First Monarch of the Season – 2023

June 2, 2023

The first Monarch of the season showed up on June 2nd. It was a female which looked fairly fresh and did lay a few eggs on my Asclepias incarnata.

I’ve still have lots of milkweed to plant, I just have to figure out where in my busy garden the plants will fit.

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Starting a Garden the Easy Way – No Dig

The “New” way to start a garden is to use the method taught by Charles Dowding on Youtube.

Cover your grass/area with cardboard and then add 4″ of compost on top.

Make sure the compost is cooled down and then you can plant directly into the compost.

While you can use wood to create a raised bed, it is not necessary.

I usually buy compost locally from
Using their calculator, a 4′ x 8′ garden takes about 1/2 cubic yard of compost.

If you either have a pickup truck or have a friend with a pickup truck you can buy the compost for as little as $30/cu. yard.

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Location – Location – Location

In my college real estate class, they emphasized the phrase, Location, Location, Location.

It’s ironic that the same phrase is useful when planning a garden.

The above picture is a good example of the reddish Lobelia cardinalis, Cardinal Flower, and Swamp Milkweed, Asclepias incarnata. These plants love their wet feet in my tiny pond. Even though they are outside and probably freeze at times, they grow well and seem to live for a number of years in these wet conditions.

On the other side, I have grown the same plants in my normal garden soil, but they don’t seem to last more than three years.

If I don’t have any obvious wet or dry soils, I look for spots which might be wetter or drier because of sun, water, or trees.
Irrigation is another way to keep the soil moist.

Either way all plants need water the first year. I keep an eye on new plants the first year and make sure they get enough water.

Another trick I am doing today is to plant just before rain is predicted.
I am planting today, because it is supposed to rain tomorrow.

Since Monarchs need milkweed for a host plant, I end up planting new Swamp milkweed every year even though I know that it has a short life. Cardinal flower is also a great nectar plant for hummingbirds, so I still plant it in regular garden soil at times just to feed the hummingbirds.

In conclusion, while most plants do well with regular soil and regular water, some have distinct preferences – either wet or dry.
If you know what they like, it helps your plants to stay happy and healthy.

Thanks to DK for this question.

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Spring Black Swallowtails

Spring Black Swallowtails are emerging from their garage chrysalises. This is one reason I grow Wild Sweet William, Bluebells and Viburnum for early spring pollinators.

Note – this female was saved to my garage last fall and has hibernated until April 11th.

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Filed under Butterfly, Nectar Plant

Monarch Population Down 22%

Journey North released a report saying that the Monarch population was down 22% in the Mexico reserve.

You can help the Monarchs by planting milkweed in your yard. has this available right now for $3.15 each.
They deliver at the Kirkwood Farmers Market in April.

Greenscape and Sugar Creek are good resources in St. Louis.

My favorite species is Asclepias incarnata – Swamp Milkweed.
It usually grows for around three years of so depending on your soil conditions.
Early migrating Monarchs may find the new growth in mid-April.

Save the seeds and plant them in the fall.

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Verbena Bonariensis – Cold Stratification

While Verbena bonareinsis is a South American flower, it still needs cold stratification to germinate.

I can’t count on just throwing down seed in the fall or just planting seed in the spring, so I’ve done some testing with cold stratification.

I’ve tested a number of refrigerator and freezer methods and the one which has done the best is….

Seed plus moistened vermiculite in a large plastic bag.
I kept it in the refrigerator for 5 weeks.
I prefer using vermiculite since it mixes with the seed and comes out of the bag easily.
I then cover the seed with a bit more vermiculite.
After about ten days, below is what came up.

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Filed under Nectar Plant

School Gardens 101

I found this video which might be beneficial for new school gardens. Enjoy!

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Vacation Seed Starting

Since I had a ten day Florida vacation planned, I thought I’d try and germinate my seeds while I was gone.

March 11, 2020

The trick is to keep the seeds moist and warm during that time and make sure they don’t dry out. I not only watered the seed bed well, but I also covered it with a plastic well-fitting top. I put the shop lights right above the plastic lid. I then left on vacation and after ten days, this is what I came home to. I use ProMix as my seed medium and cover the seeds with vermiculite. I do have a tiny bit of fertilizer in my ProMix.

March 21, 2020
March 21, 2020

I came home to hundreds of seedlings and look forward to transplanting them into other containers.

I’ll probably wait two weeks before I use a pencil to transplant them to individual cells.

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Shade Gardening

Notes from Scott Woodbury’s presentation.

Scott prefers leaf litter rather than mulch.
You may want to mulch public/presentation areas, but leave leaf litter in the back areas
Leaf litter provides habitat for insects during the winter.

Bush honey suckle is an invasive which you can take out in the fall.
Pull or cut it out and use herbicide on the stump.
Note – I typically pull 20 small honeysuckle and wintercreeper plants every time I weed at Whitecliff Gardens.

He puts in about 40 plants per square yard with 26 species.
Note – in a traditionally planned garden, you would probably have a mass of one species in a square yard and have mulch cover the entire area.

Whitecliff Gardens
Typical “Professional” Landscaping – San Francisco.

He plants plugs and uses a dibble bar.
Note – I have never been able to buy plugs, but I do buy small plants and use a an auger drill bit.

Fire Pink – most people have trouble growing this…….that has been my experience.
It might need more acidity.

Dry Shade – Round Leaf Groundsel, Erigeron – Robyns Plantain, wild columbine, Heuchera americana, parviflora,

Deer – tend to avoid sedges, switch grass –
Link for Shaw PDF.

Maple trees – are hard to grow underneath them.

Here’s a good list of shade loving plants from Grow Native.

Grow Native Shade Garden Plan

Shade Garden #2

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Butterfly Gardening Class

Note – the first two sources are a bit dated, but will give you the basics.

Start by reading my free Butterfly Gardening Book.

2nd – Watch my Butterfly Gardening Youtube video.

3. Start thinking about a location.
Think small, sunshine and water.

I’ve got a shop light I’m giving away for seed starting.
If you’re interested email

If you are interested in starting your own seeds inside, here is my latest light recommendation.

Potting Mix Recommendation
The “Pros” use Pro-Mix – it’s on sale right now at Menards.
You will also need to add slow release fertilizer – I use Osmocote Plus.
According to one video, the Myco will last up to two years.

Seeds – I usually start planting around May 1st in St. Louis so I start my seeds inside around March 1st.
You can buy inexpensive seeds at …..

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