Saturday, October 24, 2015

Late October update 10/24

Hello friends, A little update for you: The monarch season, for me, is officially over. Lee released our last for beauties last Sunday. I was feeling under the weather and was sleeping most of the day. Since it was warm and we had held them over and fed them for three days, Lee released them. So another one in the can as they say.
My totals were impressive and sad too. My total number collected (eggs & cats.) was 2254. Most were collected from my garden and with the help of my awesome workers this summer, we collected over 1000 in the gardens at the Oak Lawn Parks. Thank you girls and guys! You were great!
That leaves about 1000 collected at home and this year I offered to foster cats. for a few select friends and relatives who wanted to ease into this. That was about 250. Once those individuals felt more comfortable, they began raising their own by mid Aug. 
My release number was just about 1000. I do not have an exact number because well, sometimes the butterflies gave me the bum's rush at the door of the cat. house. So I would say I am accurate within 1-3%. I lost many cats. to an outbreak of what I think was NPV virus. This is a highly contagious disease that kills very quickly and spreads very quickly. I had a little bit of Tachnid fly, a parasite common to monarchs and I had some O.E. parasite deaths at the end of the season. This appearance of the parasite O.E. at the end of summer is indicative to the care of monarchs. The spores of the parasite build up over summer on milkweed foliage, to a critical point and it infects many cats as they eat the milkweed. It is very important to wash and dry your leaves as you are feeding. Sometimes the infection is unavoidable. 
I was able to get a hold of 125 tags from Monarch Watch this fall and tagged some butterflies for the first time. That was very cool. Monarch watch makes 100K tags each year with the hopes that volunteers like us will tag monarchs and that a portion of them will be found in Mexico or observed on the way to MX. You can do this too, Go to the Monarch Watch website next summer. 
As of today 10/24 monarchs are arivibg in large groups at the sanctuary in central Mx. The huricane Patricia seems to have spared the biosphere of any heavy winds and rains. The storm is now moving through TX and the rain there put monarchs at risk. Time will tell, but instinct will hopefully make some of the monarchs pause and rest on one place fir a few days. 
A few items I have found for you this week...
If you are an Illinois resident, this link is to a petition to Pass SB1742 to create the Roadside Monarch Habitat Fund in Illinois. 
If your Tropical milkweed is planted in pots, it can be saved over the winter.
If you have been saving your seed, then you may not want to consider doing this. The seeds germinate easily and the plants grow quickly.
However, if you anticipate needing a plethora of plants for yourself or to share next year, you can save your plants a few ways:
1.     Repot your plants, trimming the roots and giving them fresh soil. Cut your plants down completely. Keep them in your house under grow lights
a.      By repotting with fresh soil you will reduce the appearance of fungus gnats- if they do appear, water with a 50/50 mix of water and hydrogen peroxide. One or two waterings should kill them
2.     Take cuttings of your trop. mw stems and root them in soil in the house, make sure to clean the stems with 5% bleach solution, pat dry, recut, plant.
3.     If your trop mw is in larger pots, you can try to keep it over the winter in your garage. Attached is best, place in a warm corner water once or twice over the winter. Take them outside in April when the weather breaks.
a.      At that time you will want to repot, trim the roots, fresh soil and slow release fertilizer.

As most of you know I have been collecting a saving seeds and sharing seeds for many years. I just received info on how to catch the seeds before the pods pop!
If you can get a hold of a few organza gift pouches, you can tie these over your mw pods (the small ones) wait for them to pop and cut the stem off with the bag.
I like this one, because it looks big enough to fit over a large cluster of trop. mw pods.
You can slow down the opening of common mw pods, by placing a rubber band around the pods to prevent opening. See the photo below.
All this does is ensure that you don’t miss the seeds when the pods pop. It does not hurt the plant or the ripening of the seeds in any way.

This is an interesting article on the many uses of milkweed:
This link is too a recently  released document discussing the long view of monarch recovery,
I found an article/ publication from Michigan State University Extension on planting for pollinators.
A link to an article out of Washing State, a group of volunteers got together and planted a butterfly habitat on a local college campus:
And just for fun…. The newest Winnie the Pooh story in a long time is all about saving the bees!

Please don’t forget to report your releases in our Google Doc. The results are building!
I can’t wait to see our total number of released monarchs. Thank you, let’s keep it going!
Again this is just for us, so we can see how many monarchs we have released as a group.

Please remember to sterilize all your tools, containers, vases, clippers etc. that you have been using for raising your monarchs.
Put everything you can into the dishwasher and clean everything else with bleach. The OE parasite spores can live over the winter. So sterilizing is very important.

Well, I don’t know about you but I miss my caterpillars but am thankful for a break! That’s why I love living in a region with 4 seasons ;)
Back to working on the house.
Don’t hesitate to email me with questions!

Have a great weekend!

Saturday, September 19, 2015

September 3 Update

I hope you are all surviving this heatwave here in the Midwest!
According to the weather history, we have not had this hot of a start to September since 1985!
Holy Smokes! I was just entering freshman year of high school…
Back to the monarchs.
I have come across a couple of really good articles that may help you at this time of the year:
this article explains all the critters that use mw as habitat and the predators that also hang out on mw.
Another great article is one that gives tips on raising monarchs with better success and less disease.
Things to think about next year if you continue.
There was a book written by Ba Rae and colleagues also explaining about who else uses mw. Excellent book! I encourage you to add this to your library,
I have collected very few eggs in the past 10 days, I think the cold overnight temps last week may have pushed our gravid (pregnant) females and their mates southward.
There are still caterpillars to be had. So give your mw one last look.
I have had multiple calls on sickly and deformed bflies eclosing recently….
One disease that is common on monarchs is a parasite called O.E. it is a protozoa that has evolved with the monarchs and seems to cull out the weak individuals.
At this time of the year don’t be surprised to have a few butterflies eclose form the chrysalis with deformed wings or legs. These individuals should Not be released.
As hard as it may be for you, you need to euthanize these butterflies to reduce the risk of spreading the disease to other healthy butterflies.
Simply put them in a container and slip it into the freezer. Then put the dead butterfly in the trash wrapped up in paper towel or in a plastic baggie.
These butterflies may not be able to feed, cannot fly and will never mate so their quality of life is limited. Please do the humane thing and euthanize.
I usually have a dozen or so every year that succumb to this disease. It is not uncommon and there is nothing you can do but clean your mw before you feed your cats.
This will minimize the spores.

I would love to hear about how the summer went for you, please join me for the Monarch Season Wrap Up at the Oak Lawn Park District.
I am hosting this on Oct. 5th at 6:30pm at the Oak View center at 110th and Kilpatrick in Oak Lawn (where I work).
Please preregister by calling 708-857-2200
I will have mw seeds to share with you.

Have a great Labor Day weekend!

September 19 Update

I am sure most of have wished your last monarchs Good Luck!
The pictures coming from different parts of the country of the migration are beautiful!
The migration has been sighted in the Indiana Dunes this week,
The Pelle Point, Ontario and Cleveland Ohio last weekend were impressive!
There has been a large group sighted in Missouri too.
It is so exciting to see all the pictures and videos on the monarch facebook pages.
People have been posting  mostly from the Great Lakes region this week.
If you would like to join any of these pages look for
The Beautiful Monarch, Monarchs and Milkweed and Butterfly Gardening
People are sharing lots of great photos.
Either everyone is looking more for the migration groups or there are definitely more butterflies.

The update on the migration can be seen daily at Journey North online
Please share you sightings with Journey North, this info is important to gage the migration population.

Collecting Seeds: Now is the time to be looking for mw seeds at home. They are ripening now.
Tuberosa may be finished, Swamp is coming in and Common will be ready in the next few weeks, Tropical is ripening too.
Remember that the seed pods ripen from the bottom of the plant to the top. So the lowest pods are ripe first.
Seeds are not ripe unless they are coco brown so if you cannot easily pop the pod open, then it is probably not ready.
Check back in a day or so.
Take a brown paper bag out with you when you collect, a marker and clippers. Don’t tear the pods off, you will get a hand full of sap.
Don’t get the white sap in your mouth or eyes and remember: nothing smaller than your elbow in your ear! Hahahhaha! Sorry, I digress.
Putting your seeds in paper ensures they will have lots of air circulation to dry. There is a video on my blog showing how to clean the fluff from the seeds after a couple of weeks of drying.
Mw seeds are all very similar in appearance so mark the bag with your marker.
After cleaning, weigh your seeds if you can and put it in your notes for this year. Then share them with as many people as possible.
Maybe send them into Bring Back the Monarchs Campaign. Here is the link.
Or, if you like, Monarch Mommas and Poppas can send in a large group collected amount of seed. I can do that if you want.

Monday I will be presenting a lecture at the Oak Lawn Park Dist. 6:30 at the Oak View Center at 110th and Kilpatrick in Oak Lawn.
I will be presenting the Benefits of Biodiversity, join me in a lecture and discussion on the importance of planting for pollinators. Registration is $5, come a little early to register in the office.

Don’t forget that on October 5th I will be hosting a Monarch Season Wrap-up at 6:30 at the Oak View Center at 110th and Kilpatrick in Oak Lawn. I am hoping to get as many people there that have raised monarchs this year. I am going to present a short program on how the season went according to Journey North, Monarch Watch etc. Then I would like to have a discussion on how the season went for you. Bring your totals with you, notes, photos and anything else you want to share. If you have a Monarch Waystation, bring your certificate along.
I will have milkweed seeds to share and info on butterfly gardening. In lieu of the $5 reg fee for the meeting I will have a collection jar for the Monarch Watch.
Light Refreshments will be served.
I hope to see you there! From what some of you have been telling me, this has been a great season! Let’s celebrate it!

Some news articles I have found this week…

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Hello Monarch Mommas and Pappas!

Well here we are, nearing the end of the monarch season.
Reports to Journey South (aka Journey North) is that the migration has begun in the most northern regions of the summer breeding grounds.
Overnight roosts of many monarchs have been reported in Canada, MN and Wi.
The migration is triggered by the angle of the sun, day length, overnight temps and quality of the milkweed.
Meaning the mw is beginning to die for the season or senesce.
When the migration generation emerges from their pupae they are in a state of diapause.
It is a physical state of sexual dormancy. Mating is an enormous drain of the butterflies, energy.
In order to live through the migration and winter in Mexico, they do not mate until next March.
This however does not mean that our rearing time has come to an end. Last year at this time I collected close to 400 eggs and cats. There is no doubt that those eggs were butterflies destined for Mexico

So, if you have not found any eggs or if you do not have caterpillar fatigue…
I urge you to clean those aphids off your milkweed and give your collection on more week.
I have not found many eggs at home this past week but I have found quite a few at work.
I am hoping that next weeks’  80 degree temps will give me my last hundred eggs.
You can spray the aphids off with your hose or squish them first and rinse your plants.
Be sure to look for eggs first.

At this time of the season, you will probably be seeing a lot of red bugs on your milkweed seed pods.
If you want to save that seed,  go out in the garden with a bucket of soapy water and shake the insects into it.
The soapy water will kill them. These are the nymphs (immature) milkweed bugs.
These insects wait until the seed is almost ready then they devour them.

Sharing mw seed with lots and lots of people is an important part of my monarch conservation efforts.
If you have seed but no one to share it with, I will take the pods.

If you are going to collect seeds to give away, here is a short tutorial…
First, the first pods that will pop open and seeds fly away on the silk will be the lower pods.
Second, the seeds are not ready to harvest until the seeds are coco brown.
So if you are checking pods and they won’t pop open easily they probably are not ready and seeds are still white.
Third, when collecting pods they should only go in Paper bags, plastic will cause the pods to mold and spoil the seeds.
Paper allows them to dry naturally. They can be in the garage in a dry place away from mice.
Fourth, cleaning the seeds is a bit messy but there is a good method that can be used about 3 weeks into the drying process.
Basically, what you will do is, over a paper bag or some container, open the pod a little and grasp the pod at the top to hold the silk in.
Then use your thumb to shuck the seeds off the fluff. After that continue letting the seeds dry in a paper bag. After a while put them in a storage container.
Fifth, sharing your seeds, after they are completely dry, by Thanksgiving, you can package the in small plastic bags, small #1 envelopes or recycled prescription bottles.
This is a great way to reuse those Rx bottles.
You can send your seeds directly to Monarch Watch, they grow mw to sell but they also give away a lot to schools and non profits.
Make sure your seed is cleaned, dried, in a Ziploc bag an sent in tear proof package
Monarch Watch
University of Kansas
2021 Constant Ave
Lawrence, KS 66047

On Sept 21 I will be presenting my Benefits of Biodiversity lecture at work.
On October 5 I will be hosting a Monarch Season Wrap Up session. I would love to have as many monarch mommas and pappas as possible there.
My plan is that we can share our experiences from this season and compare notes. See if we can improve our chances even more next year.
These lectures will be at the Oak View Center in Oak Lawn and more info about them can be found here.

My egg and cat. collection is up to 1800 and 544 butterflies released, I have begun separating the little buggers by size so the cats. don’t eat each other.
I hope my success rate increases.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

August 9th Update...Monarch Watch Update too

I hope you are making it through our dry spell.
I know my grass is suffering but….who cares?
My garden is flourishing. ;)

Monarch Watch/ Dr. Chip Taylor has updated the Monarch Watch Blog about the summer monarch populations.
All reports seem like these past weeks have been an egg laying fest all over the summer breeding grounds.
I have included the text below for your convenience.
There is also info below on how to purchase monarch tags.
If you want to tag your butterflies (hopefully your tagged butterfly will be found in Mexico!)
Order your tags soon, Monarch watch only sells 100,000 per season.

It is not too late to register your garden as a Monarch Waystation!

There are members of our group that have just found their first eggs and cats. in the last week.
I am happy to share that my sis Bridget and hubby Bill found eggs and cats last weekend in Naperville!
This after planting for a couple of years for the butterflies J

Keep looking, the eggs that are being laid now until the end of the season are the Migration Generation,
this is the most critical time for egg collection.
Last night I had a delightful dinner with Lee and Barb & my Dad, we were checking their 5 foot tall (yes, that is what I said 5 foot!!) Swamp Milkweed!
I started looking at the flower buds and boom. 17 more eggs. Look for eggs on tight buds, colored up but not open yet.

As for my experiences this season, I was bringing home lots of eggs and cats. from work and finding 30-50 a day at home. In the last 10 days there has been a lull.
Very few new eggs and cats, Yesterday the eggs started appearing again.
I have released 199 butterflies with about 100 chrysalis’ in the cat. house and still many more eggs coming up.
I am happy to say that I have had very little in the way of cat. deaths and only one Tachnid fly ruined a chrysalis so far.
This is usually due to bringing in large 3-5th instar cats. Just another reason why collecting eggs is important.
I may have a few more of these losses but nothing compared to years past.
Collection is up to 1296, releases 199. However I do not have 1000 cats. in play. There is a certain degree of cannibalism that is hard to avoid.
Other insects… The MW Bugs eggs are starting to hatch, you will see many little red insects with black legs appearing on your seed pods.
If you want to save that seed to share with others and plant yourself (or toss out your car window under the cover  of night…)
you will have to squish these insects. They eat seed pods and seeds.

I saw more than a few swamp mw bugs on that lg swamp last night. They will eat eggs and cats.
Is there anyone out there who has not seen any monarchs or collected cats. yet?
Well that is all for now, If you would like to see pictures that go with this email, refer to my blog.

Have a great day!!

Dolly Foster
Horticulturist, Certified Arborist
Twitter: @Hort4u

Saturday, July 25, 2015

A Quick rundown on the season so far

Well what a whirlwind of a summer! After waiting through 5 tense weeks of rain, finally it has stopped. I just hope it picks up a little. Now the garden at home is too dry. Got through the rain wondering, where are all monarchs? I guess they were waiting to lay their eggs. Now it is eggapalooza!
The season started slow with only finding a few eggs to collecting 30-60 daily at work and home. I have to thank my seasonal works who are getting into the conservation thing and actively looking for eggs for me. We have milkweed at almost every park and facility where I work and so that makes collecting easy. I did this by design but also from an educational standpoint. Our facilities (park district) have kids and moms and dads going in and out all day, not to mention day camps! I want those kids visiting to say, I saw a monarch butterfly lay her eggs today at camp! We have a wonderful Naturalist that works with us and she does the bulk of the education. So anywhere I can help that out, make it more convenient.... I grow all the mw we use in the parks in our greenhouse so it is all pesticide free.
Oh and the nice garden club lady who dropped off a caterpillar, thank you. It will be well cared for by little Gwennie.
At home where I  raise these eggs into butterflies, is a little chaotic right now. We are in the tail end of a renovation project and I have no tables in the house. I can't wait to get my dining room up! I need a project space. The hatching boxes where the eggs go are literally on the kitchen floor.
When I bring eggs home, I  "process" them. By this I mean that I get a clean hatching box. I clean with bleach and make sure to rinse and dry well. I then place a paper towel in the bottom of the box and spray it with a little spray bottle. Make the paper towel a little damp.  The reason for this is too keep the eggs alive until the eggs hatch. After I get them all into the boxes, I count them,  make sure any funny looking ones get closer inspection with a jeweler's loupe.

Any bad eggs go out. I make sure there are no aphids or anything nasty on the leaves. Then I seal the box. This is important. Seal the box, make a hydration chamber so leaves live. I also open and close those boxes at least once a day to get fresh air in. You will want to see if they are hatching anyway.  And then you wait. When they start hatching, after 2-4 days,  I start putting new food in. Wash the leaves off and pat dry. I don't always transfer every tiny cat. to a new leaf. That would be too time consuming for the numbers I am taking care of. However when I had less than 100 I would definitely transfer them. I use the tip of a toothpick. Some use a paint brush.
Feed the cats and clean the boxes daily. Period. If you do not want a bacterial outbreak and cats dying, cleanliness is the most important aspect of this activity.
For my operation, when the cats get about an inch or so in length I think about taking them out to the caterpillar house. This is a structure built by my husband, Lee. It took him about 20 hours to build and believe it not, he used no plans. We deconstructed the old cat. house and there was enough wood there to reuse into the new one. He only had to buy a little bit of wood.
While out in the cat. house the cats are fed from large cuttings of common and tropical mw. They are in vases that are weighed down with marbles and the opening of the vase is covered with plastic wrap to keep cats. from falling in and drowning.
Then they just do their thing. Eat until it is time them make their chrysalids. They wander around the cat. house for a while and settle in a spot. When they eclose, I release them the same day.
So why do I do this, all of this? I definitely have enough to do over the summer. I work full time, lecture at garden clubs, but only a few in the summer. I have a large garden to take care of and other responsibilities.
I don't want to get all sanctimonious about this and say that I am going to save this species. I have genuine sympathy for the monarch and their plight. I do this because the symbolism of the metamorphosis is important for me. I think that this species is a good ambassador for all the insect world and why we should protect them. Except aphids. I don't like aphids. Oh and mosquitoes...oh well. Most insects are really cool and beautiful. And I do it because it is fun.  Although this week it is feeling like a job. :)
Next up I will address those insects that also use mw for their home.

The hatching boxes, only 20-25 in each
Out in the Garden
The "Nursery"

The large Monarch Waystation at work, cared for by devoted volunteers!
The first batch of cats. in the house
The first batch in the house

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

July 22, Drying out....

Hello Monarch Mommas and Pappas! 
I hope this drier weather is agreeable to you all. 
It seems to be agreeable to the butterflies.
I have seen many butterflies this summer at home and at work.
Not only have I seen many monarchs but I have seen many different species of butterfly.
Red Admirals and Question marks are having a really good year.

I am hoping that most of you are finding eggs and cats. now. 
The 6 weeks of rain we have had here in the Midwest (8 inches+ in IL), really hampered the monarch egg laying. I found very few. 
When the rain stopped 2 weeks ago, collection picked up. 
I am now up to 548 eggs and cats. collected. 
Do not be daunted by my big numbers, I have minions at work (my college summer workers) :)
They are getting into this too and they do a lot of the looking while we work. 
However, there just seems to be more females laying and more gorgeous milkweed than in years past. 
I really hope you are all having successes too. 
When I first started this endeavor, I raised maybe 50 in the first year. 
If you only have the opportunity to raise 5-10, just remember they wouldn't be here if not for you.

Have you all been seeing more milkweed around the area? 
There just seems to be more on the roadsides and vacant areas. 
Could it be all the rain? 
Could it be guerrilla gardeners tossing seed bombs around? 
Have you noticed no orange aphids on your milkweed? No?
I think an unexpected benefit of the excessive rain. 
Keep an eye out, though I have seen the beginnings of them.
Simply squish those colonies as soon as you see them.
You can rinse your plant off when you are finished.
Do not use insecticidal soap on your milkweed.

If you need to see what they look like refer to my blog I will have this update with pictures there.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Hello Monarch Mommas & Pappas!
 I am posting some recent pix for you to enjoy.
First up, caterpillar house just completed by my husband.

 These are just some of the eggs I found this week on the flowerbeds of common milkweed.
 This is where to look for eggs right now, on the flower buds. Try to take the single flower bud carrying the egg instead of wasting the whole cluster of flowers. You will be missing a seed pod if you do. 
Also caterpillars, they are well disguised inside the flower clusters.

More later! Happy Hunting!

Friday, March 13, 2015

Upcoming Lectures

Good Morning! Just an update on my upcoming public lectures.
People often ask me if I will be doing any public lectures because they don't feel comfortable crashing a garden club meeting. LOL
My first public lecture is this weekend...
If you have any questions email me at

15-Mar  Monarch Conservation: 1:00pm, Alsip Nursery  St John, In
21-Mar  Butterfly Gardening Workshop: 9:00-12:00, Joliet Junior College
23-Mar  Spring Garden Clean Up:6:30-8:30pm,Oak Lawn Park Dist.,Oak View center
28-Mar  Butterfly Workshop: 9:00-12:00, Moraine Valley CC, Palos Heights
8-Apr     Bringing New Life to Older Gardens: 6:30pm, Munster Library, Munster, IN
13-Apr   Butterfly Gardening&Conservation:6:30-8:30pm,Oak Lawn Park Dist.,Oak View Center
20-Apr   Companion Planting: 7:00pm, Griffith Library, Griffith, IN
23-Apr   Butterfly Gardening/Monarch Conservation: 7pm Chicago Ridge Library,ChicagoRidge, IL
27-Apr   Tips for the New Gardener: 6:00pm, Lowell Library, Lowell, IN
20-Jun   Benefits of Diversity in the Garden: 1pm, The LURIE Garden, Chicago, IL
23-Aug  Butterfly Conservation: 2:00pm, International Friendship Gardens, Michigan City, In
21-Sep   Benefits of Diversity in the Garden: 6:30-8:30pm, Oak Lawn Park Dist., Oak View center
5-Oct     Monarch Season-wrap-up6:30-8:30pm, Oak Lawn Park Dist., Oak View center 

Friday, February 6, 2015


Hello gardeners! 

It has been such a busy week! We had a blizzard here on Sunday, 19" and one more inch tonight. I am a little stir crazy, all I can do is keep looking at butterfly gardening stuff online to keep me sane. Only 44 days until the first day of spring!

One of my favorite parts of winter is my greenhouse at work. My 20 flats of trop mw popped last Friday and should be a good size just in time for the Earth Day event. We give away about 200 plants and 300+ seed bombs of common mw. So we will be making seed bombs in the coming months.

Today in the gh, I prepared seeds for cold stratification. Specifically, three spp of mw.  The first thing I did was to get some clean play sand, don't just pick up sand from the beach. There are microorganisms in there. Make sure the sand is damp. Next, get your seeds together, This year I am cold stratifying common, swamp and tuberosa. The topical does not need cold strat. I simply put a few handfuls of seed  and a few handfuls of sand in each 1 gallon freezer bags. Mixed them together. I  labeled the bags and dated them. They will stay in the fridge for  6 weeks. Before I store them, I place each bag in another 1 gallon bag. This keeps the bags from loosing too much moisture over the 6 weeks in the fridge

There are many varieties of milkweed for the Chicagoland area. These are my experiences with growing them. I would love to learn about your experiences in the comments section. 

The 5 that I grow, are

common mw Asclepias syriaca- a native to the Midwest, in suburban areas it will grow in vacant lots and disturbed areas. It is very adaptable, being able to be grown in a garden, it is not picky about its soil. In my garden, it tends to move from place to place from year to year. I think it is nitrogen hungry and when nutrients are depleted then the roots move on. I have no scientific data for this, but it is a plausible reason for why the plant moves around the garden. I initially planted 2 little plugs on the east side of my house many years ago. I thought it would be a good spot, out of the way, not in my formal landscaping.. yada yada. The mw had different ideas, felt it would be better on the west side of my neighbor's house. So it spread under the lawn in between and it became a great place for finding eggs. My neighbor was a very sweet kindergarden teacher who occasionally caterpillar-sat for me.  When the next neighbor moved in, she destroyed it. Even after I explained to her what I was trying to do. Who knew a florist could be so hostile? However, the first time she cut it down it sprouted right back and she actually did me a favor. I collected a lot of eggs before she officially killed it. Her property, I know. 

Then the common popped up in the front landscaping. Oh boy. my nice landscaping. Well butterflies are more important. Especially since I have changed my philosophy from just gardening for the flowers to gardening for the insects! For the past 4 summers I have had 50+ stems of common growing. Weirdly, I did not have that many seed pods last year. Even with all the spring rain. Weird.

swamp mw Asclepias incarnata- in nature, this plant thrives in marshes and places where the land is flooded  periodically during the year. It can tolerate a fair amount of drought too. The adapability always amazes me. It will grow almost anywhere you plant it. I had just a few of these plants in years past and it grew to almost 28 plants before I had to take some out. It is not a plant to put in the front of the border, which is where it needs to be to be accessible for the egg hunting. Then there are the aphids (I will get to that later) . My biggest problem with the swamp mw is the way the leaves turn purple in the middle of summer. I cannot figure it out. is it a nutrient deficiency? Virus?  In any case, the monarch mommas do not like laying eggs on it. 

The butterflies like the flowers a lot. 

butterfly weed Asclepias tuberosa the orange mw. This is a mw that usually has few eggs an cats on it. The whole point of monarchs laying eggs on mw is the chemicals in the sap that is stored in the cats.' body and the butterflies exoskeleton. This chemical makes the monarch poisonous to birds. Since the A.tuberosa does not contain very much of the poison monarch don't lay eggs on it very often but I do find them occasionally. I see bees and butterflies on this plant a lot. My experience in growing it has been varied success. The first few times I tried to grow it, I didn't know how sensitive is was to wet cay soil. It died spectacularly. This is a plant that resents wet feet. Especially over the winter. So plant it in well drained soil and plant lots of it! If most of your garden is clay soil, then amend a large hole for this plant. I recently planted a bed with only A.tuberosa and Liatris I cannot wait to see it bloom!

prairie mw Asclepias sullivantii- or Sullivant's milkweed. This is a new species to me. I needed a milkweed for work that is not too tall and doesn't run around the garden like the common. This plant is only 4' tall. So more on this plant after this coming season.  

tropical mw (annual) Asclepias curassavica I had a hard time finding any cats. or eggs in my garden until I started growing this mw. Then I started planting it all by itself in pots that I can pick up easily. Last season, it was 2g pots and 1 qt pots. It is a great plant in a pot, water deeply and the plants grow really big and seed well. This is the only mw that I fertilize.  Last season I was running out of trop mw to feed my cats. So I got a hold of some seedlings of trop. Once I planted these up and got them out of the transplant shock, I started finding eggs. It took just a couple of days for them to perk up and as soon as they were, the monarchs were all over it. 

One of the challenges of growing all mw but especially trop. mw is the aphids. I struggle every year with this. They are oleander or orange aphids. Last season was particularly bad, they even attacked the common and swamp pretty bad. To control I will not uses chemicals. I spray them off and squish them. If you squish make sure you rinse the plant off at the end. With the trop in the pots, I would pick them up and check for eggs then squish then rinse. I started noticing in August that there were quite a few predatory wasps attacking the aphids. These wasps are very tiny, normally you never see them. There were so many last year, I observed them actually laying their eggs in the aphids. You know that they are there because the aphids turn brown as the wasp goes through their life span. The wasps last year were prolific, between them and the cleaning did, the trop mw was clean by third week of August. So nice to see natural predators really working.

I hope this season the wasps return in such huge numbers!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Last Season wrap up

Happy New year to you all! It occurred to me that I forgot to write a wrap-up post at the end of Butterfly Season. Here is an overview of the whole season:
First let me explain that 2013 was a dismal year, I only released 50 monarchs and that was about all that I found too (eggs). So when planning time came around for 2014, I had high hopes that it would be better. It just had to be better. 
My goal was to release 300  butterflies in 2014. So I planned for more milkweed, especially tropical. I learned too late in 2013 that towards the middle of summer the monarchs like to find new sprouts of mw to lay eggs on. Not only did I plan to do that but I started out with more. All planted in 2 gallon and 3 gallon pots that I could pick up and check. I planned a new bed (really and older one that was in need of something new) With the help of one of the nephews, we expanded the bed under my last remaining Rose of Sharon tree. A surprisingly fab plant for hummingbirds, I have seen the occasional butterfly on there too. In that expanded bed, I planted 3 different blazing star (Liatris) species, the native ones. The reason for the multiple Liatris planting is that butterflies Love Liatris. The only problem is that they all bloom only a couple of weeks. However, the natives all bloom at differ times during the summer. So if I plant the cultivar Liatris 'Kobold' along with all of these natives, I would have about a nine week bloom instead of just two! I also planted Asclepias tuberosa, lots of it. I replanted another native area of my garden and expanded it because  the winter last year was epic in killing my plants. 

I started collecting eggs and caterpillars (cats.) on June 1st, exactly 2 weeks after my guru did. That is how it happens every year. It is a weird thing. I collected a lot of eggs and cats. at work last summer and my crew last year were kind enough to humor my caterpillar craziness. I could not leave any of our sites before I quickly  looked for eggs. They even found one chrysalis! They were very excited and I was so proud that they really got it. That butterfly hatched the night before Fourth of July and I brought it to our special event and released it . 

Speaking of work, I have been at the park dist for almost 9 years and I started planting butterfly beds from the start. My focus is on pollinator and critter friendly with a 60% native - 40% non native mix. Last winter I registered the two largest beds as monarch waystations .  These are landscapes devoted to butterflies with monarch specifically being targeted. These beds have 3-5 different kinds of milkweed in them and many nectar plants. In the fall a volunteer and I expanded another bed using the cardboard/ mulch method. That will be our third waystation. One of the other waystations is adopted by a small, but devoted team of volunteers who are Master Gardeners. They did such a great job last year! 
By the end of the summer I had collected 1171 eggs and cats. Sounds impressive, huh?
Well let me tell you that the season ended better than it started. I decided that I would raise all the cats. indoors this year, partly because of all the rain and the temps were low at night. 

My bonehead move was bringing plants in for the cats. to feed on. I had a bacterial outbreak and lost hundreds of cats. I was devastated.  
The problem with bringing whole plants indoors is bacterial cross contamination. Cats. were eating the plants, pooping on the soil and crawling through the soil. Disaster. Once I removed the plants, sterilized every surface and brought cuttings in, things ran more smoothly with less caterpillar death. Cleaning the hatching boxes and aquariums everyday is a must. By the end of the season, I was wondering if I would have my 300 butterflies to release. I had less than, 100 by Aug. Then I started planting new seedlings of mw. 

When Labor Day gets near, usually I take a little time off work. I would normally be looking forward to releasing a lot of butterflies for the migration. As I planned my days and thought Butterfly Season was over, I was at work cleaning up a couple of beds near one of the waystations. I had, at the last minute in June, planted several dozen trop. mw plants to fill in some space. I suddenly saw a monarch and pointed her out to my worker (not a nature lover per se) he admired her and humored me.  I then noticed she was laying eggs! Awesome! Maybe I can get to my 300 butterfly goal! Over three days I collected a whopping 368 eggs and cats from that one bed. I think over that whole week it was the same female. At the end of the season I had released 442 healthy monarchs, most for the migration. 

The migration butterflies begin hatching around Labor Day and after. They will fly the 2500 miles to central Mexico where they will spend the winter in semi dormancy. In March the monarchs mate and star the journey to Texas where they will lay their eggs then die. It takes three generations to get to Chicago and beyond.  In the summer breeding grounds they will have 2 more generations and the last generation hatching around Labor Day is called the Super generation, the migratory generation. More on milkweed species in the next post.

The Liatris species I planted are starred but there are other natives that I will try to add.
*Liastris aspera button or  rough blazing star
*Liatris ligulistis meadow blazing star
Liatris punctata dotted blazing star
*Liastris pychnostacha prairie blazing star
Liatris spicata dense blazing starLiatris scariosa Northern blazing star