As we are madly sticking tomatoes, peppers, squash and beans into the ground, we need to take a few minutes to remember the living creatures that add to our gardens’ beauty and bounty.
Take for example butterflies. They are gorgeous; help pollinate flowers and vegetables; give a lift to our hearts and a spring to our steps. What would the outdoors be without these fluttering beauties? There has been a lot in the news lately about the declining numbers of monarch butterflies. Too many pesticides and herbicides and too little habitat has made life hard for all kinds of butterflies.
We can help that situation in our own gardens by not using pesticides and herbicides and by putting in some plants that feed and nurture the good critters.
Butterflies like flat flowers that create a landing pad where they can flutter and eat at the same time. Daisy-shaped flowers like daisies, zinnias, coneflowers and similar flowers provide nectar to adult butterflies. Blossoms made up of clusters of smaller blooms like butterfly weed, butterfly bush and verbena are also tasty treats. For the next generation, butterflies need plants that provide a spot where they can lay their eggs and where the larvae can feed until they form a chrysalis. Keep in mind that butterfly larvae are caterpillars, so be careful which ones you smush.
Dill, fennel, milkweed, parsley and other plants provide both food and protection for the growing butterfly larvae. Plant these in your garden and have a science experiment of your own on display just outside your door. If you want to save some of the dill for yourself, plant extra and move the caterpillars from yours to theirs. One good thing about caterpillars is that they are not fast on their feet. Simply transfer them to the plant you have designated as host and watch them grow.
Hummingbirds are another group of flying show-offs that will provide hours of entertainment and beauty in the garden. While hummingbirds feed on a wide variety of plants, they seem to prefer feeding on flowers that are brightly colored and funnel-shaped. Orange and red flowers are high on the hummingbird’s preference lists but hummers will feed from other nectar flowers regardless of their color.
When choosing flowers, select a variety of plants that will provide a profusion of blooms from early spring through fall and winter. Pay attention to where and how your flowers are planted. Planting groups of flowers in different locations in your yard will help reduce conflicts between the territorial little birds feeding in your yard.
Trees provide perches and also harbor insects that are an important hummingbird food. Even small trees can break up the space so the birds can establish several territories. Larger trees might provide nesting sites. If you have the space, plant a native tree. In addition to last minute tree planting, you might also:
Hang a hummingbird feeder high enough that cats can’t jump up and get the birds. Fill it with a mix of 4 parts water to 1 cup sugar. Bring to boil to melt sugar then cool to room temperature before filling feeder. Hang it near a window so you can enjoy the beauty and antics of these little birds.
Plant heat-loving plants like okra, squash, beans, Southern peas and basil in the garden. Plant seeds directly in well-prepared, rich soil.
Inspect your young plants often to make sure pests aren’t at work. Take a jar of soapy water into the garden with you and flip insect pests into the water when you see them. If you see slug or snail trails around your young seedlings, sprinkle Sluggo or bury grapefruit halves filled with beer in the garden to trap them. Empty the shells daily.
Make sure your maturing fruit is getting enough water. The trees need a deep soaking every week while the fruit is developing — hopefully from rain, but if no rain is in sight, water the trees yourself. Remove grass and weeds from around the base of the tree and add mulch to conserve water.
To conserve water in your lawn, don’t bag clippings. They form a natural mulch and eventually fertilizer. Check www.growgreen.org for more good tips.
Don’t fall for the “weed & feed” myth. It doesn’t work here (or maybe anywhere). It adds way too many toxins to your soil and water that can damage the grass and trees that grow in it and the people who walk on it.
Get out and enjoy the beautiful spring while it lasts. (Ignore that thermometer behind the curtain!)