Water for Wildlife
by Jeanne Grunert
- posted 07/15/16
It's been hot where I live here in south central Virginia, and I'm guessing that it's pretty hot where you are, too. During the hot weather, our butterfly and bee friends need water, too.
Butterflies obtain moisture from nectar, the liquid found inside flowers that they sip for energy. But they also need water. If you've ever seen butterflies landing on a mud puddle or a patch of wet gravel, you've seen something that researchers call "puddling" behavior. They aren't sure why butterflies do it, but the assumption is that they're seeking both water and minerals found in the mud or sandy patches they love.
During the hot months, a bird bath, butterfly puddler, or some shallow dishes of water set out during the heat of the day are much appreciated by wildlife. I live in a rural area where there are creeks, streams and farm ponds, but I still put out small water elements in my garden to help the wildlife. If you live in the urban or suburban areas outside of Alexandria, Richmond, Charlottesville or Roanoake, I bet the local wildlife would really appreciate a sip or two!
Of course, you don't want to also set out the welcome mat for mosquitoes, so do make sure that the you refill the bird bath or water elements daily, or include one of those disks found at garden centers that are said to keep mosquitoes from ponds and birdbaths. Check the label; most are safe to use around bees, butterflies and wildlife.
It's hot outside. We all need water. Why not provide some for our wild friends, too? They do so much for us in the garden, pollinating plants and helping nature provide us with an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables. Let's do our part to help them when their habitat doesn't provide enough water for their needs due to human construction and habitation.
Here ais an example a of water element in my garden:
A butterfly "puddler" I made from an old piece of rebar stuck in the ground, and an empty wine bottle put on top. I glued a cheap dollar store glass plate on top and added glass beads from the dollar store. Water poured on top makes a unique butterfly puddle for bees and butterflies:
Contain Yourself, Mint!
by Jeanne Grunert
- posted 07/11/16
Got mint? If you delight in this pungent herb, you must also delight in its propensity to take over the garden. All of the garden, including lawns, walkways, and anything not nailed down. Mint is one of those plants that, like cockroaches and ticks are to the insect kingdom, will survive a nuclear blast, a meteor hitting the Earth, and anything nature throws at it.
It's tough, all right.
Seriously tough. As in, once you plant it, you'd better like it, because you're not getting rid of it anytime soon.
Case in point: I had planted one single mint plant in my raised bed vegetable garden back in 2008. By 2009, the mint had coveted so much valuable soil space in the bed that it was unceremoniously heaved from the safety of its soil and planted along the wood's edge in my yard. I did manage to kill it there, possibly because deer ripped it out. I'm not sure.
I am sure, however, that the mint had the last laugh. Not only did the runners reappear in the raised bed for years after, but it had infested my lawn with runners and shoots. I enjoyed the fresh, minty scent of newly mown mint and lawn, but others found it less appealing.
Over time, the mint finally got the hint and left in a huff, but I'm a glutton for punishment, so I planted more, this time in my little herb garden at the edge of the driveway. I figured that the hard-packed gravel and crusher run base stones would discourage mint. I figured wrong. Today, I discovered the first runners creeping under the stones and setting up housekeeping in the hot, crumbling gravel.
Now if you really want to contain mint, here's a tip: grow it in a pot or a container. Seriously, don't plant it in the ground. Or, if you do, sink the entire pot inside the soil. The pot should contain some of the runners that will spread mint faster than you can say mojito.
Think about the ways to contain bamboo, and you've got your methods of containing mint. Concrete barriers work well, but few of us want to pour concrete walls around our herb garden. Decorative resin or concrete planters can stand in the way of spreading mint.
Mint has a way of coming back once you've pulled it out of the ground, so be patient if you're removing a patch of mint that you'd like to get rid of permanently. As I can attest, any root tips that linger in the soil can and will find a way to grow.
You've got to love a plant with this much tenacity. Mint is one of the strongest plants I know of, and it grows despire adversity. That and the fact that it makes a yummy tea are the reasons I still keep it around. Still, if you don't want it invading everywhere and anywhere, keep it contained in a pot, planter, or a window box.
Gardening for the Bees
by Jeanne Grunert
- posted 06/17/16
Beekeepers nationwide are experiencing significant losses, and here in Virginia, honeybee populations continue to decline. I was speaking with a friend who is a beekeeper and he was literally in tears as he described losing all but one of his nine hives this spring. Those bees were like his children, and the loss of them was painful not just to my friend but to the local orchards and gardens supported by the pollinating activities of the bees. The loss of bees of any kind, including non-native honeybees, is a tragedy. So what can we, the average backyard gardeners, do to help?
There are two things you can do to help the local bees, including honeybees and native bees like the blue orchard mason bee. First, use fewer insecticides, or none at all. Insecticides kill indiscriminately, so they'll kill the beetles eating your squash plants but they'll also kill any bees that buzz on by.
This includes watching where you buy your plants, too. Many plants from national chain stores are sprayed with insecticides without your knowledge. When they bloom, the flowers may contain residual pesticides, which can in turn weaken or kill bees. Local nursery and garden centers usually grow their own plants or purchase them locally. They are more likely to know where their plants came from, and you can ask about insecticide use.
The second thing that you can do to help your local bee population is to plant native flowers. Native flowers are flowers that evolved alongside local insects, including bees. They provide the pollen that local bees need. They are also better acclimated to the local climate and growing conditions, and tend to experience fewer problems because of this.
Some great native perennials you can grow in Virginia to provide food and habitats for pollinating insects including bees are:
Butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa)
Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)
Wild bergamot (Monarda)
Lanceleaf coreopsis (Coreopsis)
Another tip: leave some weeds in your garden. Now, I know what you're thinking. Weeds? Aren't you supposed to pull or kil those? Yes, you can pull weeds, but I've found that leaving some of the prettier flowering weeds not only provide my garden with additional color, but supports the bees, too. It creates a meadow-effect that bees love.
Here are some of the flowers that bees love, and that are easy to grow in Virginia gardens:
Mondarda (Bee Balm)
Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa)
For more on helping the local bee populations, visit the Xerces Society.