, you will be providing much needed food for the Monarch population as they stop to take in nourishment along the way. Many native plants are being removed from modern landscapes. By supporting native plants and allowing them to thrive, pollinators have a steady supply of food. Farmers are encouraged to leave large shafts of land for native plants to support the very pollinators that are responsible for pollinating much of our food sources. One third of it to be exact! Truly magnificent.

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The wind blown seed stage.

How to Grow 

If you already have a stand of milkweed near your house, little needs to be done to keep it going. In fall, the seed pods will mature and a multitude of seeds will come out of them. Equipped with their own parachute of sorts, the wind will simply carry the seeds to a quiet resting place where the seeds can take hold. This is how the plant reseeds itself on it’s own.

Starting a new patch is quite easy. Seeds and even plant plugs are available through mail order or online. Seeds grow best after going through stratification or a cooling process. Normally they will go through this process outdoors. It is possible to speed this up. “Place seeds into a container of moist soil, cover with a plastic bag and refrigerate for at least 3 weeks.”-Growing Milkweed. Milkweed does not like to be moved once planted.

The most common milkweed variety in the New England area is Asclepias syriaca. There are many attractive cultivated types that are useful in borders and perennial beds. We have Asplepias tuberosa that makes a dazzling orange show in our July garden. Bees and butterflies alike flock to this plant. Because it is derived from a wildflower plant, it is also drought tolerant. For more ideas for attracting pollinators go here. I even came across a native pollinator preserve called Peaked Mountain Farm in Dedham, Maine.

Butterfly weed is a pollinator magnet!

If you happen to do any clearing this fall, take notice if you have any milkweed plants. Collect seeds or cast more in other areas if you wish. Maybe next year you will find a few Monarch caterpillars! All because you grew magnificent milkweed!

The gardens here are pretty much demolished after recent high winds and rain. Trees are down everywhere. Many lost power and are still without it. We only lost it for a day so no complaints here. It’s always a good lesson to stay prepared for anything that might come our way. Keep those flashlights ready and some gas for the generator. The weather has now taken on the familiar chill of fall. Feels normal now after an above average fall. The smell of wood smoke drifts through the air at night and blaze orange is the color of the month. Thanks for stopping by Everlongardener this week! Don’t forget to subscribe below for weekly seasonal gardening info.

Hilary| Everlongardener

Beau has legs as long as his body now!

Attract Pollinators In 3 Easy Steps

Some of the hardest work in the garden is done by our pollinators. With all of the challenges we face as gardeners, attracting pollinators to our gardens can be something we may overlook. Why not make your little patch of earth a haven for these garden helpers. Let’s see how you can attract more pollinators to your garden this season with just 3 easy steps!

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Many critters contribute to pollinating. These include bees, wasps, moths, butterflies, bats and birds. In this post we will learn 3 ways to keep these important workers around.

Butterfly weed is a pollinator magnet!

Plant for Pollinators 

Those of us who are flower gardeners tend to plant what we love. The list of flowers that I like is pretty long. Annuals, perennial, bulbs…I really love ’em all. I so often pick the colors and shapes that appeal to me. Although I feel strongly about certain plants, I’m gradually learning what the pollinators prefer. Planting in masses gives pollinators an easy place to forage pollen. Like a giant landing strip to bounce from flower to flower on. Bees love native wildflowers such as wild asters, goldenrod and purple coneflower. Herbs include basil, lavender and oregano. Even trees and shrubs are great, like blackberries, roses and willows offer food for pollinators. Some plants recommended for pasture planting are alfalfa, buckwheat and clover. I’ve been reading a new book called 100 Plants to Feed the Bees. This book is packed with plant info for anyone looking for ideas for a pollinator garden.

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Herb flowers make great bee food!

One place to start is by noticing when food is available for our pollinators. With the very beginning of spring, the insect world quickly comes alive. By mid April, bugs are out and about. What will they find for food? The question really is, what does your landscape have to offer? Spring bulbs and tiny wild flowers are the first to appear. If you hold still and look, you will see them coming to the flowers.

Some pollinators on the rambling rose.

By allowing some areas of your property to go wild, you allow more native plants to be available for the early and late pollinators. These days, more farmers are encouraged to leave bands of wild plants on part of their farms. This encourages diversity and more pollinators.

The tiniest of bees on the Gypsophilia.

A Hospitable Habitat 

Many people put out bird houses and hummingbird feeders. Why not put out something for the pollinators. For centuries, gardeners have catered to pollinators by putting out bee skeps. People keep bee hives for honey and pollination. We have a bat house that houses some of our bat population.

Attract native bees to your garden for extra pollination.

Native bees or mason bees are terrific pollinators. They are solitary bees. These bees do not belong to a hive. In their short lives, they simply lay eggs, pollinate and then die. Since they do not need to bring pollen back to the bee hive, they aren’t as picky as honey bees. This is an example of a mason bee house elbow. The name ‘mason bee’ comes from how they lay eggs in a hole of some kind, then pack mud or clay in front of it. Look close at the holes and you will see that many of them are occupied.

The bees have been busy!

A mason bee house should be positioned toward the east so that the bees can benefit from morning sun. Also, place the house near a source of mud. There are many styles out there. Some can be made from recycled items and others can be purchased. Native bees look for hollow stems and crevices to lay eggs in, so keep some plants standing for them in the fall.

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This is a bee house that was made from recycled and found materials.

This mason bee house was easy to make and can be a great project to do with kids. Learning about bees is fun and kids love them. Last year we even made a butterfly and bee watering station.

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A mason bee house purchased from a garden supply company.

Eliminate Toxins

You may think that you have a very natural environment around your property. You may also think that you have a great home for pollinators. Consider the products that you may be using. Many lawn care products are toxic for bees and other insects. By allowing dandelions and clover to reside in the lawn, you are providing much needed sustenance to our native pollinators. I know that a few of you will cringe over this thought but it’s something to consider. Most of us know that bees have been on the decline for many years and that pesticides are a huge factor. Try seeking alternative treatments or products. There is so much information out there today about how to tackle problems naturally. Your local extension website will cover just about any topic.

Dandelions are among the first flowers available in spring.

It is possible to grow a productive garden using organic techniques. Just because a product eliminates one problem, it may carry future unseen consequences. There is a wealth of knowledge out there and most experienced gardeners are happy to share it with others.

Even common flies pollinate!

Many pollinators play a role in our gardens. It doesn’t take much to make them a safer place to live.

 

A small wild bee looking to lay eggs in the garden.

The hummingbirds are already back in Maine. Time to get your feeders out. Other birds are all making nests in their usual places around our yard. We have been steeling away a little time here and there to work in the gardens but the weather has been very chilly. I hope that you get a chance to take notice of the pollinators in your yard soon. Diversity makes a better garden on so many levels. Thanks for taking the time to see what’s going on at Everlongardener this week. If you would like more gardening tips, subscribe in the sidebar. It’s free and you won’t miss a thing!

Hilary|Everlongardener