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Thursday, August 6, 2015

Butterfly Gardening

I get a number of questions about creating a garden area that will attract butterflies.  The types of flowers that attract butterflies will also attract many of our pollinators too.  There has been a lot of press about declining pollinator species including the all important honeybee.  You may think that they are only important for pollinating food crops, but what provides them food when these crops are not in bloom?  By providing plants in your landscape that bloom at different times or have a long season of bloom, you will help provide food to sustain pollinators year round, attract beneficial insects that can help with pest control, and also get to enjoy the butterflies and maybe a humming bird.

Look for an area in your yard that gets plenty of full sun.  Ideally, it will have some shrubs nearby that will provide butterflies a resting place in the shade and protection from predators and rain.  You might already have a landscape bed that fits these criteria.  Having a water source close by is also desirable.  The water source can be as simple as a shallow bowl with some rocks for landing to drink.  Change the water every day or so.

A thriving butterfly garden should have a good mix of butterfly nectar and larval (caterpillar) host plants so that butterflies will be attracted to your garden for food, and they will also have plants to lay eggs on. So you will provide a location for the entire butterfly life cycle to occur. Butterflies, eggs, caterpillars, and chrysalis can all be found in a good butterfly garden.  Nectar plants usually attract a variety of butterflies, but larval plants are very specific to one or two species of butterfly.  Also, choose flowers with a variety of colors and plant them in groupings of at least three of each species.  Use flowers with a variety of shapes; tubular and daisy like.  Butterflies feed by sipping nectar with a straw like proboscis.  There has been some concern about plants sold in nurseries that have had pesticides applied to them prior to sale.  These pesticides could possibly harm butterflies or their developing larvae.  This is especially true if the pesticide is a systemic one that moves into all areas of the plant including nectar and pollen.  I would ask pesticide usage before purchasing plants for a butterfly garden.

Some good plants to use in your butterfly garden are milkweed, pentas (especially red), salvia, coreopsis, blanket flower, rosinweed, ironweed, blue porterweed, verbena, yarrow, and native lantana.  Milkweed is a nectar plant for most butterflies, but is also the larval host plant for both the Monarch and Queen butterflies.  If you have a fence or a sturdy trellis, consider planting a purple passionflower vine or a corkystem passionflower vine.  Both of these vines are larval hosts of the Florida state butterfly Zebra Longwing along with Julia and Gulf Fritillary butterflies.   Several herbs; parsley, dill and fennel, are the larval hosts for several species of swallowtail butterflies.  Be prepared for the butterfly caterpillars (larvae) to strip leaves from the larval host plants as they feed and grow getting ready to go into the chrysalis stage prior to morphing into butterflies.  The University of Florida publication "Butterfly Gardening in Florida" (http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/UW/UW05700.pdf ) contains a very complete listing at the end of the publication of nectar and larval host plants specific for each species of butterfly.  Using native plants if available is desirable and has the advantage of providing the plants the butterflies evolved with.  Native plants usually need less water and fertilizer and can also attract beneficial insects that will help control pest insects.  You might notice from the lists of host plants in publications that some plants that we commonly consider weeds are larval host plants too, so consider leaving a few of them for the butterflies.  Once your plants are in the ground, mulch the bed well with an organic mulch to help retain moisture and keep down weeds.

Be very cautious with pesticides near butterfly larval host or nectar plants.  Butterflies are insects and most pesticides are broad spectrum and will kill butterflies along with any pest insects.  Pesticides containing Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) are especially dangerous to the larval stage because it specifically kills caterpillars.  There are predators of butterfly larvae too.  You could see wasps fly in and carry off caterpillars to use as food for their developing young or birds preying on caterpillars to feed their young.

There are a number of websites with very good information about butterfly gardening and identifying butterflies that visit your garden.  The "Gardens with Wings" site is not specifically for Florida, but contains good information. 

Gardens with Wings:  http://www.gardenswithwings.com/index.html

Butterfly Garden Basics: http://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/schoolgardens/school_gardens/butterfly_garden.shtml#comp

MOSI Outside Butterfly Gardening Guide: http://lepcurious.blogspot.com/p/start-butterfly-gardening.html

There are also several books that contain good information as well:

  • "Florida Butterfly Gardening: A Complete Guide to Attracting, Identifying, and Enjoying Butterflies of the Lower South" by Marc C. Minno
  • "Your Florida Guide to Butterfly Gardening: A Guide for the Deep South" by Janet C. Daniels
  • "Gardening for Florida's Butterflies" by Pamela F. Traas

And one book to help you identify the butterflies that visit your garden:

  • "Florida's Fabulous Butterflies" by Thomas Emmel and Brian Kenney


All pictures are from various University of Florida photographers.

11:19 am edt          Comments

Friday, March 27, 2015

Poviding for Wildlife

A friend of mine shared an article about the importance of planting native trees and plants to help provide for feeding baby birds.  Insects that are used to feed baby birds evolved along with the native plants and the birds.  If the entire landscape is planted with foreign derived plants, the insects, especially their larvae that feed on the native plants, will not be available to feed the growing birds. This led me to consider writing this article. 

 You might not think it is important to provide for wildlife especially if you live near a preserve or conservation area.  However, Pinellas County is very densely populated (3,347 people per square mile) leaving very little open natural space for wildlife.  By wildlife, I do not mean just larger animals like deer, bobcats, and coyotes.  We need to consider birds, butterflies and other small creatures as well.  Bees and other pollinators have gotten a lot of press lately too.  One reason postulated about the decline in bees is the decline in natural sources of nectar plants. 

 The way that we manage our yards and neighborhoods can affect the wildlife present.  If each resident provided some native habitat for wildlife it would greatly increase the biodiversity of the whole neighborhood and could have a good impact on the surrounding habitat in the preserve or conservation areas.  Unfortunately, the conservation areas are separated from each other by houses and landscapes.  If each of us planted some areas with native plants and reduced pesticide use we could provide a corridor to connect the conservation areas and also the preserve so that animals would be able to travel from one natural area to another. 

 Be cautious about planting invasive, exotic plants or allowing them to grow in your landscape.  They outcompete and destroy native habitat when they escape your yard.  Brazilian pepper, air potato, Chinese tallow, and sword fern are examples of invasives growing in Pinellas County.  What you do in your own yards does affect the nearby wildlife populations.  We can all do a lot to provide wildlife


 habitat. Essentially, wildlife habitat consists of food, shelter, water, and space.  It is best to provide plants that produce fruit and seeds to feed the wildlife.  If we provide unnatural food sources, wildlife can become unhealthy and possibly die prematurely.  This is especially true of wild animals.

 There are several things that we can do in our landscapes to help wildlife flourish:

  • Provide food. Select plants (preferably Florida native) with seeds, fruit, foliage, or flowers that butterflies, insects, birds, and other wildlife like toMarlberryifas.jpg eat. There are a number of plants that provide nectar rich flowers, berries, fruits and seeds.
  • Reduce insecticide use. Every time insecticides are used on your lawn or landscape plants, you reduce insect populations, which provide an important food source for birds and other small critters.
  • Reduce the amount of mowed lawn area. Planting low-traffic areas with a variety of groundcovers instead of grass can provide more potential food sources and habitat for wildlife. My pet Black Racer snake lives in my groundcover front yard. Consider only having lawn grass in areas that are needed for children and pets to play.
  • Increase vertical layering. Use plants with varying heights and sizes together to provide cover and more feeding opportunities for diverse species of wildlife. This also provides more opportunities for birds to build nests.
  • Supply water. All water features will attract wildlife if the water is not treated. A natural water source like a pond or creek is nice, but a fountain or birdbath will also attract wildlife. Be sure to clean a birdbath every few days by scrubbing the surfaces with a brush. It is best not to use soap or bleach. Also, be sure to change the water every couple of days to discourage mosquito growth.
  • Manage pets. Some pets will kill wildlife if left outside unsupervised.  Dogs and cats are natural hunters.  If you allow your pets to kill wildlife, you will negate any efforts you make toward attracting wildlife. This is especially true for cats allowed outdoors.  In Pinellas County, it is against the law to leave cats outside.  Scientists estimate that domestic cats kill hundreds of millions of birds and possibly more than a billion small mammals each year.

 Information for this article was gleaned from the University of Florida publication; Landscaping Backyards for Wildlife: Top Ten Tips for Success (http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/uw175)

 The University of Florida has publications with more information on this subject:

Landscaping for Wildlife   http://www.wec.ufl.edu/extension/landscaping/

Florida Backyards for Wildlife program http://www.wec.ufl.edu/extension/landscaping/fblw/

Using Native Plants http://livinggreen.ifas.ufl.edu/landscaping/using_native_plants.html

Gardening for Birds http://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/giam/fyn/florida_friendly_yards/bird_gardening.html

Butterfly Gardening in Florida http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/UW/UW05700.pdf


11:36 am edt          Comments

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Plants Dangerous to Pets

Every once in a while I find an article that I have written that needs repeating.  If you have pets, this one could be of importance to you.  We have a new puppy, so I was interested in what plants that we have in our house and landscape that could cause a problem for Hannah.

 There are some plants that we use in our Florida landscapes that can be deadly if consumed by


 pets; azaleas, cycads or sago palms, and oleanders.  Others can make animals sick. We are usually familiar with the Dieffenbachia or dumb cane dangers since they affect humans too.  Chewing on this plant can lead to suffocation because the Calcium Oxalate crystals in the plant tissues cause the throat to swell.  But, there are many more common plants that are used in the landscape and as house plants that can cause distress for our pets. Some of the common plants are aloe, amaryllis, caladium, peace lily, calla lily, elephant ears, philodendron, antherium, and pothos. Cats are particularly sensitive to lilies like amaryllis, daylily and crinum. Other plants that we use in our landscapes that can be toxic include; dracaena, kalanchoe, hydrangea, lantana, yucca and iris.  Even tomato plants are toxic.  

 The Veterinary Pet Insurance Company's list of top 10 plant poisoning claims includes fruits and plant parts. While raisins and grapes caused the most problems along with some other edibles, many of our familiar plants are on the list.  

  • Number 4 is Lily - the poisonous component for cats has apparently not been identified,amaryllis1.jpg even ingestions of very small amounts of a lily plant could result in severe kidney damage.
  • Number 7 is Sago Palm - All parts are poisonous, but the seeds contain the largest danger. The ingestion of just one or two seeds can result in vomiting, diarrhea, depression, seizures and liver failure.
  • Number 9 is Azalea - ingestion of a few leaves can result in serious effects that typically occur within a few hours after ingestion, and can include acute digestive upset, excessive drooling, loss of appetite, frequent bowel movements/diarrhea, colic, depression, weakness, loss of coordination, stupor, and leg paralysis.
  • Number 10 is Hydrangea - ingesting parts of this plant can result in a gastrointestinal disturbance with vomiting, depression, and diarrhea.

If you have pets and also have any of these problem plants, use common sense.  If your pet does not usually chew on plants, then it shouldn't be a problem.  If you have a dog or cat that likes to dig, then Amaryllis, caladiums, and other bulbs may not be appropriate for your landscape since they might dig them up and decide to chew on them.  You could consider removing the toxic plants or fencing the area off to the pet.  Several of the plants I listed are also used as house plants and that could create a problem.  Sometimes animals, especially dogs, which are bored, will chew just for the fun of it.  If you choose to keep the plants, familiarize yourself with the symptoms that a pet may show if they ingest one of these plants and seek help immediately if your pet shows any of these symptoms.

 This list is not complete. If you are concerned about any plants, do some research at the library or on the Internet. The ASPCA web site has comprehensive searchable information about plants that are toxic or non-toxic to pets: https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/animal-poison-control/toxic-and-non-toxic-plants .   If you still have questions consult with your veterinarian.



9:52 am est          Comments

Monday, December 15, 2014

Alternative Holiday Plants

My all time favorite holiday plant is amaryllis and I have seen many in stores that


 are just putting up their bloom stalks.   But, holiday cactus, cyclamen, kalanchoe, red or white begonias and impatiens, even a topiary rosemary tree are also popular choices.  When choosing plants with blooms, look for those with only a few blooms open and plenty of buds, healthy foliage and a compact form.  For amaryllis, look for plants with the bloom stalk part way up and the bud well formed. Be cautious if you purchase an amaryllis in one of the prepackaged boxes, be sure to open the box to see if the bulb has already sprouted a bloom stalk that is twisted inside the box.  These bloom stalks will not straighten, so only choose those with bulbs that are not sprouted or are just beginning to sprout.

redcyclamen.gifThe most crucial tip for keeping these plants looking good through the holidays is proper watering.  Make sure that the pot containing the plant has bottom drainage holes.  Plants in small containers can dry out quickly, so you should check them daily.  Put your finger in the soil, if the top inch is dry it is time to water.  Over watering is just as bad is under watering and plants do not like to sit in water.  If they come in a decorative foil or plastic wrapper covering the pot, take it off or punch holes in it, then water them and let them drain well before placing it on a water proof container to protect your table tops. 


Keep blooming plants in cooler temperatures to preserve the blooms longer.  Cyclamen prefer very cool temperatures, so if you place them in a protected area


 outside over night when no frost is predicted, the blooms will last longer.  Be sure to bring them inside in the morning before any sun reaches the plants.  The other plants listed should be placed in areas with high levels of bright light but no direct sun.  Also, keep them out of drafts; either cold from a door or in front of air-conditioning or heating vents.

 After the holidays, all of the mentioned plants except the cyclamen can be added to your landscape.  I call Amaryllis the Florida tulip, the bulbs will thrive and multiply in well drained soil in a site with morning sun and some dappled afternoon shade.  I plant several in large pots so that I can protect them from hungry deer.  They bloom around March or April every year.  The bulb 


that is forced to bloom at Christmas will not bloom the first spring it is planted but should reward you for years after.  Begonias and impatiens do very well in our winter landscapes.  Impatiens need frost protection and can become deer candy, so containers might be the best idea for these plants also.  Kalanchoe is perennial in our area and enjoys full sun and well drained soil.  Rosemary planted in the landscape can become a small shrubby bush and will provide fresh rosemary for culinary uses year round.

2:45 pm est          Comments

Color for the Fall and Winter Landscape

Annuals are especially versatile during fall and winter adding wonderful color to our Florida landscapes.  We are fortunate that many different flowers will flourish and bloom here as the days grow shorter cooler and shorter. 

 Some of the annuals available now are alyssum, begonia, geraniums, impatiens, carnation, calendula, dianthus, gerbera daisy, dusty miller, and marguerite daisy.  You can also find traditional winter annuals like pansies, petunias, delphinium and snapdragons.  There are beautiful chrysanthemums available too.  Chrysanthemums are technically perennial plants, but I treat them as annuals since they never seem to look as good the next year for me.  When you purchase chrysanthemums for fall color, choose plants covered with buds just beginning to open for the longest period of blooms.  If you want to try planting seeds, try alyssum, calendula, nasturtium and sweet peas.  In most of the US many of these are spring flowers, but we are fortunate to be able to plant these in the fall here - in fact they will do much better here in the fall when days are balmy and nights are cool.

 Our sandy soil is basically infertile, so add plenty of organic material (peat or compost) and a slow release balanced fertilizer formulated for flowers as you plant.  Dig these amendments into the planting area well.  This should insure that your flowers create a lovely display.  Be sure to give each plant plenty of room to grow.  This will allow for good air circulation and fewer disease problems.  Always water well when planting and continue to water daily for a week thereafter.  Then weekly watering should be sufficient.  You may need to add more slow release fertilizer in two months to keep them healthy and looking good into the spring.  Remove spent blooms periodically to insure a continuous bounty of flowers.


 The University of Florida Extension advocates pot-in-pot planting as a novel alternative to planting the flowers directly into the soil of a flower bed.  With this method you will plant empty nursery pots up to the top edge into the soil of the flower bed.  Mulch and any herbicide can be applied before the plants are added.  You will just drop in the plants you have chosen pot and all into the empty pots.  This arrangement allows for a quick change of flowers with the change in seasons.  The flowers in these pots will need water more often and you will only need to fertilize the pots and not the whole bed.  In addition, during the winter any cold tender annuals can be lifted out and moved to a protected location if a frost or freeze is predicted.

 There are usually fewer pest and disease problems as temperatures cool.  Lower humidity and less rain can decrease fungal problems. However, powdery mildew can develop when nights are cool and humidity is high for a few days, and insect pests can still pop up.  Scout your flowers often and treat as soon as you see evidence of pests.  Powdery mildew can be treated with Neem oil or a chemical fungicide, just be careful to read and follow the label carefully.  Neem will also control many of the insect pests.   However, you will need to use a Bt product like Thuricide for caterpillars.  Remember also that Impatiens are deer candy.  So, if you want to plant them, you might consider hanging baskets.

 Some of these plants are frost sensitive.  Impatiens, geraniums and begonias will need some cover if a heavy frost is expected.  With careful planning and care, you should have colorful flowers well into spring.  For additional information, access the University of Florida/IFAS Extension publication Bedding Plants: Selection, Establishment and Maintenance on the Internet at: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/MG/MG31900.pdf.

 Pictures from University of Florida/IFAS

2:32 pm est          Comments

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Pampered Gardeners LLC * Oldsmar, FL * USA *  Phone: 727 483-3783 * pam@pamperedgardeners.com