The Yellow Farmhouse Garden

June 18, 2017

Pruning milkweeds to attract monarch butterflies

I saw my first Monarch butterfly several days ago. I know they were here much earlier because I found a caterpillar on my milkweed plants. That means there had to be a female butterfly around before that.

It didn't take long for this caterpillar to disappear into a chrysalis.

It didn’t take long for this caterpillar to disappear into a chrysalis.

It takes around four days for a Monarch egg to hatch. The caterpillar stage lasts around a week and a half to two weeks. Since my caterpillar was almost fully grown, the female Monarch that laid his eggs arrived nearly two weeks ago. How did she sneak into the yard without me seeing her?

Most of my milkweed plants are on the verge of blooming. The plants are maturing and the leaves and stems are beginning to stiffen and get tougher in order to hold up the flowers and seed pods. Although female Monarchs will lay eggs on any milkweed, they prefer the more tender leaves toward the top of the plant.

Make your cut just above a set of leaves to stimulate secondary leaf buds to grow.

Make your cut just above a set of leaves to stimulate secondary leaf buds to grow.

A gardener I know suggested that I cut back my some of my milkweed plants to stimulate new growth and leaves. Theoretically, those new leaves would make my plants more attractive to the butteries than others in the area. I just snipped off the plant just above the existing leaves. That caused some milkweed sap to ooze out of the cut. That sap is poisonous and irritating so make sure you don’t in your eye.

This is the first time I’ve tried this with milkweeds. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

Bob

December 3, 2014

Protect fruit trees from meadow voles

Filed under: Fruit,Other Organisms — bob @ 11:43 am

After the first cold snap of the season, the fruit trees have gone dormant. For now, disease and insect pests have also gone dormant and won’t be bothering the trees until spring. That doesn’t mean the orchard is completely safe from pests.

There’s another kind of pest active out in the orchard during winter; meadow mice, or more accurately, meadow voles.

Voles look very much like mice and are about the same size. They act much like mice in their feeding habits and the way they gnaw on things.

During the winter when the ground is snow covered, voles build tunnels under the snow. The tunnels are built to help hide them from predators and to help keep them warm while they search for food. They travel through those tunnels over and over through the winter.

Meadow voles eat a wide variety of grasses, seeds and other kinds of plant material. Unfortunately, they sometimes develop a taste for the tender bark of young fruit trees, especially if the vole population is large and their other food sources become scarce.

I’ve lost a few fruit trees from voles through the years. One way to keep voles from damaging vulnerable trees is to install a physical barrier around the trees.

Installing a cylinder of wire mesh — hardware cloth — around each fruit tree, keeps voles from gnawing on the tender bark. It’s like having a miniature fence around each tree.

I use 18 inch wide hardware cloth and form it into thin cylinders about six to eight inches in diameter around each tree trunk. This gives the trees plenty of protection in case there is a lot of snow cover. The mesh size has to be one-half inch, less is even better, otherwise voles will crawl right through to get to the bark.

Chicken wire on left, hardware cloth on right.

Chicken wire on left, hardware cloth on right.

There’s a plastic tree-wrap rodent barrier on the market. It’s easier to install at first but needs to be removed each spring and re-installed each fall.  Even though it’s designed to expand, if left on, the plastic material will keep the bark from developing properly.

A hardware cloth cylinder can be left in place for a few years until the tree matures and has developed coarse bark that is less appetizing to vole.

Bob

June 30, 2010

Lichens on Trees

Filed under: Other Organisms,Trees — bob @ 3:21 pm

A few days ago a gardener proclaimed to me that an expert had told her that Lichens are found only on trees that are no longer growing. I don’t know what expert might have told her that but I’m sure she misinterpreted whatever may have been said.

Lichen growing on young crab apple tree.

The study of Lichens is a huge branch of Biology in and of itself. People who take an interest in that field of study often become quite rabid about the subject. I’ve been on expeditions where the Biologist talked as if the world existed for the sake of providing a place for Lichens to grow.

Lichens are actually a combination of two organisms, a fungus and an algae. They work together as one in order to survive in places where they couldn’t otherwise. The algae provides energy through photosynthesis while the fungus provides shelter and a place for the algae to live.

They can be found covering a wide variety of objects in addition to trees including rocks, roofs, bare soil and just about any other exposed surface.

On trees Lichens are harmless. They are actually quite attractive on trees adding an extra visual element to the landscape. Many gardeners will go to extreme lengths to get Lichens established on certain features in their garden. Lichens growing on the roof, on gravestones or other unwanted places is a whole different subject that we won’t cover here.

As for the gardener who thought that Lichens can be found only on non-growing trees, all she has to do is look in her own yard to see that Lichens are quite happy on actively growing trees.

Bob

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