Photo of the Month of February 2023

New monarch butterfly ready to come out of his chrysalis and flit about my milkweed. This is what they look like about 24 hours before they emerge. He is hanging on the side of my milkweed box since I didn’t try to capture any more caterpillars and put them in my cat box. It seemed late in the season, and I was trying to discourage them from laying eggs. They ignored me and 20 or so more butterflies took off in February.

Photo of the Month of October, 2015

I spent this spring working really hard to plant and cultivate a butterfly rich garden area in order to attract Monarchs and other of these wonderful fruit bearers. I even planted a single stalk of milkweed as a special treat for my Monarch friends. That one stalk now has six or seven offspring, and one of them has started to bloom already. While this beauty was not on my milkweed, he was busy flitting about in the late autumn sun. It was great to see him, and he is not alone, and that means that my garden has attracted them.

A Hummingbird Garden with Native Florida Flowers

A hummingbird resting on the top of my honeysuckle. I never knew they stopped moving until I saw this. @jcleveland

Once upon a time we had a large honeysuckle bush that was planted on the corner of our slab back porch. It was over 12 feet tall and full of flowers. The odd thing is only one lone hummingbird ever seemed to find the bush. During a construction project, the bush came down, but there are still many winding honeysuckle tendrils along the edge of our property that do attract hummingbirds occasionally. I have seen one on that this year after many years of no hummingbirds. To be fair, the honeysuckle that is on the property is not native and probably considered invasive. 

I am planning my next project: A hummingbird hospitality center

I have tried the little hanging nectar tubes, but they were not interested, and being in Florida, I had to contend with ants and mold, so I gave that project up. My folks in Illinois are quite successful with their hanging feeder; I think they have my Dad trained to feed them when they perch on the window and look in. I prefer to do mine the natural way. The cardinals are already demanding enough.

This is something like what my folks have:

Firebush image by Louis R Nugent 

My plan is to plant a native hummingbird garden somewhere in the yard where I can see it and they won’t feel threatened by the house or the dog.

Here are some of the native Florida plants that I am considering:

  • Firebush, Hamelia patens – We have one plant in the yard, but I want to put more in a concentrated area. 
  • Coral honeysuckle, Lonicera sempervirens – These are vines, so I can’t pot them.
  • Coralbean, Erythrina herbacea – We have a couple of these scattered over the property, but I would like to put them in a concentrated area.
  • Tropical Sage, Salvia coccinea – I have blue Salvia that is great for butterflies, but if you haven’t noticed, hummingbirds seem to love red!
  • Cardinalflower, Lobelia cardinalis – These plants spike up to 6 feet, but they don’t vine, so they would be great in a pot.

Other plants that we already have include bottlebrush, cigar flower, red buckeye and more. They are not in one place, so it makes it hard to see if there are any hummingbirds on them since they are nested in with other plants and away from the house. 

The project for the summer is to build a hummingbird section in the yard, so I will be ready for them as they migrate back this way at the end of the year.

Interested in building your own hummingbird hospitality center? Here are some books that might get you started.

Here is the same book, but instead of paperback, it is in eformat in the Kindle section of Amazon. It is currently in the Kindle Unlimited section, which means you can read for free!

Here are some of my hummingbird handmade products for you to enjoy.

Not all Weeds are Weeds

By looking around at my yard, you would think that every plant in it is a weed, but I learned something really important when preparing this post: some of my weeds are butterfly host plants.

As you know, I have been courting monarchs for a year with lots of yummy milkweed plants, but my yard is also home to a large selection of other butterflies like the zebra butterfly, the Gulf Fritillary butterfly, four species of swallowtails, the cloudless Sulphur, painted lady butterfly, and the American lady butterfly.

I discovered that one of the weeds that I had been removing was a cudweed, also known as a Pennsylvania Everlasting. It is not from Pennsylvania nor is it a native plant, but it is the host plant to the American lady butterfly, which explains why I have so many of them in the yard.  As I read up further on the American lady butterfly, I realized that I have seen the caterpillars on the porch.

I thought I would dig a little deeper into my butterflies and find out what plant they used as hosts. Here is what I found:

Zebra longwing butterfly – These pretty little butterflies are the Florida State butterfly and love my jatropha bush in the backyard, but they lay their eggs on the purple passionflower. While I don’t have any passionflower in my yard, I know where I can get a plant or two. It just seems like these butterflies are so prevalent that they don’t need my help to procreate.

Gulf Fritillary – The Gulf Fritillary also enjoy the passionflower and passion vine as a host, but they are attracted to nectar plants like lantana, zinnias, asters, verbena, butterfly bushes, and thistle.

Swallowtails – I have black swallowtails, and they use carrots, parsley, dill, fennel, and Queen Anne’s lace as their host plants. I did plant some dill and parsley last year to give them a place to lay their eggs, but I have not seen a cat yet. The giant swallowtail likes wild lime and other citrus trees. The spicebush and pipevine swallowtail are both named for their host plants, and all of the swallowtails love nectar plants like pentas, zinnias, and lantana.

Cloudless Sulphur – This pretty yellow butterfly uses the Senna plant as its host. If they feed on the yellow flowers of a cassia plant, they will turn bright yellow. They enjoy coneflowers, too.

Painted Lady – The Painted Lady butterfly looks a lot like the American lady butterfly, but it has four eyes on each wing while the American lady has two. The American lady also has a white spot on their top wings in a sea of orange. The Painted Lady lay their eggs on thistles and mallow family plants. They munch on asters, as long as they are 3 or more feet tall.

Every year, a migration of white butterflies heads our way from South Florida, and this year, I will make sure that they have a lot of lantana and other nectar plants to enjoy. We do get them to stop over here, but I will do what I can to make it an even tastier stop this year.

Not all straggly-looking plants are weeds; some are a very important stopover for butterflies. 

Passionflower host plant.

Since butterflies are crucial to our world’s make up, it is never too late to teach children and adults about the butterflies in their world. Here are a couple of recommended books for the young at heart. 

Are Aphids Good for Your Garden?

Aphids! What the heck? 

Aphids come in a few colors, but the ones that have infested my milkweed are bright yellow. They can also be brown, black or red. Since they are a pest, I insisted on getting rid of them on sight when they first appeared as a yellow blanket all over my milkweed. I have changed my mind since then.  After a lot of reading, I have come to understand that the aphid is the base meal of other beneficial beasties in the garden. However, that doesn’t mean let them infest your garden!

These little creatures suck the sap out of your plants, so their ultimate goal is to kill your plant. The good thing about them is that they do attract the ladybugs, a type of beetle, who are pest eaters in their own right. A ladybug can eat over 5,000 insects in their little life according to experts. Lacewing flies also like to munch on aphids. Both of these insects act as natural pesticides.

If you’re growing milkweed like I am, then you don’t want to use pesticides on the plants to kill the aphids on it. I do use a soap and water mixture to destroy aphids when they get to be too bad, but you can also kill the monarch eggs if you’re not careful. A good dousing with the water hose will do the trick, too.

I find that the best way to get rid of an abundance of aphids is to wet a paper towel and gently wipe down the leaves and stalks of the plants. The aphids are very delicate, so it is very easy to kill them.

Or, you could just let nature take its course and the next thing you will see is an army of these lizard-like things marching across your plant in search of aphids. These are baby ladybugs that look like tiny alligators before they mature into the cute red and black beetles we know and love.

Did you know you could buy ladybugs? Your local nursery may have them for sale in little containers like the ones we got earthworms in when we were kids. Or, they may be in bags like these from Amazon.

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Lacewing flies are not quite as voracious as the ladybug, but they do their own housekeeping. I have noticed that they are inclined to be around my flowering plant aphids as opposed to the milkweed aphids. The aphids are a bit different, so that may be why the lacewing flies are more inclined to hang out by my potted flowers.

Are aphids, good or bad for your garden? If they are not hurting your plants, and there are only a few of them, why not wait for the ladybugs to show up and lay eggs? You can observe another cycle of life while knowing that your plants are safe.

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