Most butterfly gardeners are aware that wasps can wreak havoc in the garden. Many are natural predators of butterflies and their young.
Last summer I had a huge problem with wasps. I do not like to use wasp spray to kill the wasps because I feel that the pesticide can have a negative impact on butterflies and other insects, including bees. I usually just try to eliminate the nests by knocking them down, but I got stung in the process. And believe me, that is not a pleasant experience. So I have come up with some solutions to deal with those pesky wasps.
Protect the caterpillars in your garden.One of the easiest ways to protect the young larvae is to cover the plant on which they are feeding with mesh netting.
Shelter your butterfly livestock. Another way to protect eggs and caterpillars is to place them in a pop-up cage or large screened enclosure. A screened-in porch is a perfect place to raise caterpillars. I will place potted host plants outside and then once a female butterfly has deposited eggs on the plant, I will place the plant inside a pop-up cage inside or on a porch.
Keep the wasps away! Another less-invasive strategy is to hang up decoy wasps nests. Some wasps are territorial and so will not make new nests near other existing nests. You can make your own by using a small paper bag or you can purchase commercially-made decoys. Many people claim that this method works in keeping wasps away.
Most people are well aware that Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) migrate to and from Mexico. But they are not the only migrants. Hummingbirds also travel to and from Mexico and Central America.
In the weeks before hummingbirds migrate, they start to intensely feed in an attempt to gain weight and fat. This is called hyperphagia. A female might put on 25-40% more weight while a smaller male might double its weight. Hummingbirds consume 50% of their weight in sugar each day from flower nectar and hummingbird feeders, with insects providing the remainder of their diet.
You can help support your local hummingbirds by planting flowers that have high nectar content. Hummingbirds are especially attracted to tubular flowers such as Coral Honeysuckle, Fushia, Daylilies, Bee Balm, Cardinal Flowers, Salvias, and Petunias. They are also attracted to Coral Bells, Larkspur, Columbines, Coneflowers, and Lantanas. Notice that many of these flowers also attract butterflies!
Hanging a basket with overripe fruit or banana peels close to a hummingbird feeder will attract fruit flies and other nutritious soft-bodied insects which hummingbirds eat. It’s exciting to watch hummingbirds darting about chasing down these tiny flying insects.
You can also help hummingbirds by putting out several Hummingbird feeders. Hummingbirds tend to be very territorial and do not like to share. Make sugar water mixtures with about one-quarter cup of sugar per cup of water. Food coloring is unnecessary; table sugar is the best choice. Change the water before it grows cloudy or discolored and remember that during hot weather, sugar water ferments rapidly to produce toxic alcohol.
Keeping your feeders clean and hygienic is a vital aspect of feeding the birds. Not only are hummers more likely to imbibe from a clean feeding station, but it’s healthier for them as well. Most hummingbirds would rather go without food than drink nectar that has gone bad, so it’s important to keep your feeder clean if you want to continue enjoying their visits.
If ants are a problem, use an ant guard to keep them off of the feeder. It is not recommended to place petroleum jelly or oil on the poles.
Hummingbirds like to bathe frequently — even in the pools of droplets that collect on leaves. Provide your yard with a constant source of water from a drip fountain attachment or a fine misting device. A misting device is an especially attractive water source for hummingbirds.
Ruby-throated Hummingbirds build their nests using spider webs, mosses and plants. Normally nests are placed on a branch of a deciduous or coniferous tree, but they are so used to humans they have been known to nest on clotheslines, wire, and other man-made items as well. You can encourage them to nest in your area by providing nesting material with which to line their nest. This soft, cotton material comes with a mesh hanger so you can offer it near your nectar feeder.
When planning a butterfly garden one typically thinks of planting flowers. But did you know that trees are some of the best plants for attracting butterflies?
Three common species of trees that support dozens of butterfly species and hundreds of moth species include oaks, willows, and chokecherries. Xerces Society’s Gardening for Butterfliescalls these three trees “Keystone Trees” because attract multiple species of butterflies.
Oaks (Quercus spp.) support many different species of butterflies including the myriad hairstreak and duskywing species as well as the California Sister (Adelpha californica) and the Arizona Sister (Adelpha eulalia). Oaks also support the Imperial moth (Eacles imperiali), the Polyphemus moth (Antheraea polyphemus) and the Rosy Maple moth (Dryocampa rubicunda) in addition to others.
There is such an incredible diversity of oak species that exist across the entire North American continent, many of which are small shrubs that can be used to add to your landscape. Some examples are the California Shrub Oak (Quercus berberidifolia), the Gambel Oak(Quercus gambelii) found in the Southwestern deserts into the Great Plains, the Turkey Oak (Quercus laevis) of the Southeast and the Scrub Oak (Quercus ilicifolia) of southeastern Canada and northeastern United States.
The Chokecherry(Prunus virginiana) is another tree that is distributed throughout much of the United States and southern Canada and is quite adaptable to various soil types and planting conditions. Chokecherry attracts widespread species of butterflies, both as a host plant for caterpillars and as a source of nectar for butterflies. Among the butterflies that use the Chokecherry as a host plant are the Lorquin Admiral (Limenitis lorquini), the Tiger Swallowtail(Papilio glaucus), the Two-tailed Swallowtail(Papilio multicaudata), the Spring Azure(Celastrina ladon) and the Coral Hairstreak (Satyrium titus).
Various willows (Salix spp.) are host plants for the Viceroy (Limenitis archippus), Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa), Red-spotted Purple (Limenitis arthemis astyanax), Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus), Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa), and the Lorquin’s Admiral (Limenitis lorquini). Willows are found in every part of the United States and Canada, with locally-appropriate native species available for any butterfly garden. These awesome trees are fast-growing and will tolerate many soil types. They come in a variety of sizes and shapes. Most willows do well in full sun and moist environments.
There are many different trees that attract butterflies, both as a source of nectar and as a host plant for caterpillars. (Click here to see a list of host trees.) Trees also provide butterflies protection during bad weather as well as a place for them to perch during the day and to roost during the night.
Remember, you will only attract butterflies that are native to your area. Find out what native tree species grow best for your region. The best place to start is a native plant nursery. Click on this link to help you find a native nursery where you live: http://www.plantnative.org/national_nursery_dir_main.htm
Oh, how I love to raise Monarchs! Those striped larvae that transform themselves into lovely butterflies fascinate me. Watching them munch away on milkweed generates great joy and anticipation.
I’ve observed Monarch (Danaus plexippus) caterpillars morph into chrysalises countless times and am always mesmerized. It brings such pleasure to release butterflies that I’ve raised into my garden, especially when they linger.
If you want to raise healthy Monarchs, you have to have milkweed (Asclepias spp.) and lots of it! Anyone who has ever raised Monarch butterflies has probably, at one point or another, run out of milkweed. I’ve driven 30 miles to the nearest reliable supplier to replenish milkweed for hungry caterpillars. It’s astonishing how much these caterpillars devour during their last two instars.
The best way to get milkweed is to grow it yourself. You have more control over the quantity and quality of your plants. That said, some species of milkweed can be a chore to grow.
Tropical Milkweed (Asclepias curassavica), on the other hand, is easy to grow from seed or propagate from cuttings. (Tropical Milkweed is also known as Scarlet Milkweed, Mexican Butterfly Weed, Bloodflower, Redhead, Cotton Bush and Wild Ipecacuanha.)
While Tropical Milkweed readily grows from seeds, if you already have stock in your garden, growing it from cuttings is the easiest and fastest way to expand the number of milkweed plants needed to feed your hungry caterpillars.
Once the Monarch caterpillars have stripped the milkweed plant of all its leaves, cut the stems by pruning the plant and leaving about 5-6 inches (12-15 cm) of stems on the plant. It is painful, I know. But, this is actually a very good way to stimulate more growth and fullness of the plant.
Many Monarch experts also believe that by cutting back Milkweed, of any variety, it can reduce OE (Ophryocystis elektroscirrha) infections in Monarch butterfly populations. OE is a naturally-occurring protozoan parasite that can infect Monarch and Queen (Danaus gilippus) butterflies to the point of harming its hosts.
Even if you do not want to propagate new plants from stem cuttings, Tropical Milkweed should be pruned back on occasion, as it gets too “leggy” and ineffective at producing leaves and flowers. Also, I find that pruning Milkweed helps control and even eliminate Aphids (Aphididae spp.).
You can also place the stem cuttings in the water and soak them until they grow roots. The cuttings will grow leaves within a few days and roots in a week or two. However, you can transfer them directly to potting soil anytime. Just remember to keep the soil moist where you have planted the new stem cuttings. You can also speed up the growth by adding Miracle-Gro®, mixed half-strength each time you water.
I grow most of my Tropical Milkweed in pots. After two years, I retire them to a garden bed, removing them from their pots and trimming their roots lightly, because they can become root-bound. One season, I grew 200 plants from cuttings. It was a lot of work but I was able to feed hundreds of Monarch caterpillars!
If you have a love affair with Monarchs and Milkweed like I do. There’s no cure. Accept it. Embrace it. Feed the passion and reap the joy!