Asters in the Fall

Asters are great fall plants that will be blooming when many plants are done.
The native version is the New England Aster and at times it’s mobbed by all sorts of butterflies in the fall. The problem is that in the home garden, it has a tendency to grow VERY large and flops over, takes up a lot of space and covers other plants. While you can cut it back a couple of times during the season, it’s more work than I care for.
A second option are the new aster cultivars. They are available right now (September 12th) in the local nurseries.

Here are the ones I have bought recently. I’m going to plant them soon and see how they do next year. The largest version is “Believer” from Lowes.  I’ve had as many as ten Painted Lady butterflies nectaring at one time on these plants. These new cultivars seem to be good nectar sources and still draw in the pollinators.

Here are the seven varieties I have bought so far. Left to right and bottom to top.

  1. Millstadt – Sappington Gardens
  2. Dragon Improved – Yoder
  3. Millstadt – Sappington Gardens
  4. Days aster – Blue Yoder – Wiethops
  5. Hazy Aster – Dark Pink – Yoder – Wiethops
  6. Magic Aster Purple – Yoder – Wiethops
  7. Believer – Lowes – this seems to get the most butterflies. It is also the nicest in size, but that might change over the years.

Here are some of the butterflies that love asters.

 

 

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Seeds and Cuttings Class – Sept. 16th

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Tom is doing a free class on collecting seeds and making cuttings to help increase your plant population in 2018.

No need to signup – just park at the school across the street.

Date: Saturday – September 16th
Time: 10 a.m.
Place: 9016 Robyn Rd – Crestwood, MO 63126

Bring:

  • Paper lunch bags for seeds.
  • Scissors or pruners.
  • Small pots, clear plastic bags and potting mix for cuttings.

 

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Rudbeckia Test

fulgidafulgida-versus-fulgida-1200Here are what two versions of Rudbeckia or Black Eyed Susan look like on September 7th in St. Louis Missouri.

One version is the more common Rudbeckia fulgida which I have grown for years. The advantage of this variety is that it’s a native and spreads easily via the roots and is a perennial. It has two disadvantages. Most years it gets a disease and flowers poorly in my yard. The second reason is that even when it is not diseased, it stops blooming around this time of the year.

The other version I am testing is Rudbeckia fulgida fulgida. It seems to be relatively easy to grow and reseeds easily.

As you can see the Fulgida fulgida variety definitely looks better this time of year. It’s not a great nectar plant, but it does attract a few pollinators and might attract the goldfinch.

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Planting Seeds in the Fall

While most annual seeds are planted in the spring, many native seeds need to be planted outside in the late fall. They need what is called cold-stratification to break the seeds out of their dormancy. While this can be done artificially, it’s easiest for the home gardener to just do it in an outside garden.

Here’s a technique that I use with good results. I would normally suggest planting the seeds around Thanksgiving. If it is still warm, wait until things cool down.

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  • Scrape off the top half inch of soil and mulch. You want to get down to the soil level. Set that material off to the side – we won’t use it. If you have weeds in the area, dig them out and put them in your compost.
  • You then want to define your seed area so it will be easy to identify in the spring. You can use anything you want – hula hoop, wood, bricks, etc.
  • I used a product called Terrace Board which is usually used as a lawn/garden edging. I cut it into twenty foot lengths and then drilled a hole into both ends and used a bolt to connect the overlapping ends. You will probably also need to buy plastic pegs to keep the board in place.
  • Another option if you have lots of weeds and/or grass is to lay a couple layers of newspaper to smother the old growth and fill the area with good potting soil.
  • I usually also add a half inch layer of compost or potting soil over the soil. We have clay soil in my location and it is not the ideal germinating medium.
  • Put in your seeds, cover with another 1/4 inch of potting soil/compost and then water.
  • Label the area so you know what seeds you planted.
  • The plants you see are Asclepias incarnata – Swamp Milkweed.
  • The advantage of this method is that you know that the plants coming up are the ones which are on the label.

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The Monarch Migration Compass

Here is some information I received about an upcoming webinar of how the Monarch uses a couple of compasses in it’s migration to Mexico.


Our next webinar in the 2017 Monarch Conservation Series is coming soon!
Date/Time: Thursday, August 312:00-3:00pm Eastern Daylight Time.
Webinar Title: There and Back Again: the compasses monarchs use to get to and return from Mexico
 
Description: How do monarch butterflies orient southwards during the fall migration in order to reach the overwintering sites in Mexico? How do monarchs re-orient during the spring remigration in order to return northwards? This webinar will provide an overview of how monarchs use various sensory-based orientation mechanisms for directionality. In particular, the webinar focuses on describing how monarchs employ two types of compasses that they can use to help guide them during migration, namely a time-compensated sun compass and an inclination-based magnetic compass. In addition to reviewing our basic knowledge of monarch navigation, this webinar will also describe how the use of these compasses by monarchs is potentially now under threat due to contemporary environmental stressors, such as climate change and sensory noise pollution.

Presenter: Dr. Patrick Anthony Guerra; Assistant Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Cincinnati.

Please share this announcement and registration information as appropriate:
Please join us at 2PM EST on Thursday August 31st by using the following link at the time of the event: http://nctc.fws.gov/broadcasts/ and click on the “NCTC on LiveStream” image then “Monarch Butterfly Series”.
Thank You,
Tracy McCleaf
US Fish and Wildlife Service
National Conservation Training Center
698 Conservation Way
Shepherdstown, WV 25443

 

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Disinfecting Monarch Eggs

The topic of disinfecting Monarch eggs was brought up recently in one of the blogs I follow. This is the process of dipping the eggs in a bleach and water solution for a short period of time to get rid of the OE parasite which some Monarchs have. To test for this disease you would need a microscope.

I asked Monarch Watch about this and here is their answer below. The short answer is that they don’t do this normally.

As you can see from the video, they are raising what appears to be thousands of monarch caterpillars.  They are probably bleaching the eggs to avoid an OE outbreak.  We only bleach eggs if we know that there is a potential for an OE outbreak from a particular monarch female and we need the eggs.  All of our monarch adults are tested for OE prior to egg-laying, so we never have outbreaks.

You may find that the instructions found here are sufficient for raising a small number of monarchs: https://monarchjointventure.org/images/uploads/documents/Monarch_Rearing_Instructions.pdf

You may also want to consider participating in citizen science projects such as these:
The Monarch Health Project through the University of Georgia: http://www.monarchparasites.org/

Or, the Monarch Larva Monitoring Project if you are observing wild populations: http://mlmp.org/default.aspx

Below is more information on OE.

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Growing in Clay

I was recently asked how to plant in clay soil.
Here are some options.

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First off, kill off the grass and weeds. You can cover the area with a tarp or newspaper/cardboard or use a herbicide. Use a lawn mower with a bagger and remove all the weed seeds and waste. You don’t want to have to battle the weeds during that first year.

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The easy way to plant with a clay soil base is to cover the area with 6 to 12 inches of a good soil/compost mix. You plant in the soil mix and not the clay soil. Over time, the roots and earthworms will break up the clay soil.

starting-seeds-outside-01Another option is to plant native seeds in the fall. Make sure the seeds come in contact with the soil. The above are Asclepias tuberosa seeds I planted last fall. I then cover the seeds with a soil mix so that the seeds are covered and will germinate easily in the spring. Native plants don’t need or want good soil for growing.

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If you have the time, energy and money, you can dump lots of compost onto the clay and till it in. You can then plant directly into the soil. Unfortunately, in the process of roto-tilling you will bring up dormant weed seeds and will have to battle the weeds in the spring.

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The final option is to make a hole for each plant and throw away the clay soil. You can then add a potting mix to the hole when you plant. I have used a large bulb planter in the past with this technique and it works well.

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When the plants are growing well, you can add mulch to help with the weeds and conserve water. I usually add a mixture of compost and mulch every year to help feed the plants and improve the soil. Note – I found out that the mixture I got was very hot and killed most of my grass in the center.

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