Friday, July 20, 2012

Maintaining a Pollinator-Friendly Garden

The other day, a friend's daughter asked her mom why she had the herb fennel in the garden. "You don't even like fennel; why in the world are you growing it?" My friend replied without hesitation, "Fennel is a larval host plant for butterflies". In fact, the right plants attract bees, butterflies, hummingbirds and many other beneficial insects to the garden. Most important for gardeners, hobby orchardists and vegetable growers, is  providing attractive conditions for pollinators.
An oasis amid U. S. government buildings

 On a visit to the National Botanical Gardens, situated in the shadow of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, I was able to see a sample of a pollinator garden.

A sign in the garden provided the following tips.

  • Use a wide variety of plants that bloom from early spring into late fall. Include native plants. Remember night-blooming flowers too.
  • Eliminate pesticides whenever possible. Many common pesticides are dangerous for bees.
Notice the pollen on the bee's legs

  • Avoid hybrid "doubled" flowers that have little pollen ot nectar.
  • Include larval host plants. If you want butterflies, grow plants for their caterpillars to eat.
A Swallowtail butterfly enjoying the nectar from a lantana

  • Create a damp salt lick for butterflies and bees. Create a muddy area and mix in a bit of salt or wood ashes. Sea salt has more micronutrients than table salt.
  • Put out slices of overripe bananas, oranges, or other fruits for butterflies.
  • Spare that limb! Leave an occasional dead limb or tree to provide essential nesting sites for native bees. Make sure thay are not a safety hazard for people.
Marian's photo of a Ruby-throated hummingbird at a feeder

Provide a hummingbird feeder. For artificial nectar, use 4 parts water to 1 part sugar. Never use artificial sweeteners, honey or fruit juices. Clean the feeder with hot, soapy water at least twice a week.

For additional information on pollinators, contact The North American Pollinator Protection Campaign. Also, stop in and pick up a copy of our own handout on Attracting Butterflies and Hummingbirds to the Garden. It is an invaluable resource listing plants for larval feeding and nectar production.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Heat-Loving Angelonias

Trial gardens featuring Angelonias

Several years ago, a few of us headed to West Chicago, Illinois to see some garden trials. Much like the weather recently suffered by Chicagoans, temperatures topped 100 degrees. I don't know who was wilting more, our group or the flowers. We walked for hours, judging plants grown side by side. There were two standouts. One, the Dragon Wing Begonia, was looking great in both sun and shade. Even in our store, they look wonderful no matter where they are planted in any type of pot. The other, Angelonia, stood tall, not showing a bit of weakness as the sun shone hot upon it.

Angelonia Archangel

Also called Summer Snapdragon, Angelonias thrive if full, hot sun, planted in borders or in pots. The whites are bright; darker colors like purple and raspberry look great all summer long. Now, it is a  favorite in the summer garden.