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Butterfly Garden

A Butterfly Garden is very peaceful and cathartic. Sitting in the garden, enjoying the beautiful flowers and watching vibrantly colored butterflies flutter around, dancing on the breeze. Butterfly gardening is the art of planting species that will entice them into your yard, and is growing in popularity. With a few simple tips you can encourage the beauties to take up residence in your butterfly garden.

The most important aspect to a butterfly garden is planting species that attract the butterflies. There are two types of butterfly garden plants they need: ones that provide nectar for the adults to eat (nectar plant), and those that provide food for their young (host plant). After plants have been chosen, encourage blooming seasons to last as long as possible, lengthening the feeding window for butterflies.

Butterfly Garden

Butterfly on Flower

Butterfly Garden Plants

The following list details some of the most popular garden butterfly plants to attract butterflies.

Aster Flower

Aster Flower – Growing upwards of 6’ tall, with dozens of blooms on a single plant, asters make a great addition to any butterfly garden. Asters are daisy-like perennials that bring a variety of colors to your garden throughout the entire growing season.

Bee Balm

Bee Balm – A north-American native perennial, butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds alike are highly attracted to the bee balm plant. Bee balm grows up to 4’ tall and produces brightly colored tubular blooms that are a fantastic nectar source. Deadheading flowers after blooms are spent will encourage a second round of blooms.

Black-Eyed Susan

Black-Eyed Susan – A fantastic native plant, black-eyed susans are an incredibly drought resistant perennial. Their blooms of yellow and orange draw in butterflies and hummingbirds to feed on their nectar.

Coneflower

Coneflower – This daisy-like perennial blooms midsummer and are relatively drought tolerant, making them a great addition to gardens in hot climates. Also know as Echinacea, coneflowers make great cut flowers as well and are a popular deterrent for deer.

Dogbane

Dogbane – Similar in appearance to some milkweed varieties, dogbane plays an important role in butterfly gardens. Dogbane plants are a great nectar source for butterflies early in the season before many other plants are blooming. Classified as perennial, this herb is known for its clusters of dainty, bell-shaped pink flowers.

Goldenrod

Goldenrod – Often considered a weed by gardeners, goldenrod is primarily found in open areas such as prairies, and meadows. Goldenrod plants do have many useful properties though and are finding their way into garden landscapes. These late-blooming plants are known for their ability to attract butterflies, bees and hummingbirds and also have many healing properties. Planting goldenrod near vegetable gardens will draw insect pests away from valuable plants.

Hollyhocks

Hollyhocks – An impressive plant in a butterfly garden, hollyhock stems can reach a staggering 9’ tall under the right growing conditions! This adds a lovely vertical element to a gardening space. Hollyhocks are a short lived perennial; most varieties will need to be replaced every 2-3 years. One benefit however to growing hollyhocks is their ability to reseed themselves. If left to go to seed, under appropriate conditions, they will continually grow new plants.

Lupine Flower

Lupine Flower – Available as both annuals and perennials, lupines are a butterfly garden favorite. Lupine plants develop stiff, erect spires of flowers that can reach 4’ in height. Purple is the most common variety but lupine but can found in a wide range of colors.

Milkweed

Milkweed – Although a very useful plant, common milkweed is often treated as a weed and removed from gardens and landscapes. Milkweed contains a mildly poisonous, sticky sap within its leaves and stem. This bitter taste deters many of the animals and insects that try to feed on its leaves. Butterflies however, are immune to this toxin. By feeding exclusively on milkweed plants, butterflies can accumulate enough of this poison in their bodies to make them taste bitter to their predators.

Pansy Flowers

Pansy Flowers – Known for their colorful “faces”, pansies have one of the widest ranges of colors and thrive well in containers, or when planted in ground. They are treated as annual plants due to their legginess but will come back if left to go to seed. Pansies prefer sun, but like cooler temperatures. They also need plenty of water to thrive.

Russian Sage

Russian Sage – The purple blooms of Russian sage, when paired with the delectable fragrance, make this perennial plant a proven butterfly attractant in any garden. Its silvery foliage and small purple flowers will draw butterflies into the landscape in a single season.

Shasta Daisy

Shasta Daisy – Similar in looks to the wild daisy found along roadsides, the Shasta daisy is a classic perennial. Its blooms are larger and more robust than the wild variety, blooming in gorgeous clumps that grow 2-3’ tall and 1-2’ wide. Shasta daisies are easy to care for, requiring deadheading as needing and dividing every 3-4 years to promote plant vigor.

Snapdragon Flowers

Snapdragon Flowers – A cool season flower, snapdragons add beautiful color to gardens early in the spring and then again in fall. Snapdragons are available in most colors, to coordinate or contrast with other garden plants. Their tall spikes make for a longer blooming period than many other plants.

Verbena

Verbena – This versatile plant makes it home in many gardens due to its ability to thrive in hot conditions and its tendency to attract butterflies. Verbenas have a long blooming season, and come in a variety of colors. Adult butterflies are drawn to the nectar-rich verbena flowers, while the plant overall acts as a deterrent for deer and rabbits.

Zinnia Flowers

Zinnia Flowers – One of the easiest annuals to grow, zinnias provide a wealth of color in a garden landscape as well as attracting butterflies. Zinnias grow best from seed and require little care other than deadheading flowers as needed.

At one time, butterfly bushes were widely recommended for butterfly gardens. The popular garden varieties imported from China are now being classified as invasive species, or even noxious weeds, in many areas as they are crowding out native food that is essential to local wildlife (butterflies and birds specifically). There are some non-invasive American varieties of butterfly bushes that can be purchased. Check with your local garden center or county extension office for more information.

There are many plants available – a variety of annual and perennial species – that can be planted in a garden to draw in butterflies. Some plants draw them in by providing food for butterfly larvae, others entice butterflies with their nectar. Planting a variety of the above plants will give butterflies plenty of feeding sources in your garden, encouraging them to stick around.

Butterfly Garden2018-03-16T23:39:33-04:00

Germinating Seeds

Germinating Seeds is great if you are looking to garden on a budget, or just feel the need to be completely self-sufficient. If either is the case, then starting seeds for your garden may be a great solution to consider. It does take more time and patience than buying seedlings from the local nursery but there is a great sense of satisfaction in knowing you cultivated plants solely by yourself.

Germinating Seeds Basics

Before you get started there are a couple of important aspects to consider when starting seeds for your garden.

  1. Timing – plants need to be planted in the ground at a specific time in order to avoid frosts, and nighttime temperatures that are too low for tender plantlets. You will need to figure out germination times, and about how big you want plants to grow before planting. You can then determine when to start your seeds based on this. Many seed packets will state on the back of the package when to sow inside to help with your planning.
  2. Equipment – you will need to invest in supplies you might not necessarily have on hand. This does add to the upfront costs of your garden endeavor but seeds are much cheaper to buy than seedlings/plants. These supplies can also be reused the following year if you want to repeat the process.
  3. Space – germinating seeds indoors will need a dedicated space that is warm, free from cold drafts, and receives adequate light (unless you are purchasing growing lights). The space you have to work with in your home is most often the limiting factor.

Germinating Seeds Supplies

After the timing is figured out, you will need to have the following supplies on hand:

Seeds – Some of the easiest plants to start from seeds are tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, radish, and cabbage. To keep yourself from getting overwhelmed, first choose a handful of plants that you (and your family) will eat, and then pick a couple of different varieties. Seeds can be found online, at local nurseries/gardening centers, and at most big box retail stores.

Planting trays with covers – Seeds can be started in almost any kind of containers, but using seed starting trays is the most convenient way. If you are using your own containers they will need to be sterilized in a bleach solution (1 part bleach to 9 parts water) and rinsed well prior to using. There is no need for containers to be bigger than 3-4” across, since plants will be transplanted outside once the weather permits. In the early stages of growth, covers are beneficial to help maintain a moderate level of humidity in the trays.

Potting soil – For the best chance of success, purchase a growing medium that is specifically designed for starting seeds. It will be light and fluffy allowing the roots to grow down through the potting soil and will hold just enough moisture without encouraging disease.

Water – This seems like a no-brainer, but your seeds will need plenty of water/moisture to get started. The tricky part is not overwatering them and encouraging disease/mold growth. Seeds may need to be soaked prior to germination (your seed packet will tell you if they need this step), growing medium will need to be moist for planting, and then seedlings will need to be watered, preferably from the bottom, as the soil dries out.

Sunlight – To keep your new plants from getting tall and spindly (i.e. “leggy”), they need plenty of light during the day. For optimum growth they should receive 12-16 hours of bright sunlight. A window with southern exposure will work the best, if available. Chances are though, to get the most robust growth you will need to invest in some growing lights.

Germinating Seeds Instructions

The actual process of germinating seeds is fairly simple.

  • Moisten potting soil in a large bucket, or bowl, adding enough water until the mixture “clumps” together when you grab a handful. Make sure it isn’t overly wet and dripping water.
  • Fill planting containers with moistened potting soil. Pack the mixture down moderately to fill in any gaps or air pockets.
  • Seed packets will tell you whether the seed needs light or complete darkness for germination and if they need to be soaked in water before planting. If they need light, sprinkle seeds on the surface of the soil; seeds that require darkness need to be planted beneath the soil surface. The general rule of thumb is to plant seeds at a depth that equals 2-3 times the width of the seed. It’s best to err on the side of caution and plant seeds too shallow, than too deeply.
  • Moisten newly planted seeds with a mister or spray bottle, cover with a lid to maintain humidity and place in a warm spot to germinate.
  • Keep the soil moist but not sopping wet and check on the planting trays frequently. When your seedlings begin to emerge remove the cover to allow air circulation. At this point move your trays to a south-facing window or place growing lights about 3” over the tops of the plants.

When your seeds are ready to be moved outdoors, give them some time to acclimate to the climate before putting them in the ground. A few days to a week before you plan on putting them in the ground put the planting trays/containers in a protected spot outside for a few hours. They do need to be brought in at night! Gradually increase the exposure to wind and sunshine until it’s time to plant.

Planting your own seeds can be a rewarding, and budget-friendly way to start a garden. Some seeds need to be started indoors giving them time to grow before they can be moved to their spot in the garden. These tips and ideas will help make your seed starting venture a success!

germinating seeds
Starting Seeds
starting seeds outdoors
Planting Seeds Outdoors
growing seedlings
planting seeds
Germinating Seeds2018-03-14T01:08:40-04:00

Sunflower

Sunflower (Helianthus annus)

The sunflower can be spotted in yards and gardens across the United States. Growing sunflowers is simply as easy as sowing seeds and these beauties can make a stunning addition to gardens without being time and labor intensive.

Sunflower

Sunflower

  • Scientific Name:  Helianthus annus
  • Life cycle:   Annual
  • Soil pH:  6.0 – 7.5
  • Plant hardiness:  All USDA zones
  • Light requirements:  Full sun
  • Water requirements:  Low
  • Fertilizer demand:  Low
  • Planting date:  After last spring frost
  • Flowering season:  Summer
  • Height:  Up to 16’
  • Colors:  Yellow
  • Pests:  Birds, squirrels, mildews, rusts
  • Propagation:  Seed

Sunflower Care

Sunflowers are summer flowers that grow in all USDA hardiness zones as long as they are planted in full sun locations. They need a minimum of 6-8 hours of direct sun every day. The blossoms will “turn” to face the sun as it travels across the sky and can cast large shadows due to their size.

With this in mind, it’s best when growing sunflowers to plant them on the north side of vegetable gardens so they don’t shade out smaller plants.

They thrive in a variety of soil conditions but prefer loose, well-drained soil. This allows their long tap roots to stretch out and help anchor the top heavy plants. Sunflowers thrive in soils that are slightly acidic or slightly alkaline – with a pH ranging from 6.0 – 7.5 – which allows them to grow across so many hardiness zones.

They grow best from seed, begin planting sunflower seeds after the danger of frost has passed. If possible, work the seed bed really well in a 2 – 3’ diameter around where seeds will be planted and to a depth of 2’. This will prevent the soil from being too compact and encourage the spread of roots. Work a balanced, slow release fertilizer into the top 8” of soil and then plant seeds about 1” deep spacing then 6” apart.

A Field of Sunflowers

A Field of Sunflowers

After plants have germinated, water seedlings regularly at the root zone, about 3 – 4” from the stem of the plant. When the plants have established themselves well, switch to a more infrequent watering schedule to encourage deep rooting.

Sunflowers are drought tolerant and love the hot, summer sun, but they will benefit from a weekly watering from the time the flowers develop until they bloom. Adding a couple inches of mulch around the base of established plants will keep weeds down and also help retain soil moisture. Fertilizing sparingly to keep growth controlled; this prevents stems from breaking in the fall causing plants to topple over.

A full grown sunflower plant can range in size from a couple of feet tall (dwarf varieties) to towering heights of 16 feet. Their flower heads can span from a few inches across to almost a foot in diameter.

Due to the height of plants and the size of the flower heads, it may be necessary to help support established plants. This can be done with stakes or even simply tying them to a fence or other supportive structure.

Sunflower Pests

Sunflowers

Sunflowers

Sunflowers are typically resistant to most insect pests. Their seed-filled flower heads will attract birds and squirrels as the season progresses. If you have no intent on harvesting the seed then there’s no need to protect the plants from these nuisance animals.

But if you want to use the seeds put some barrier methods in place to keep animals from snacking. Home and garden centers – as well as online retailers – sell polyspun garden fleece that can be used to cover flower heads and protect them.

Periodically plants fall prey to mildew or rusts. Cultural methods are the most effective ways to prevent and/or control these diseases: keeping the garden bed weed free, allowing good air circulation around the base of plants, and watering early in the morning.

If the mildew or rust is caught early an application of a garden fungicide can protect the healthy, uninfected foliage; heavily infected plants should be removed and discarded to prevent the spread of disease to other garden specimens.

Sunflowers make a fantastic, cheery addition to any garden space. Needing minimal care in terms of watering and fertilizing they grow to stunning heights and produce dinner plate sized flower heads.

Sunflower2018-02-27T02:19:26-05:00

Garden Pests

Common Garden Bugs and How to Get Rid of Them

Garden pests and plant diseases can wreak havoc on flowers and plants creating an incredible amount of damage. While there is a time and place for the appearance of small, crawly creatures in our lives – bees that help pollinate flowers, spiders that help eat mosquitoes – more often than not, their presence does more harm than good. This is especially true when their main food source is the very plants we are growing for our own diets.

Garden pests vary depending on the location/climate and the plants being grown. Some garden bugs aren’t picky and will attack indiscriminately; other pests are species specific and only damage certain plants. Some of the most widespread and common garden pests are described below.

Top Ten Garden Pests

  1. Aphids

Aphids are one of the most common garden pests, affecting most fruits and vegetables, ornamental plants and shade trees throughout North America. The minuscule pear-shaped insects attach themselves to the plant, sucking sap through two tubes projecting rearward from their abdomen. This causes distorted foliage and leaf drop if left untreated. Excretions left behind on plants support sooty mold growth while the feeding itself can spread viral diseases. Hot pepper or garlic sprays can be used as preventative methods. Treatment options include washing infested plants with a heavy spray of water, encouraging predatory/parasitic insects such as aphid midges, lacewings and lady beetles. In cases of severe infestation it is necessary to apply insecticidal soap, neem, or horticultural oil to affected plants.

  1. Cabbage Worms

These velvety green worms do a great amount of damage to cabbage and other brassica-family species when allowed to gain a foothold in plants. Imported to Canada from Europe in the 1800’s the cabbage worm is extremely destructive, especially late in the season when populations are allowed to proliferate. As larvae, cabbage worms will feed on surface leaves creating translucent tissue-like scars. Adult worms chew large holes in the outermost leaves of plants and will continue feeding towards the center of the plant, ultimately boring holes in the cabbage heads. Control of cabbage worm follows many of the same protocol of other garden type worms. This means treatment for armyworm, cutworm, etc. will also treat cabbage worms. Encouraging predatory enemies is a great line of defense: spiders, yellow jackets, beetles, green lacewings, wasps and birds.  Chickens will also peck the adult worms from plants, but care needs to be taken since chickens will eat other garden plants too if they are accessible. Spinosad is a natural insecticide made from the fermentation of soil borne organisms and is effective in cabbage worm control.

  1. Corn Earworm

One of the most destructive pests to attack garden corn plants is the corn earworm. It will also bore into other fruiting vegetables and feed on lettuce if in need of a food source. One single worm can do extensive damage to a garden, thus making it important to treat plants as soon as corn earworms are seen. Damage is typically confined to the tip of the ear; worms devour kernels and then foul the ear with excrement. An integrative pest management (IPM) system is the most effective method of controlling corn earworm. Before the garden soil is allowed to over winter, remove as many pupae as possible or broadcast beneficial nematodes into the soil bed to reduce the population before spring planting.  In the spring set out pheromone traps to catch moths before they can lay eggs. During the growing season keep a vigilant eye out for infestation. You should regularly inspect corn silk for eggs and/or larvae. If found apply mineral oil where the silk enters the ear to suffocate larvae or apply a natural insecticide such as Spinosad.

  1. Cutworm

Cutworms are fat, dark colored, segmented larvae that grow to be about an inch in length. They are not picky about what they eat and can be found infecting most early vegetable seedlings and transplants across North America. Cutworms create devastation by chewing through plants at the ground level (hence, “cutting” the stem) and have the ability to consume small plants in their entirety early in the season. They feed at night when the temperatures are cooler, burrowing into the soil during the day. Pesticide use against cutworms is mostly ineffective leaving preventative measures as the primary line of defense. After fall harvest, allow the soil to sit uncovered to give birds and other predatory animals a chance to pick off exposed larvae and pupae. Wait as long as possible in the spring to plant and place protective collars around the base of plants to keep cutworms from accessing stems. For extra control spread a line of diatomaceous earth around plants to deter larvae.

  1. Potato Beetle

One of the most difficult pests to control in a garden is the potato beetle. It is well known for developing resistance to insecticides. Often called “potato bugs”, the potato beetle feeds on plant leaves. An entire plant can be defoliated quickly if an infestation is left untreated. Tomatoes, peppers and eggplants can act as alternative hosts too. Controlling potato bugs follows many of the same methods as other insect pests: planting resistant varieties, encouraging beneficial insects such as lacewings and ladybugs, sprinkling diatomaceous earth around the base of plants, and spraying with Spinosad if an effective bio-pesticide is needed.

  1. Slugs

Dark, damp spaces with ample green and decomposing plant material are prime locations for garden slugs. As the garden canopy closes and the soil becomes shaded it’s important to keep an eye out for these destructive pests. They are mainly active at night and feed on both living plants and decaying plant matter. Slugs eat large holes in foliage, attacking most all garden vegetables and fruits. Young, tender, low-lying plants are at a higher risk for extensive damage. The most productive method of control is hand picking slugs from the soil and plants about two hours after sunset. Diatomaceous earth or boric acid granules can be spread around the base of plants as a preventative to keep slugs from crossing the barrier. If the infestation is severe, trapping may be a more convenient solution; an easy trapping method is sinking shallow pans of stale beer into the ground – the yeast acts as an attractant, and the slugs fall into the liquid and drown.

  1. Spider Mites

These tiny sucking garden pests are found on the undersides of leaves, wreaking havoc on indoor and outdoor garden plants alike. They feed on plant fluids by piercing leaf tissue and leaving behind pale dots on the leaves. As fluids are sucked from the tissue, leaves turn yellow and may desiccate, dropping off the plant. One of the biggest challenges with spider mites is their prolific nature; often times a heavy infestation will occur, unnoticed, before plants begin to show physical symptoms of damage. Chemical pesticides are ineffective at controlling spider mites. Their application eradicates beneficial insects that feed on the mites making it important to skip synthetic options and control them with natural and organic methods. The best methods of control include introducing/encouraging predatory insects such as ladybugs, lacewings and other predatory mites or spot treat heavily affected areas with neem, insecticidal soap, or botanic insecticides. Severe infestation requires pruning of the affected areas or even pulling and discarding the entire plant to prevent spreading to neighboring plants.

  1. Thrips

Thrips are tiny, slender insects with fringed wings that feed on the sap of garden plants. Damaged plant leaves may turn pale, become splotchy, progressing to a silvery color, and then die. More dangerous than damaged tissue though is the plant viruses often spread when the thrips feed. Controlling thrips is the best management strategy versus trying to get rid of them altogether. Spraying insecticides on plants will kill not only the harmful thrips but also beneficial insects. Sticky traps – in yellow or blue – and pruning infected plant tissues are good options for mechanical control; diatomaceous earth can be applied to the underside of leaves if necessary.

  1. Tomato Hornworm

One of the most common tomato garden pests, tomato hornworms are found in gardens all throughout the United States. These pesky green caterpillars can devastate an entire tomato crop in record time. Their light green color provides fantastic camouflage, making them difficult to spot on foliage. Tomato hornworms can grow up to 5” long and feed voraciously, eating through plant leaves and fruit rapidly.  Removing pests by hand is the most effective method for control. The tomato hornworm caterpillars are not dangerous and do not sting/bite. Ladybugs and green lacewings make great natural predators by feeding on the young caterpillar larvae. Applying insecticides is usually not necessary; however, spinosad and insecticidal soaps are good options if needed as a last resort.

  1. Animals

Insects aren’t the only living enemies of garden plants. Animals such as raccoons, rabbits, deer and birds are notorious for sneaking in and scavenging fruits and veggies just before harvest. Putting up fencing around the perimeter of the garden is a good deterrent for keeping animals out. Keep in mind that fencing may need to be placed down into the soil to prevent animals from burrowing under the barrier. Some of the best animal repellents are essential oils, urine of known predators, and other offensive odors. It is also possible to scare away animals by startling them with motion activated sprinklers, flash tape, or brightly colored balloons.

Many of the common garden pests share pest management methods. For the best control of pests it is key to encourage beneficial insect species in the garden: ladybugs, lacewings, spiders, beetles, and wasps. To keep the infestation from spreading to other plants, removing the pests by hand is a great initial strategy. If the attack is too widespread, remove infected plant parts, sprinkle diatomaceous earth around the base of plants, and/or apply Spinosad, a bio-pesticide that protects many of the beneficial insects.

garden pests aphids
garden pests cutworm
garden pests potato beetle
garden pests slugs
garden pests tomato hornworm
garden pests animals
Garden Pests2018-10-29T00:33:13-04:00

Zinnia Flowers

Zinnia flowers are a summer flower favorite of mine, and possibly a lot of other peoples too. What’s not to love with the warm colors, the bright green foliage, and of course the versatility these plants have to offer.

They are annual plants that are as easy to grow as they are to care for. One of the best reasons to plant these flowers in your flower bed is for the variety of colors they grow in. You have your choice from red, yellow, pink, purple, yellow, white and more.

Zinnia Flower

Zinnia Flower

You can go with one color of Zinnias, if you have a color scheme going in your garden, or have a plethora of colors that will really liven up your summer garden.

Besides coming in a variety of colors, they also come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Some can grow as tall as 3 feet high, while the dwarf varieties can reach about 1 foot. The size of your plants could determine where you want to place them in the garden.

This plant grow very quickly once planted. So you really should plan out when you want this plant to germinate, because almost as soon as you plant it, it will be ready to grow.

When I’m planting my Zinnias, I usually dig a hole, or a few holes, in my garden and sprinkle in an ample amount of seeds. I water them regularly until the flowers begin to sprout.

Once they begin to grow, they do not need to be watered as regularly. They are pretty tolerant of heat. If you are in a drought for a long while, then you may want to water them.

Besides being great plants for edging, bordering a garden, and filling up an entire flower bed, Zinnias also make lovely fresh cut flowers.

When your flowers are fully grown, simply cut a few that you would like to take indoors. Mix up colors and have fun pairing them with some other great summer flowers like Baby’s Breath and Cosmos.

Water the cut flowers daily to enhance their life to the fullest. With proper care they will last at least a week or so. And with them growing right outside your door, you have a vase of fresh cut Zinnias all season long!

Zinnia Flowers2017-08-30T14:28:28-04:00