Jan 14, 2021
The monarch (Danaus plexippus) is perhaps the most widely recognized butterfly in the world. Many people are familiar with the migration of West Coast monarchs to California and East Coast monarchs to Mexico; monarchs are the only butterfly species in the world that undertakes such a long-distance round-trip migration. Most people, however, are not aware that Florida has a monarch population that does not migrate. Attracted by our warm climate and continuously available host plants, monarchs that usually migrated from Canada and the northeast settled in South Florida and decided to stay. This Florida population now stays in the state year-round and continuously breeds; scientists speculate that the warm climate stimulates their reproductive behavior, which then disrupts their hormonal balance and results in the loss of their ability to migrate north.
Monarch larvae feed almost exclusively on milkweed plants, and the butterfly’s range depends on the availability of host plants for larvae and nectar plants for adults. Florida has about 20 milkweed species; all are native except the tropical milkweed, Asclepias curassavica. The tropical milkweed has attractive red and yellow blooms, and is the variety most readily available in garden centers; however it poses some problems for butterflies, and native varieties are recommended. I have both native and tropical milkweed species in my gardens and I have noted that the monarchs have a distinct preference for the tropical variety! In addition to the milkweed host plant, nectar plants to sustain the adult monarchs are a must for the butterfly garden; native nectar plants include mist flower, cat’s tongue, goldenrod, Spanish needles and liars. A full list of milkweed and nectar plants can be found on the UF/IFAS Extension web site. Click here: Milkweed and Nectar Plants
Monarchs weigh less than one gram, with adults averaging about half a gram. Typically, monarchs live between 2 and 6 weeks; the butterflies that undertake the long migration to California or Mexico do not become sexually mature because of the cooler temperatures, which also conserves their energy. When spring arrives, the monarchs become mature and reproduce, beginning the first new generation that will migrate north. As these monarchs make their way north, their offspring continue the journey and will reproduce over the summer; the monarchs that travel south in the fall have never been south before! Monarchs can lay over 1,000 eggs in their lifetime, but most probably average 400-500 eggs. The progression from egg to adult takes about one month. Eggs are laid on the milkweed plant; each individual egg is about the size of the period at the end of this sentence. Once the eggs hatch, the familiar black, white and yellow striped monarch larva (caterpillar) emerges to feed on milkweed and grow very rapidly – in fact they grow so fast that they shed their skin five times before they pupate! The larvae then transform into pupa, also known as a chrysalis.
The chrysalis is a jade color with gold markings, suspended from the underside of leaves by a silk button that the larva spins. The larva forms its body into a J-shape and the skin splits and falls away; underneath the old skin is the jade green chrysalis. Monarchs remain in the chrysalis for 8-12 days, and just prior to emergence, the chrysalis becomes clear. The front of the chrysalis splits open and the butterfly emerges with folded wings. The monarch must pump up its wings using fluid stored in its abdomen; once the wings are extended the monarch is ready to fly.
One of my favorite diversions during this pandemic has been to observe the monarchs in my gardens. Since I have an abundance of nectar plants and milkweed, my butterfly garden is full of activity, and I delight in watching the progression of these beautiful creatures. I usually visit the garden several times a day to monitor the larva population and their progress; one day I counted 19 larva of various sizes feasting on milkweed. Over the past few months I’ve eagerly watched chrysalis development, and recently witnessed a monarch emerge from the chrysalis.
Establishing a butterfly garden is one of the easiest ways I can recommend for you to enjoy nature in your own backyard!
CATHY DUNN A monarch caterpillar on a milkweed plant.
Cathy Dunn is a Florida Master Gardener and member of the Garden Club of Cape Coral.
Florida Friendly Landscaping Principle #7 – Recycle Yard Waste
Mar 11, 2021
We are all familiar with household and kitchen recycling, with trash going in one bin and recyclables in another for pickup, but what can we do with yard waste, short of gathering it up and tossing into landfills? The 7th principle of Florida Friendly Landscaping answers that question.
Although we don’t normally think of it as being the case, there is oftentimes an abundance of “free” mulch and fertilizer available right in our yards. Leaves from deciduous trees, needles from pine trees, twigs, shredded bark, plant trimmings and grass clippings are all there for the taking.
Consider creating self-mulching areas by leaving healthy leaves where they land at the base of deciduous trees or needles at the base of pine trees. To mix things up a bit, rake leaves onto the lawn and then mow over them a few times at the same time you mow your lawn. By leaving the shredded leaves on the lawn to decompose along with grass clippings, you will be doing a service to both the microbes that help to break them down and to your turf by providing beneficial nutrients which the vegetation then uses during food creation.
An alternative would be to rake chopped leaves and grass clippings and place around landscape plants. Important to remember is that when adding the “mulch” around the plants, do so sparingly. If you add too much, the result will be a less than favorable smelly mess over a short amount of time because the material will be unable to break down at a sufficient enough rate.
If healthy and not a result of disease, consider leaving dead plant material in place rather than feeling compelled to gather up and discard the debris for a neater appearance. Your plants will thank you for the nutrition boost. If you find larger branches among other debris, all you need do is break them down into smaller pieces and place them back in the landscape.
Adding compost to the soil helps to improve root development, soil structure and fertility. Rather than spending money on bags at a big box store, you can go the DIY route. In combination with items such as food scraps, newspaper, coffee grounds, dryer lint and many other carbon-rich “brown” and nitrogen-rich “green” items, yard waste can be transformed into rich, healthy compost with a little patience. You can pile materials in a heap or use an enclosed bin, which will be much less attractive to pests.
There are a variety of online sites that provide a step-by-step approach to composting and so I will leave the details up to those sources, while sharing just a few do’s and don’ts here. Before tossing an item in the trash, always consider its potential use as a compost source. Avoid placing cooked items, meat, fish and oils in the compost pile. Keep the pile moist but not drenched, and turn the pile over occasionally, mixing it up, to keep the temperature just right for decomposition purposes. And finally, although adding the waste of plant-eating animals to the compost bin is fine, avoid adding the waste of carnivores, such as dogs and cats.
So, as you can see, making use of what nature provides in our landscapes is not only great for the environment but a money saver as well. A double benefit to be sure!
Janetta Fox is a member of the Garden Club of Cape Coral and a Lee County Master Gardener volunteer.
Re-use your yard waste to save money and enrich your soil. (n.d.). Retrieved December 30, 2020
Compost tips for the home gardener. (n.d.). University of Florida IFAS Extension EDIS. Retrieved December 30, 2020
Florida Friendly Landscaping Principle #6: Manage pests responsibly
Feb 18, 2021
“Insects all business all the time.”
— David Foster Wallace
Recognizing that there are thousands of insect species, it would be impractical for homeowners to strive for an insect-free landscape, nor should we want to since the great majority of the insects that visit our yards are beneficial. However, we can maintain some semblance of control over that 1% of “bad bugs” which feast on our landscape plants and try our patience. Scientists recommend an approach called Inte-grated Pest Manage-ment, the goal of which is to provide for a safe and low risk approach to pest problems. With this goal in mind, IPM focuses on smart planning, proper maintenance and natural or low toxicity controls.
There are a variety of strategies associated with IPM, moving up the chain from prevention to suppression. Always begin with cultural measures as the first line of defense. This involves the proper selection of landscape vegetation, with a focus on Florida-friendly, pest resistant plant species (think right plant, right place). Oftentimes, beneficial insects are predators of other insect pests so consider creating an environment that serves as an invitation to good bugs such as lady beetles, green lacewings, green lynx spiders and native bees to your yard.
Keeping landscapes healthy reduces susceptibility to disease and pests, thereby reducing the need to take curative measures that could have otherwise been unnecessary had proper care been taken. In the aftermath of plant selection, apply tried-and-true maintenance strategies focusing on proper mowing, fertilizing, pruning and irrigation. Avoid cutting lawns too close. Longer blades means a healthier root system and more drought tolerance. Keep in mind that, with the exception of palms, most established shrubs and trees seldom require supplemental fertilization and, so, apply only as needed and according to label directions. Always clean and sanitize garden tools and avoid over-pruning of trees and shrubs, which can easily cause stress and lead to decline. Water only as needed with the recognition that over-watering stresses your turf and landscape plants and makes them more vulnerable to pests and diseases.
Vigilance is key to catching issues before they get out of hand. Therefore, take a stroll around your property regularly and look for signs of problems, keeping in mind that plant damage which initially appears to be the work of an unwanted insect could actually be the result of something quite different. If you have any doubt, take pictures and share with your local University of Florida Extension Office, where Master Gardener volunteers are available to respond to your questions or concerns. Once a determination is made that a “pest” is the culprit, start with the least toxic method to resolve the issue. Examples include: a spray of water to dislodge unwanted pests, the use of sticky traps and pruning affected parts of vegetation and disposing in the trash. Always remember that, when dealing with damage caused by pests or disease, never let pruned branches lay in the landscape.
Chemical treatments should only be used as a last resort and, then, begin with low impact products such as baits, horticultural oils and insecticidal soaps. Remember that wide-spectrum chemicals are indiscriminate and will kill the good bugs along with the bad. If absolutely necessary use these products only as spot treatments and always follow label directions.
To view more details regarding “Manage Pests Responsibly” and the other Principles of Florida Friendly Landscaping, click here... “The Florida Yards & Neighborhoods Handbook” is a great resource document for all things Florida Friendly.
Janetta Fox is a member of the Garden Club of Cape Coral and Lee County Master Gardener volunteer.
Garden Club: Start a veggie garden … in the dead of winter!
Jan 28, 2021
Yes, in Cape Coral, now is a great time to start your vegetable garden! Our Florida sun is strong, even in winter, yet the temperature is mild, making ideal conditions for most familiar veggies grown “up north.” Eating food you have grown is so fresh, full of flavor and nutrition. Plus it only has the chemicals you have added to them.
The most economical way to grow veggies is to plant seeds. There are plenty of mail order seed suppliers, such as Tomato Growers Supply Co., right here in Fort Myers. Or you can get plants already started from local nurseries, to give you a head start. This year, I planted lettuce, kale, sweet peppers and tomatoes to make great salads.
What’s the easiest to grow? For me, it’s broccoli, delicious raw or cooked. For you, the easiest could be another plant that especially does well in your soil or lighting situation.
To plant, select an area that gets at least 6 hours of sun. We naturally have plenty of sand and lime in our dirt, but it could use a lot more nutrition and water-holding properties to make it real soil. Some amendments to the soil will help plants grow larger and hold the water in the soil better. I add at least 2 inches of peat moss and 2 inches of compost or manure (such as Black Kow) and mix them into the soil. You can double this for very sandy soil. After planting and watering your vegetables, add 2-3 inches of mulch, like pine needles or Florimulch from a store such as GoMulch in Cape Coral. Cypress mulch is not recommended as you do not know if it is sustainably resourced. Mulch will keep water from evaporating, discourage weed seeds and add nutrients to the soil as it breaks down.
If you have an area with less sun, there are still plants to consider. Lettuce and some herbs such as basil, parsley and mint appreciate some afternoon shade. They will not go to seed as fast, so your season with them will be longer.
I have planted more broccoli seeds because my broccoli is ready to harvest. I can get another crop in before our growing season for northern crops ends around May. This is true for many crops: cilantro, radish and lettuce types. Pick and plant again! The more heat loving vegetables may grow through the summer, such as peppers, fennel and eggplant.
Vegetables thrive better if you look at them every couple of days or so. Whether you plant them in a pot, in a raised garden or tuck them among your landscape plants, they thrive better if you fertilize them often, water twice per week and keep your eye out for pests. If using pesticides, try to use the least toxic material. You will be eating the pesticide! Pick off bugs/caterpillars and drop them in a bowl of soapy water. Spray with insecticidal soap or oil. Caterpillars often come to my tomatoes. Spray with “caterpillar killer” (Bt) for tomato pinworms. If large caterpillars appear, they can be cut in half with scissors. For fungus diseases, try to keep water from splashing onto the plant by using mulch. Water early in the day and hope it is dry by sunset. Cut off infected leaves, which are getting brown and throw in the trash to keep it from spreading. Plant them in a different place each year to avoid fungus diseases.
What are your favorite veggies? Why don’t you try growing them this winter?
Sherie Bleiler is Past President of the Garden Club of Cape Coral.
Florida friendly landscaping principle #5: attract wildlife
January 7, 2021
As Florida’s population continues to grow, open/green space continues to be supplanted by increased residential and commercial development and their associated infrastructures. One of the negative impacts of this rapid development has been and continues to be the destruction of the natural habitat for our native birds and animals. Considering that Florida is the third most diverse state when it comes to wildlife and is a major stop for migratory birds, Florida friendly yards not only create a wildlife sanctuary but serve as a natural corridor for safe migratory passage.
Like people, wildlife need food, water, shelter and space. To satisfy these requirements, homeowners can begin by creating a backyard habitat plan (always good to plan first!), and then planting a variety of vegetation of varying sizes and heights. Diverse areas that provide reliable sources of nectar and food such as seeds, nuts and berries attract a wider variety of animals. And by layering vegetation, including ground cover, your yard becomes a refuge, providing shade and rest. Adding a small pond or birdbath as a water source will ensure all bases are covered and all basic needs are met.
It is important to note that, if left unattended, birdbaths will quickly accumulate algae and become a breeding ground for mosquitoes. As a control measure, change out the water frequently. When cleaning, scour and wash birdbaths without the use of harsh bleach or soap. For additional control of algae, consider adding a drop or two of algaecide into the birdbath periodically. Prior to the purchase of any algaecide, though, read the label to confirm that the product in question is safe for wildlife. You can also add Bti (aka Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis), which is a biological control for the larvae stages of mosquitoes. The great thing about Bti is that it is safe for humans and other animals. And adding an agitator to keep water moving can only help!
Snags are trunks of dead trees. If leaving them in place doesn’t pose a danger consider doing so, because they provide a place for birds to perch nest, and feed. And because the idea is to attract beneficial insects as well as land animals and birds, avoid the use of wide-spectrum pesticides as they do not discriminate and will enter the food chain. Along with problem pests such as aphids, mealybugs, whiteflies and the like, they will kill beneficial insects such as lady beetles (or lady bugs as I like to say) and bees and can be toxic to birds and other wildlife.
When selecting plants consider Florida native plants as these provide reliable sources of food and nectar for native wildlife. Disease resistant, non-native Florida friendly plants can also be an option. Consider providing nourishment for all stages of life. For example butterflies need specific plants during their life cycle i.e., nectar plants as adults and larval or host plants while caterpillars. And, depending on where you live, you may want to consider seasonal plants for year-round feeding.
So, there you have it, a brief introduction to the fifth principle of Florida friendly landscaping. For further information, visit Attract Wildlife
Janetta Fox is a member of the Garden Club of Cape Coral and a Lee County Master Gardener Volunteer.