Gardening for butterflies
Sept 24, 2020
Gardening for Butterflies
Fall is a great time for Butterflies in Cape Coral! Their number and variety are at their highest. As I walk by my garden on this sunny day, late in the morning, I see a number flying about. A couple of deep orange and black monarchs are twirling upward around each other and then fly back down to the milkweed plants. A yellow butterfly is quickly darting around the senna bush. The orange gulf fritillary is drinking from the flowers on the scorpion tail plant. Seeing them flutter gracefully from flower to flower always puts a smile on my face. Bees are buzzing. Dragonflies whirl by. Lots of life in this flower garden.
Which butterflies do you see most often? Monarchs are plentiful, large and easy to spot with their orange and black wings. Did you know most of our Monarchs do not migrate? They stay right here and are actively breeding all winter. They lay their eggs only on milkweed plants which hatch in about a week. The caterpillars gorge themselves on the milkweed leaves for almost 2 weeks before shedding their skin to morph into a chrysalis. In 10-14 days, they emerge as butterflies. They live for only about 2 weeks to lay their eggs and die.
Look for giant swallowtails fluttering around citrus trees, where they lay their eggs. Their lower wing has an extension on it, thus the name swallowtail. Their upper side is black with cream lines while the underside is golden yellow with black. Magnificient! We have many other kinds of swallowtails visiting from time to time.
You may see Zebra longwings fluttering slowly in the shade. They are our state butterfly and active all winter, along with our monarchs. Zebras lay their eggs on the wispy ends of the passion vine plant.
Take your garden up a notch and add plants with nectar to feed the butterflies and other pollinators. Some easy plants to grow this far south that contain plenty of nectar are: porterweed, firebush, dune sunflower, scorpion tail, buttercup (Turnera ulmifolia), tropical milkweed (Asclepias curassavica), and jatropha (J. integerrima). You will find many more plants to choose from at local native nurseries, such as: All Native Nursery, 300 Center Rd., near Page Field, and Hickory Hammock Native Tree Farm, 13321 Peace Rd., near Buckingham.
To really reel in the butterflies to your yard, add plants they will lay their eggs on, called host plants. Butterflies have a particular plant or family of plants on which they lay their eggs. If you have passion vines, you will attract Zebra Longwings and Gulf Fritillaries. Senna bushes attract several kinds of yellow sulphur butterflies spring through fall. Parsley, dill and fennel attract black swallowtails in late spring.
What discourages butterflies from your yard? Spraying pesticides indiscriminately every month defeats the purpose. Butterflies are, after all, insects! In my yard, I deal with specific insect problems as they come up. If mealy bugs are on my fern or aphids on my peppers, I spray only that plant. Otherwise, I suggest you let insects attract biological controls such as birds, predatory wasps and ladybugs. The more insect diversity in your yard, the more butterflies you will see!
For more information online, see the North American Butterfly Association: NABA.com. Find information specific to Florida here: https://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/design/types-of-gardens/butterfly-gardens.html
Rotary Park in SW Cape has a well developed butterfly garden around the butterfly house. The house is open for Friday and Saturday tours, 10:30, masks required. Take a leisurely stroll and see how many butterflies you can see!
Sherie Blieler is a member of the Garden Club of Cape Coral.
Harvesting rain water: nature’s bounty
July 17, 2020
53 inches! 53 inches of rain on average per year in Lee County! According to the Lee County rain gauge data, June is typically the wettest month, averaging about 9 inches of rain, while August is the rainiest month with approximately 17 rain days. As gardeners, we often wish we could reserve some of that rainfall for the very hot, dry days throughout the year. We may not be able to control nature, but we can nurture our gardens with harvested rain water, collected and saved during rainy season.
Many gardeners are fortunate to have rain barrels for this purpose. Rain barrels are a low-cost way to collect rain water from our rooftops and store it for hand watering or drip irrigation on dry days. One inch of rain from a small 1,000-square-foot roof can deliver over 500 gallons of water. Although this water is not filtered or treated to use for drinking or cooking, it is acceptable for watering indoor and outdoor plants. In fact, scientists from Washington State, New Jersey and Australia have studied rooftop run-off for pollutants and have found that the water is "surprisingly clean" and safe for watering edibles especially when the water is directed to the soil first. However, they recommended that rain water from treated wood-shake roofs, copper roofs, zinc roofs or roofs treated with toxic chemicals not be used for watering edibles.
That being said, rain barrels offer several benefits to the home gardener. First, if reclaimed city water is not accessible to you, having a rain barrel will save you money on your water bill. Second, you can water from your rain barrel as you need to without worrying about irrigation schedules and restrictions. Third, plants prefer rain water since tap water contains chlorine, fluorides and salt. All of which can stunt the growth of your plants. As an aside, if you must use tap water, fill your buckets and let them sit out for 24 hours so the chlorine and fluoride can dissipate.
Harvested rainwater can also be used to fill ponds and bird feeders, creating a freshwater oasis for migrating birds, butterflies and wildlife. In addition, rain barrel collection systems have an overflow feature that can direct excessive water to your garden or, better yet, a rain garden. This feature will help to "slow the flow" of stormwater runoff, thereby protecting our groundwater from the pollutants that are washed off our landscapes into our nearby waterways.
Some tips: Plan the placement of your rain barrel near a downspout in an area accessible to your garden. Use a tight-fitting lid and downspout to keep mosquitoes out of your barrel or add about 2 teaspoons of vegetable oil to the barrel creating a surface area that keeps mosquitoes from laying eggs there. Although not required, you can paint your rain barrel. You can keep it simple and paint it to match your home or you can be creative and add an artistic touch.
Rain barrels are available locally and online. For specific details and more tips, you can join the next rain barrel workshop hosted by Cape Coral Parks and Recreation in conjunction with the Lee County Master Gardeners. This virtual workshop is scheduled for July 25 at 10 a.m. Registration is $45 and includes a completely assembled rain barrel that can be picked up at Rotary Park in Cape Coral. To register, please call the Rotary Park office at 239-549-4606.
Happy Gardening & Stay Florida Friendly!
Deborah Haggett is a member of the Garden Club of Cape Coral and a Lee County Master Gardener volunteer.
You’re not in Kansas anymore!
July 10, 2020
Southwest Florida is a rapidly growing region of our wonderful state, and it is estimated that 6 out of 10 new Florida residents move here from other states. The Cape Coral/Fort Myers Metro Area has the fifth highest growth rate in the nation according to Census figures, so we are welcoming many new residents from outside Florida every day. The physical beauty of our area is no doubt one of the major factors influencing people to relocate here, but it can be challenging to adapt our former gardening practices to the requirements of a year-round growing season in our subtropical paradise!
While many residents may long for the evergreens, spring bulbs and wildflowers they enjoyed in their previous homes, I invite you to experience the abundance of subtropical plants and native species that will flourish here in Southwest Florida. It is not difficult to create a beautiful landscape that doesn't require a great deal of maintenance if you just consider the governing principles of successful gardening in our unique climate.
In Florida your garden can experience vastly different conditions depending on the season. Florida is not called "The Sunshine State" purely for marketing purposes -- most of our days are bright and sunny. As the angle of the sun changes, areas that are shaded in winter can be in full sun during the summer months. The seasonality of our rainfall can also affect your landscape; the drier winter months give way to abundant rain in the summer that can cause soggy areas. And our soils are sandy, which allows rapid drainage during summer rains but also discourages water retention in the winter months. Because sandy soils also dissipate nutrients more readily, fertilizer requirements may be different.
So how can you best adapt to the new Florida environment that you may feel is so alien to your previous gardening endeavors? The most important consideration for gardening anywhere is to select the right plant for the right place. Observe your garden at different times of the day throughout the year to determine which areas are shaded and which receive more sun. Since some areas may be in full sun in the summer and more shaded in the winter, look for plants that will tolerate a sun/shade mix. Your local garden center can help you identify these plants. If your sandy soil dries out quickly and produces plants that appear below par, your best option is to add organic matter, such as compost, to the soil. Compost not only helps retain moisture, but it also promotes the retention of nutrients and encourages the growth of beneficial microorganisms that are vital to your plants' health. Mulch is also an easy way to help cool the soil, preserve moisture and prevent weeds and it makes your garden beds more attractive.
One of the best ways to learn more about gardening in Southwest Florida is to visit the University of Florida IFAS (Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences) Extension Website at www.edis.ifas.ufl.edu. You'll find a wealth of resources here, including various lawn and garden topics, handbooks and FAQs. Extensive gardening information for Lee County can be found at: sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/lee/?topic=home-landscapes
Compared to your previous home, the Southwest Florida environment may seem quite different and challenging, but don't be afraid to experiment with the beautiful exotic plants that thrive here. Rather than wishing for the familiar plants you grew before, you can cultivate an exciting landscape that has a "sense of place." After all, the graceful palms and vibrant tropical flowers that grace our area surely influenced your decision to make Southwest Florida your new home. Reflect your joy at being in Southwest Florida in your garden!
Cathy Dunn is a Florida Master Gardener and Garden Club of Cape Coral member.
Right Plant, Right Place
May 22, 2020
Right Plant, Right Place is the first of 9 principles of Florida-Friendly Landscaping. In the past my standard approach to both plant selection and location went something like this. First -- a plant catches my fancy. Second -- I purchase said plant, taking only a cursory glance at important information specific to it. Third, I place said plant in the ground without considering whether the location will be ideal over time. Fourth, I tend to the plant and keep my fingers crossed, hoping for a positive outcome.
As you might imagine, this particular approach proved less than optimal. By putting the cart before the horse, oftentimes the location did not match the plant's requirements, causing stress to the plant and more work for me as I attempted to "fix" problems as they arose. Lesson learned? Before jumping to purchase, upfront planning is key, with one important element being to get the "lay of the land." By doing so, we can save time and effort going forward and have a better chance that plants will not only survive but thrive with proper care.
During the planning process, begin by taking a stroll around your property. As you explore, consider the movement of the sun over the course of the day. Which areas enjoy morning sun and which areas experience full sun most of the day? Where is shade most prevalent? The seasons also play a role. A plant that appreciates one locale in the winter sun may find the sun too brutal during the summer in the same location. For those plants, placing them in movable containers may be a viable option, giving you the ability to relocate the plant as the seasons dictate.
Soil composition, pH and moisture are other important considerations. If you live in a residential area, chances are the soil is mostly sand and fill and the pH measures alkaline rather than neutral or acidic. To determine actual pH, the best approach would be to gather soil samples from different areas around the property and get a free soil test done at the Lee County Extension Office.
With results in hand you can then make informed decisions moving forward. Keep in mind that trying to "fix" the soil by adding supplements to either raise or lower pH to accommodate a poorly placed plant can be time consuming and costly. Soil amendments are normally only temporary remedies and re-applications are often needed, especially when attempting to acidify soil. Better to select pH suitable plants at the outset.
Does the soil hold moisture or is it well-draining? Because water is such a precious and valued resource, consider current conditions and how best to conserve water within the landscape moving forward. Some plants and turf especially crave water and suffer when it is lacking, while many native plants and some non-natives are drought tolerant once established.
What has been presented here is just the tip of the gardening adventure. To view more detail regarding Right Plant, Right Place and the remaining Nine Principles of Florida Friendly Landscaping, visit ffl.ifas.ufl.edu/materials/FYN_Handbook_2015_web.pdf. "The Florida Yards & Neighborhoods Handbook" is a great resource document.
Janetta Fox is a member of the Garden Club of Cape Coral.