Best April Ever for Monarchs

The Monarch butterflies have not only made it to St. Louis, Missouri, but they are laying eggs in abundance. A couple of days ago, I saw a flash of orange out the window and when I headed out I discovered forty Swamp Milkweed plants with anywhere from one to three eggs each.

Two days later, I watched as two distinct females laid eggs on another forty-two plants plus a number of Swamp Milkweed in my gardens.

I’ve never had this many eggs laid in the past. I usually might get one to five eggs, and in some years none. It is interesting that these females looked older and one had part of a wing torn away.

Addendum – April 17 – Monarchs still around and laying eggs.

You might wonder how I ended up with so many Swamp milkweed plants and the answer is that these are from seeds I planted in the fall of 2015. Last year I let them grow in place and this year I dug them up for potting.

If you haven’t already, get your milkweed outside and hope the Monarchs will find it.

EDIT – April 19th – Monarchs are still laying eggs on my milkweed. This makes a week of Monarchs in my garden. They don’t seem to have any preference.

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Schools 4 x 8 Foot Butterfly Garden

I have a school which has a 4′ x 8′ area and the teacher wanted some guidelines.

Soil – I prefer the SLC Raised Bed Mix. It’s more expensive, but makes it very easy to plant. You should only need one cubic yard. Get a parent with a pickup truck to get the mix.
http://stlcompost.com/soil/

Mulch – The mulch I like is called Black Forest Mulch.
You can buy it at Lowes or at St. Louis Compost.
http://stlcompost.com/by-the-bag/

Construction – Gateway Greening has a good PDF on the materials and construction of the bed.

Edging – If you  can afford it, it’s nice to edge the bed with pavers. It not only makes the garden look more professional, but keeps the grass away from the garden. The kids will be walking around the garden a lot and it will prevent the area from getting muddy. Here’s a garden done by one Boy Scout with pavers.

Fertilizer – The first year you might not need fertilizer, but you can add some later in the year if plants look like they might need some help. I use an inexpensive 10-10-10.

Water – It’s imperative that you have a source of water nearby. You may need a special key to turn the water on. You can buy those at a hardware store.  Talk to the maintenance people for help. I also like to leave a short hose by the garden so that it’s easy to water. You will find that during the summer that the raised bed will need more water.

Maintenance – Schedule parents/families/scouts to maintain and water the garden during the summer. Once a week should be fine. Weeding and watering are the main chores.

Other Tips

  • Make sure the kids can walk all the way around the garden. They will need to be able to plant and pull weeds without getting in the garden.
  • You want most of your plants to be blooming in September. This is when the kids will be coming back to school and the Monarchs will be migrating.
  • Find a location with the most sunshine possible.
  • Make sure the small plants are in the front where they will get the most sun. You don’t want the tall plants to shadow the smaller plants.

Here is a general idea of what I might plant.
I’ve divided it into three areas – Tall – Medium and Small.

Tall 

Dill, Fennel, Milkweed, Agastache, Blazing Star, Zinnia-tall, Verbena bonareinsis

Medium

Shasta Daisy, Salvia, Maltese Cross, Echinacea, Lantana, Coreopsis lanceolata, Zizia,

Small

Parsley, Allium, Pussy Toes, Coreopis (small), Zinnia -Profusion

 

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Monarch Butterflies – April 8th

I’m doing a program on Monarch butterflies and what you can do to attract them into your garden.

Saturday – April 8th – 9:30 a.m.
Whitecliff Recreation Center
9245 Whitecliff Park Ln, Crestwood, MO 63126

It’s free and everyone is welcome.

I’ll be giving away free seeds and plants  to get you started.

Here’s a video of the Monarchs in my garden last fall.

 

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Butterfly Gardening Series

I came across Friends of the Garden recently and found that they have a great series on Butterfly Gardening.

It is written by Lenora Larson and seems to be an ongoing series. I’m impressed with her knowledge and obvious energy since she has a two acre garden in Kansas.

This is a great series and Lenora is quite knowledgeable.

Here is the link for the Butterfly Gardening series.

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Garden Calendar

This time table is for St. Louis Missouri, but should work for most Zone 6 areas. I will adjust it this year as my plants dictate.

After flowering – Amsonia – cut back a third and shape
After flowering – Baptisia – cut back a third and shape
After flowering – Maltese Cross – cut down to base
After flowering – Monarda – cut to base
After flowering – Salvia – cut back to base
After flowering – Shasta Daisy – cut to base
After flowering – Veronica spicata – cut down to base
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04-01 Rue – prune to 6″
05-15 Solidago rigida – pinch
05-20 Agastache – pinch
06-01 Ironweed (old) – cut down to ground when 2 feet
06-01 Monarda – cut back by half – once or twice.
06-01 Shasta Daisy – layer front row for lower display
06-05 Sedum – cut back to 4″ when 8″ tall
06-06 Solidago – cut back by half
06-07 Hibiscus – when 16″ tall – cut back by half
06-07 Echinacea – cut back some by 1/2 to delay bloom
06-10 Liatris – TEST – cut back by half when 18″
06-10 NE Aster – cut back by half for native – shape
07-10 NE Aster – cut back by half for native – shape
08-10 Coreopsis verticillata – shear blooms
08-20 Agastache – cut back to rebloom
08-30 Gaillardia – cut down to base

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Old Time Nectar Plants

I found this book available as a free download at:
http://horizontalhive.com/download-free/american-honey-plants-pellett.pdf

While it appears to be only for bee keepers, it’s advice can also be applied to butterflies and all pollinators.

It’s a bit daunting when first look at the 312 pages, but becomes easier to use if you do a search for your specific state.

I’ve found that many of the plants and trees I have planted are listed in this book.
Did you know that TULIP-POPLAR or TULIP TREE (Liriodendron tulipifera) is a good nectar plant?

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Hydrangea paniculata – host/nectar plant

hydrangea-02-800One of the plants that I have had great success with is Hydrangea paniculata grandiflora  – also called Pee Gee Hydrangea. While it’s not on most people’s nectar list, I have found that when it blooms it attracts tons of pollinators. It also attracts Spring and Summer Azure butterflies which lay eggs on the blossoms.

I’ve decided to create a hedge with these and am going to use this page to collect ideas and notes from the web.

Here are some recommendations from Craig of SurfingHydrangea.com

  • A few that I like are Limelight, Tardiva and Pink Diamond. These plants all have sturdy branches that help hold the large flower heads up with minimal flopping.
  • Placing plants at 3′ on center would allow for a tight hedge in a reasonable period of time without overplanting. You may be able to space even farther if you begin with larger stock plants.
  • Personally, I would stay with one variety to allow for uniform shape and growth pattern among the plants. All varieties have a very long length of time between bud stage, full bloom and gradual fading of flowers through the fall.
  • I believe that Limelight is a good pollinator plant, but have no real evidence to support this. I do not know if any studies have been done on this characteristic for various paniculata forms.

Deborah Silver says, “I would plant your hedge 4′ off the sidewalk. No need to crowd that walk.”

Limelight is a variety that seems to get good reviews, so I may go with this hydrangea.

Note – if any readers grow this variety, I’d appreciate their comments.

Hydrangea is also listed as a good native nectar plant.
http://grownative.org/plant-picker/plant/wild-hydrangea/

Here’s a good video on pruning this shrub.

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