Butterflies can eat to live, live to eat in a balanced garden

A favorite thing about visiting gardens in the summer is catching sight of a butterfly enjoying nectar from a brightly colored zinnia or a monarch caterpillar munching on a milkweed leaf. When designing a butterfly garden, expand and balance plant selection to provide more than nectar plants for adult butterflies.

As the growing season winds down, pollinators are busy feeding and laying eggs in preparation for winter. Most butterflies overwinter locally, but several generations of monarch butterflies migrate thousands of miles to Mexico for the winter and need fuel for the journey.

A nectar plant has flowers that create a carbohydrate-rich food source for pollinators in exchange for pollination services by adult butterflies. A larval host plant allows caterpillars, or larvae, to feed on this plant. Because of the integral relationship between host plants and butterflies, gardeners must be strategic when picking a caterpillar host plant to attract a particular butterfly species.

It is helpful to remember that a female butterfly can travel long distances, but their caterpillars cannot. This balance tip lets you observe a garden where butterflies can feed, lay their eggs, and provide food for their newly hatched larvae, that then pupate and create their cocoons, emerge, and begin a lifecycle or migrate to a new region.

Planting important pollinator larva and nectar plants creates a fun and colorful buffet for your butterfly garden.  With good selections, hungry caterpillars will eventually devour parts of these plants, but no worries, the larva host plants will grow back.

Consider these selections to add and balance a butterfly garden:

Butterfly weed

Button Bush

Wild Geranium

Article by Christina Lueking for extension.illinois.edu/

Microclovers making a comeback as lawns grow in biodiversity

Clovers are making a comeback in lawn seed mixes. Today many families want to attract more pollinators to their yards. They are searching for ecologically sound ways to grow grass, including adding white clover back to the turf seed mix. Clover adds diversity to lawns and provides food for bees.

If you are looking for an eco-sustainable alternative to lawns, try adding clover to your lawn. The short growing, self-fertilizing, low maintenance, long-living micro clover species will provide more a more biodiverse, durable grass lawn.

White clover, Trifolium repens, was common in lawns before the introduction of broadleaf weed herbicides in the 1950s. Although broadleaves weeds were typically the target of these chemicals, white clover was often damaged or killed.

All clovers are in the legume, or pea, family. Legumes are very useful plants for our environment because they pull nitrogen from the air and convert it into nitrogen in the soil that helps feed plants. Unlike any other plant, legumes create their own fertilizer. Because of these characteristics, there is interest in using microclover in lawns to enhance turfgrass growth and reduce nitrogen fertilizer applications which helps limit fertilizer runoff into waterways.

Unfortunately, white clover sometimes forms clumps and competes with desirable turfgrass, resulting in a non-uniform lawn appearance. Microclover (Trifolium repens var. ‘Pirouette’ and ‘Pipolina’) is a selection of white clover with smaller leaves and a slower, less aggressive growth habit.

Preliminary research finds that microclover mixes better with most turfgrass species than common white clover when seeded at appropriate rates. The microclover seed often comes coated with a Rhizobium bacterium – a natural organism that the plant needs to fix nitrogen, sometimes lacking in residential lawn soils.

There are many benefits to adding microclover to a lawn. It mixes well with turf grasses and provides a uniform appearance while its flowers are a food source for bees. Microclover is competitive with weeds, so less herbicide is necessary. And it helps prevent soil compaction which reduces nutrient runoff.

Lawn clippings that include microclover are a natural organic nitrogen source, which means you can reduce how many times you apply nitrogen.  

But microclover may not be suitable for every lawn. It does not tolerate high heat and drought and does not do well in shady conditions. Microclover may require reseeding for long-term growth in the lawn and its top growth dies back in the winter, which can leave bare spots and lead to erosion. Its seeds are expensive and not readily available in retail stores. Most broadleaf herbicides labeled for use in lawns will kill microclover

To establish micro-clover in a lawn, plan to plant between early spring to late summer. No tilling is required. Mow the grass low before seeding. Set the mower to the lowest setting to reduce competition with existing grass. Rake and core aerate the soil.

Sow microclover seed by hand or use a broadcast spreader for a more even distribution in larger areas. Water the area every day for the first seven to 10 days because the soil needs to stay moist until the microclover has sprouted. White clover typically blooms in mid-March and grows slower during the summer months.

By Horticulture Educator Nicole Flowers-Kimmerle

Source: Gardeners Corner Summer 2022: University of Illinois Extension

A Container Combo Hummingbirds Can’t Resist

With blooming beauties like petunias, salvias and calibrachoas, your backyard becomes a popular hummingbird hot spot in no time. Get growing in a snap with this easy planting plan from Proven Winners.

The Dirt on Dirt

It’s tempting to toss some dirt from the garden right into your containers, but a potting mix that includes vermiculite, peat moss, compost, perilite or a combination of these materials yields the best results.

By Birds & Blooms Editors

Source: 2 Container Combos Hummingbirds Can’t Resist | Family Handyman

Plant Asters for Unique Display of Fall Color

Fall gardens may need some added pops of color this time of year to maintain beauty and diversity until winter arrives. Asters are a late-blooming, pollinator friendly flower that looks great in the garden and in a fall floral display. 

Photo by Kelly Allsup. 

Think beyond the obvious, fall-blooming favorite mums this year. Select a gorgeous, full-of-color aster instead.

There are 180 species of aster, many of which are native to Illinois. Their dainty, daisy-like flowers range in color from purple, white, pink, and red, all with bright yellow centers. New England aster, Symphyotrichum novaeangliae, and aromatic aster, Symphyotrichum oblongifolium, are two easy-to-find favorites. 

Where to Plant Them

Asters grow best in full sun to partial shade areas with well-drained soils. They are typically perennials in Illinois gardens, but need to be in the ground at least six weeks before it freezes to develop a good root system and overwinter successfully.  

Varieties can vary in height from 6 inches to 6 feet. Taller varieties can be pruned back by a third several times throughout the summer, stopping in late July, to create a more compact plant. This will also increase the number of blooms on the plant.  

Asters will begin to bloom when the days get shorter in late summer to early fall. They are short-day plants, like mums, meaning they need long periods of darkness to initiate flower buds.  

Beware, it is normal for the lower leaves to turn brown and dry up when the plant is in full bloom.

Care and Dividing

To prevent asters from self-seeding throughout the garden, cut back the plant to about 2 inches above ground level after the first hard frost has turned the foliage brown. Gardeners can also choose to leave the plant and developing seeds for winter interest and for the birds to enjoy.  

To keep asters tidy and healthy, divide the plants in early spring every two to three years, or when the center dies out. Some varieties are unfortunately prone to powdery mildew, which can be reduced with good air circulation and watering in the morning at the base of the plant. 

A bee and butterfly favorite, asters are a great source of fall nectar for pollinators traveling on their fall migration. While most flowers have already finished blooming, asters are just starting their show in the garden.

They serve as the larval host plant for several butterflies and moths, including painted lady butterflies.   

Asters also make great cut flowers for mixed fall arrangements. Arrange them with bright yellow goldenrod and ornamental grasses for a stunning autumnal décor display.  

Article by Brittnay Haag, horticulture educator

Source: Gardeners Corner Fall 2021: University of Illinois Extension

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