Thursday, January 31, 2019

Eastern Monarch Butterfly Population Increases

Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus)


"The yearly count of monarch butterflies overwintering in Mexico, released today, shows an increase of 144 percent from last year’s count and is the highest count since 2006", according to The Center for Biological Diversity. "That’s good news for a species whose numbers had fallen in recent years, but conservationists say the monarch continues to need Endangered Species Act protection", it continues.

"Today’s count of 6.05 hectares of occupied forest is up from 2.48 hectares last winter. The increase is attributable to favorable weather during the spring and summer breeding seasons and during the fall migration. Monarchs have lost an estimated 165 million acres of breeding habitat in the United States to herbicide spraying and development", the report, Eastern Monarch Butterfly Population Rebounds, states.

“This reprieve from bad news on monarchs is a thank-you from the butterflies to all the people who planted native milkweeds and switched to organic corn and soy products,” said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center.

But let's not be lulled into complacency by the good news. They expect it's only temporary. The crisis must continue, and as Stanford economist Paul Romer said, “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.” Expanding on the principle, Rahm Emanual noted, "And what I mean by that it's an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before."

So, if you never thought you could let your yard grow up in weeds, you can now. In my recent article, Got Milkweed? Feeding Hungry Monarch Butterflies, I recommended milkweed, in particular. Throw caution to the wind along with milkweed seeds and let them grow!

If you receive a threatening notice from your not-so-friendly HOA or local municipality, assume a more sanctimonious posture, and declare that you are saving the monarchs!

Got thoughts? Share them with us in the comment section.

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Saturday, January 26, 2019

Got Milkweed? Feeding Hungry Monarch Butterflies.

Credit: Kenneth Dwain Harrelson under GNU Free Documentation License

It's winter. Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) from the eastern U.S. are vacationing in Mexico, hanging around in trees and soaking up the sun. They've been doing this for a long time - no one knows how long - so it has become a family tradition with them. It won't be long, though, before the weather begins to warm and they'll head back north to feed and breed.

Aside from lepidopterophiles and passersby enjoying their beauty, few cared much about their habits. But that has changed. It is believed that Monarch populations are diminishing, so saving their species has become a cause célèbre

Everyone seems to be getting in on the act. Botanical gardens are establishing butterfly gardens with favored enticements, especially milkweed. "Enlightened" homeowners are letting their yards spring up with weeds, ostensibly to save the monarch. (Neighbors might think they're just lazy.)

Butterfly friendly landscape with milkweed

If you'd like to "save the monarchs", or just spend less time weeding, and mask your sloth with altruism, consider including milkweed in your landscape. There are several native species to choose from:

Clasping Milkweed (Asclepias amplexicaulis) grows in dry, sandy soils and likes lots of sunshine. It can reach 3½ feet in height. Leaves are shaded with pink. The fragrant flowers are pink to purple, and bloom in early to mid-summer. In addition to monarchs, they also attract hummingbirds, bees and other species of butterflies.

Mountain or Poke Milkweed (Asclepias exaltata) grows on moist, shady areas in cooler climates. It grows to 6 feet in height. Flowers are white and green.

Eastern Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata var. pulchra) prefers wet areas such as bog gardens. Its stems are 2-6 feet in height. The pale to deep pink flowers open July through September. In addition to monarchs, it attracts other buttefly species and nectar loving critters. 

Fourleaf Milkweed (Asclepias quadrifolia) likes full to partial sun and dry soils. Soil pH should be a bit on the high side, so add a little lime. Fragrant flowers are cream to lilac. It grows to 2.5 feet.

Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa) is a common roadside flower. Clumps of branching stems reach 2.5 feet in height and bear large clusters of wildly brilliant orange blossoms that attract all sorts of nectar-lovers. It flowers mid- to late summer. Some cultivated varieties display mixed yellow and orange flowers.

Red-ring Milkweed (Asclepias variegata) likes sunny areas with dry to moist soils. It is an impressive plant, producing white, snowball-like flowers on purplish stems to 3 feet tall. The "red-ring" refers to a thin, colorful ring that surrounds the middle of the flower. It also attracts a host of nectar-loving creatures. Flowers appear May to June.

Whorled Milkweed (Asclepias verticillata) thrives in dry to moist soils in sun to partial shade. Note that soil pH should be near 7.0.  Slender, branched stems produce whorls of long, narrow leaves and loads of small flower clusters from June through September. The flowers are white to pale green, sometimes with a hint of purple.

For those of you who contend with pesky deer, you'll be pleased to know that deer hate milkweeds because of the irritating, milky latex which most produce. (Thus, the name, "milkweed".)

If you would like to learn more about monarch butterflies in your area, contact your state department of natural resources or one of the organizations linked below.

Do you have questions? Contact us at goGardenNow.

Comments? Please post in the comment section. We'd love to hear from you.

Here are the web links:

Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources 
Arizona Game and Fish Department
Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality
California Department of Fish and Game
Colorado Department of Natural Resources
Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection
Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control
District of Columbia Department of Energy and Environment
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
Georgia Department of Natural Resources
Idaho Department of Environmental Quality
Illinois Department of Natural Resources
Indiana Department of Natural Resources
Iowa Department of Natural Resources
Maryland Department of Natural Resources
Michigan Department of Natural Resources
Minnesota Department of Natural Resources
Missouri Department of Natural Resources
Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation
Nevada Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection
New Mexico Department of Energy, Minerals, and Natural Resources
North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources
Ohio Department of Natural Resources
Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
South Carolina Department of Natural Resources
Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department
Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries
Washington State Department of Natural Resources
West Virginia Division of Natural Resources
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
Butterfly Houses at
Butterfly Feeders at
The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation  

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Friday, January 25, 2019

All America Selections Announces the 2019 Winner - Nasturtium Baby Rose

Photo credit: All America Selections
Here it is! Great news straight from All-America Selections.

Exciting news! The last nasturtium AAS Winner was back in the early days, in the 1930’s. Now it’s time to introduce a wonderful rose colored nasturtium perfect for today’s gardens. Baby Rose is a petite-flowered, mounding variety with healthy, dark foliage ideal for containers and small space gardens. AAS’ expert judges praised the uniformly compact plants that sported flowers with consistent coloration. Their compact habit means less “flower flopping” with their blooms remaining upright throughout the season. The rose color is uncommon in nasturtiums and contrasts beautifully with the dark-green foliage. Bonus: both the leaves and flowers are edible!

When was the last time you planted nasturtiums? Ever?

Have questions or comments? Tell us in the Comment section below. We love hearing from you.

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Wednesday, January 23, 2019

A New Gardener's Questions About Composting

Q. I don't know if you've covered this in your blog, but should I be composting even if I don't keep a vegetable garden? If so, what composter do you recommend?

A. Sure. Whether growing vegetables or flowers, the soil and plants benefit from composting.

There are all kinds of composting devices, and sometimes no device at all; just a pile.

Compost usually needs to be turned occasionally to aerate the pile, thus allowing decomposition to occur.

Some folks simply select a site near the garden and begin dropping grass clippings, kitchen scraps, raked leaves, etc. until they've formed a pile. Then they take a garden fork in hand and begin turning their pile over after it's a few weeks old and reached a certain height, taking a forkful of compost and turning it upside down in a spot next to the original pile. Then, each forkful is turned over onto the new spot. Eventually the compost that was on top of the first pile is at the bottom of the new pile. Then another new pile is begun where the old pile once was, so two piles are created. If this method is followed again and again, several piles can be created over time. Finished compost from the oldest pile is eventually added to your garden.

Almost all devices are designed in some fashion to allow for the compost to be turned. Some are not. There are box-shaped compost bins with openings at the top to drop in the material, and doors at the bottom to shovel the finished compost out.

Others are in the shape of barrels designed for turning. The barrels may be mounted on stands that are outfitted with rollers and handles. Compostable material is dropped through a door or opening, then the barrels can be cranked to turn the compost around inside. One design involves a barrel that is mounted on low rollers. The gardener then kicks the barrel occasionally to roll the barrel over and aerate the material inside.

Choose the method that works best for you. I like the easiest method available.

If you have a lot of wildlife in your area, bear in mind that some - e.g. bears, raccoons, opossums and such - might be attracted to your compost pile. In that case, you might need to figure out some way to keep them out. A quick search of the internet should turn up some ideas.

I hope this helps.

If you have questions about composting, please add them in the comment section below.

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Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Behind A Garden Wall: Edith J Carrier Arboretum at James Madison University

Edith J Carrier Arboretum entrance

In 1964, James Madison University Botany Professor, Dr. Norlyn Bodkin, began using a wooded area of the campus as a convenient place for faculty and students to do botanical field studies. Meanwhile, Dr. Bodkin conceived the idea of establishing an arboretum in the woods. After many years of planning and promoting, it was finally opened to the public in 1989. It was named the Edith J. Carrier Arboretum to honor the wife of then University President Ronald Carrier.

I recently visited for the first time. Follow me to see what grows behind the garden wall.

Upon entering, a trail to the right leads to a labyrinth on a hill. I gave it a miss.

The best place to begin your visit will be at the Frances Plecker Education Building. Maps, a library, exhibits are available. A fair portion of the arboretum is in view of the terrace.

View from the terrace

Visitors with limited time, small children in prams or having physical challenges will enjoy the accessible trails around the pond and to the pavilion.

Exhibits along the way include:

Monarch dinner menu
  • Viette Perennial Garden - donated by André Viette, noted horticulturist, featuring daylilies (Hemerocallis), irises (Iris) and peonies (Paeonia) in seasonal bloom;
  • Drury Planting - Includes weeping bald cypress (Taxodium distichum 'Cascade Falls'), bigleaf magnolia (Magnolia macrophylla), Japanese maple (Acer palmatum 'Bloodgood', redbud (Cercis canadensis 'Forest Pansy'),  dogwood (Cornus florida 'Cherokee Sunset'), and spirea (Spiraea x bumalda 'Dolchica', flowering from April to June;
  • Smith Shale Barren - "Perhaps the most unique of the arboretum’s gardens, this man-made shale barren is the only one of its kind in a public garden in Virginia and displays over a dozen strict endemic perennials that make their home in extreme conditions: harsh, direct and prolonged sunlight and high temperatures, in flower March to July";
  • Wetlands Garden - featuring aquatic and bog plants typical to that environment;
  • Hall Garden - featuring a large green ash tree (Fraxinus pennsylvanica), bluebells (Hyacinthoides spp.), Jack-in-the-pulpits (Arisaema triphyllum), ferns (Pteridophytes) and foamflowers (Tiarella cordifolia), yellow magnolia (Magnolia x 'Butterflies') and various native shrubs; 
  • Monarch Waystation - "A pollinator garden providing habitat for a variety of insects, including butterflies like Monarchs, that require host plants for caterpillars and nectar plants that support the nutrient needs for their migration", including a handy menu for the hungry pilgrims to make their selections.
Those who have more time, or are not confined to a paved pathway, will enjoy other trails through the woods to visit:

  • Fern Valley (which needs no explanation);
  • Dale Hybrid Azalea Experimental Planting - best viewed from April to July;
  • MacDonald Azalea and Rhododendron Garden - best viewed from March to July;
  • Mid-Atlantic Chapter of the American Rhododendron Society Native Azalea Garden - also best viewed from March to July;
  • Wood Wildflower Garden - flowering April and May;
  • Bodkin Oak-Hickory Forest;
  • Herb Garden;
  • Sycamore Flat - a wildflower meadow and swale with stream and native plants.
Swinging bridge over the stream

My favorite is the Children's Garden. I love to teach kids about plants and nature. This area in the oak-hickory forest features whimsical sculpture and novel exhibits to make the educational experience easy and fun.

Fun things to do in the Children's Garden

The Carrier Arboretum is easily accessible, only 3 minutes from Interstate Highway 81 at Exit 245 in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Whether you live in the area, or are just passing by, I hope you'll visit throughout the year. Something interesting is always "in season".

Return to, or see more photos from the Edith J Carrier Arboretum!

Sculpture (Some are for sale!)

Meandering stream

Woodland walk


Making good use of a rotting tree trunk

Sculptured benches

Educational station to explore tree roots

Entrance to Children's Garden

Whimisical sculpture from tree roots

Red twig dogwood

Carrier Arboretum banner

Edith J Carrier Arboretum entrance

Arum italicum

Fragrant Edgeworthia chrysantha

Saturday, January 19, 2019

2019 is Year of the Dahlia

The National Garden Bureau announces 2019 as Year of the Dahlia! 

Every flower has its following of fans, and the dahlia certainly has its share. The plant is native to Mexico and South America, and named for Anders Dahl, the Swedish botanist. Dahlias were first introduced to Spain in the 1780s. They are now available in so many colors, sizes and forms that they have some appeal for practically any gardener.

We've seen them growing in gardens fabulous and famous, and in gardens beside humble dwellings in mountain hollows. No matter the setting, they lend a grand elegance. They are not only beautiful in the perennial border, they make excellent cut flowers and are often grown for show.

To learn more about dahlias, how to plant and grow them, read our article, Dahlias For Best Of Show. You can also learn more about dahlias at NGB's Year of the Dahlia web page.

If you have questions about dahlias, send them to the Editor at goGardenNow. If you have comments, please add them in the comment section below.

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Thursday, January 10, 2019

FAQ: Collecting Native Plants From The Wild

Galax urceolata and Chimaphila maculata (center)

Q. Hi. I want to collect native plants from the wild to transplant to my garden. Do you have any tips on how to go about it?


.A. First, let me say that collecting native plants from the wild might not be a good idea. If everyone did it, the populations of some native plants would be diminished. But, actually, very few do it, so you might not have much of an impact.

Secondly, many native plants are protected by federal, state and local governments. You could get into a whole heap of trouble if you started digging whatever strikes your fancy.

Thirdly, many federal, state and local lands are protected and closely guarded by their respective governments; national and state parks, for example. Collecting rocks, minerals, plants, animals, fossils, antiquities, and your neighbor's camping equipment is strictly forbidden.

Fourthly, you mustn't collect plants from private properties without the owners' permissions.

Fifthly, collected plants might not survive the collection and transplanting process. They'd be much happier if left alone.

Sixthly, collected plants might host pests and diseases that you'd rather not have in your garden. Quarantining can be a long and disappointing process.

But, if you are able to navigate the difficulties, get permission, etc., here are some quick tips:

  1. Study the plants that you intend to collect, i.e. know before you go;
  2. Collect during the dormant season;
  3. Get as much of the root system as possible;
  4. Keep the roots moist from start to finish;
  5. Avoid exposing plants to the air, bright light, freezing temperature and the elements before transplanting;
  6. From collection to transplanting, keep the time short;
  7. Plant your acquisition in a site that is as nearly like its native habitat as possible, considering soil structure, light exposure, plant community and moisture level;
  8. Plant at the same depth that your acquisitions were growing before;
  9. Soak the soil immediately after planting so it is in close contact with the roots;
  10. Do not let fertilizer contact any plant tissue;
  11. Provide appropriate care and maintenance.

I hope this helps.

There's always more that could be said, so if any of you gentle readers would like to comment, please do so in the comment section  provided. We'd love to hear from you.

If you have questions about native plants, please comment below.

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Saturday, January 5, 2019

Meet Begonia Viking™ XL Red on Chocolate F1, a 2019 AAS Flower Winner

Begonia Viking™ XL Red on Chocolate F1. Photo Credit: AAS

Meet Begonia Viking™ XL Red on Chocolate F1, a 2019 AAS Flower Winner!

All-America Selections says, "A brand new begonia with large, uniquely colored dark leaves has arrived! Judges were impressed with how the deep bronze/brown color remained sharp and intense throughout the season, no matter where they were located; north, south, east or west. The color tones shine through to give a stunning garden appearance. Covered with vibrant red flowers, the compact plant retains its shape well and does not become rangy. 'Given the options, I would choose this variety for my landscape beds.' states a judge who plans beds for a public garden. 'This year’s weather seemed unusually conducive to disease on large-leaf begonias but none of these plants were affected' states another judge. These extra-large (XL) mounded plants are perfect in both landscapes and containers."

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