Migrating Monarch Butterflies

Monarch butterflies roosting in tree

It’s fall, and the monarch migration has been ongoing for several weeks.  The butterflies that cruise through my area of Oklahoma are headed to Mexico.  These butterflies are probably the fourth generation removed from butterflies that went north last spring, yet they know exactly where to go and how to get there.

Monarch butterflies are the only insect known to migrate in this way.  They head south to overwinter, then in spring head north again.  They lay eggs, die, and the next generation goes a bit further north and repeats the cycle.  Come fall, the fourth generation is the one that gets to head back south–some travel over 2,500 miles!

The butterflies have been using our yard as a rest stop every year in the fall, and beyond going outside and taking a few pictures of them filling the trees, I didn’t really pay much attention.  This year I found out about the website Journey North, which tracks monarch butterflies and maps them.  You can add your observations to the website and boom! you have just become a citizen scientist.  How cool is that?  Registration is easy and free.  Journey North tracks several migrations, including hummingbirds and gray whales.  

Here’s a screenshot of a Journey North map from 9/19/18.  

And here’s one from today, 10/4/18.  

I take lots of pictures of the butterflies roosting in my yard, very few turn out well.  It’s hard to get close enough for a good picture without startling them, and they are always moving a little bit.  And there’s the wind… but here are some pictures anyway.

Turn off the sound, it’s windy!

The video above gets you a better idea of just how many butterflies are clinging to the tree branches and how amazing it is to see them flying around you.  (If you do happen to listen to the sound, my older son is referring to a trip to the Butterfly House in Key West, where he and his brother were terrorized by the ginormous Blue Morpho butterflies many years ago.  Good times.)

Unless you have been living under a rock (not that there’s anything wrong with that), you have probably heard about the alarming loss of bees, butterflies, and other pollinators.   There are many reasons for this, including mowing, spraying, and even raking and bagging leaves.  

There are some easy ways to help support pollinators:  Don’t spray your yard with pesticides.  They kill ALL the bugs, good and bad.  Let some flowering weeds grow in a part of your yard.  Our whole yard is basically (short) flowering weeds… If you are in an addition where you are required to have a pristine lawn, at least put some native plants in your landscape.  Don’t rake and bag your leaves.  They are chock full of caterpillars and other future pollinators.  They will break down and help renew your soil.  Again, if you are required to have a clean yard, maybe there’s a patch in a back corner you can leave alone.

The Oklahoma Department of Transportation, in collaboration with several other states, has started timing their mowing to help improve monarch butterfly survival rates.  Roadsides are potentially a huge source of milkweed that the butterfly larvae eat.  They used to mow next to highways four times a year but have reduced it to “safety mows” in late June or July in several places.  They also planted a Monarch Waystation in Oklahoma City near I-35 recently.

Some people participate in butterfly tagging and some raise monarch butterflies in their yards to release.  One might wonder, do captive raised butterflies migrate like wild butterflies?  The answer is YES, yes they do!  Go to https://www.internationalbutterflybreeders.org/expertanswers/ for details about that!  The downside to captive raising monarchs is the possibility of releasing diseased butterflies into the general population.  

You can find out what type of milkweed (or butterfly weed) is native to your area by looking here.  Butterflies also need nectar plants, so consider adding a few of those as well.  Native plants have other benefits too; they provide shelter and forage for wildlife, and they are better adapted to the local climate.  Here’s a link to National Wildlife Federation’s native plant finder.

Here are just a few of the many monarch related websites:

Monarch Joint Venture

MonarchWatch.org

USDA Forest Service

Monarch Butterfly USA

Journey North

Several of these websites will send you free or very inexpensive milkweed seeds, and fall is a good time to direct sow milkweed.  You can also plant in spring from seed, start indoors in late winter, or buy plants from a reputable source.  

I hope you have been able to enjoy some butterflies in your own area this fall and plan to help them out next year.  

Migrating Monarch Butterflies from HouseofIngrams.com

Oklahoma Native Plant Corridor

Native PLant Diagram
Native Plant Corridor plant list

Another garden I visited at Oklahoma State University was next to the Engineering Building.  It is composed entirely of native plants.  There is a nifty garden directory sign so you can identify every plant if you feel like it.  It was getting pretty hot, so I did a quick walk through and got back into the shade of the Student Union.

Native plants from HouseofIngrams.com
A couple of different coneflowers next to Joe Pye Weed and a sumac
Tiger Eyes Staghorn Sumac from HouseofIngrams.com
Tiger Eyes Staghorn Sumac
Tiger Eye Sumac from HouseofIngrams.com
A closer look at the Tiger Eye Sumac
Joe Pye Weed Prairie Jewel
Joe Pye Weed Prairie Jewel
Joe Pye Weed from HouseofIngrams.com
A closer look at the Joe Pye Weed
Native Plant Corridor
Native Plant Corridor
Coneflower and Mexican Hat from HouseofIngrams.com
Tiki Torch Coneflower and yellow Mexican Hat
Yarrow and Coreopsis from HouseofIngrams.com
Terra Cotta Common Yarrow and Coreospsis ‘Big Bang Redshift’ Tickseed
Redshift Coreopsis from HouseofIngrams.com
Up close view of Big Bang Redshift Coreopsis

I love the Redshift Tickseed (Coreopsis); I could make an entire bed of various coreopsis cultivars.  Our side yard is filled with Plains Coreopsis and we let it bloom for about a month every summer.

Plains Coreopsis from HouseofIngrams.com
Plains Coreopsis in our yard

Plains Coreopsis from HouseofIngrams.com

Field of Plains Coreopsis from HouseofIngrams.com
Field of Plains Coreopsis

Once it goes to seed and looks really raggedy we mow.

Since these are Oklahoma natives, they are well suited to our, shall we say, extreme weather conditions.  Once established they are fairly drought tolerant and attract our native pollinators.

It was nice to see an entire garden of Oklahoma plants to get an idea of just how many there really are.  I’m especially intrigued by the Tiger Eye Sumac and am thinking about adding one to our landscape someday.  It reminds me of a Japanese maple, but one that might actually survive in my yard.

Do you have a favorite native plant?

 

 

The Price Family Garden in Stillwater, Oklahoma

Magnolia tree at OSU campus from HouseofIngrams.com
Magnolia tree in front of the Price Family Garden

Last week my younger son attended a one-day engineering camp at OSU in Stillwater, Oklahoma. I hung out on campus all day and took lots of pictures of the gardens and flower beds. After a day of breathing the “O State ozone”, I’m ready to pack up and move to Stillwater.  (Just kidding.) Our family has a running joke about being on the OSU campus.  Something in the air makes us really happy to be there so we think they must be pumping ozone.  Or is it the Eskimo Joe’s cheese fries?  (According to my older son, the ozone effect does wear off after you have been there for a while.)

Anyway, I had a full day to hang around and wander through the plantings on campus, read, and people watch.

Canna border from HouseofIngrams.com
Cannas (Cannova Bronze Orange) and Hardy Hibiscus ‘White Jewel’ are part of the border in the Price Family Garden.
Herbaceous border at OSU from HouseofIngrams.com
Elephant Ear ‘Pink China’, Inkberry ‘Shamrock’, and Hydrangea Let’s Dance Starlight ‘Lynn’ in the front border.

The Price Family Garden is outside the Rancher’s Club, a steakhouse on the OSU campus.  It combines edibles and ornamentals and is just gorgeous.  They list descriptions of the plants along with planting diagrams on the internet.  Here’s a link to the summer 2018 plan.  They have a sign with a QR code you can scan and download this PDF with the plant descriptions.

Orange flowers from HouseofIngrams.com
Firecracker Plant (Crossandra ‘Orange Marmalade’) and Sweet Alyssum ‘Clear Crystal White’
Red Rubin basil and eggplant from HouseofIngrams.com
‘Red Rubin’ Basil and eggplant

I can’t tell which variety of eggplant this is.  There are two listed on their PDF.  One is ‘Barbarella’ and the other is ‘Galine’.  If I had to pick, I’d say this was Barbarella based on the leaf shape.

Daylily from HouseofIngrams.com
Daylily Hemerocallis ‘Bright Sunset’
Decorative garden from HouseofIngrams.com
Okra ‘Bull Dog’ in the foreground, followed by Yaupon Holly ‘Micron’, Firecracker Plant ‘Orange Marmalade’ and Sweet Alyssum
Tomatoes in garden from HouseofIngrams.com
‘Better Bush’ tomatoes
Okra from HouseofIngrams.com
Okra ‘Bull Dog’
Caryopteris from HouseofIngrams.com
Caryopteris ‘White Surprise’ in front of Hardy Hibiscus ‘Crown Jewel’ with Purple Heart Setcreasea pallida ‘Purple Heart’
Go from HouseofIngrams.com
Columnar basil in back, Pesto Perpetuo, the GO is Ananthera ‘Snowball’ and foreground is White Cat Whiskers surrounded by trailing vinca Mediterranean White
pokes from HouseofIngrams.com
POKES is Alternanthera ‘Snowball’, Basil ‘Red Rubin’ behind and the low plant is sweet potato ‘Beauregard’.

 

If you are in Stillwater, take some time to visit the Price Family Garden and get some ideas.  My plant list is super long already!

 

 

Four O’Clocks

A flower that doesn’t open until late in the day might seem a little pointless, but the four o’clock (Mirablilis jalapa) is a nice addition to your flowerbeds.  When the flowers open in late afternoon you will notice a lovely fragrance, and the little flowers are worth the wait!  They originate from South America but grow well nearly everywhere.  They are perennial in warmer climates (7 and higher) and also reseed freely.

When I was a kid my mother grew four o’clocks in her east facing flowerbeds.  (Actually, she still does.)  They were all one color, kind of a fuschia purple, and the blooms closed during the day.  The bushes got huge over the course of the summer and would crowd out other plants in the process.  So I wasn’t really a fan of this particular plant.

Four o'clocks
The original color of our four o’clocks

Imagine my joy when after moving to this house I discovered the very same four o’clocks, same boring color and everything, all over the flowerbeds!  Squee.

Landscaping was not a priority for the first several years after we moved here, with small kids, homeschooling, and interior remodeling.  So I let the boring flowers go crazy.  They were flowers at least, and they were pretty tough (benign neglect, right?).

Finally, we got roses for the main bed, and I started taking a little more care with our landscape.  At this point, I was pulling hundreds of little four o’clock seedlings as they sprouted because this is a very floriferous plant, and each flower makes a black seed that looks like a tiny grenade.

Four o'clock seeds
Four o’clock seeds

I left some in the north end because it’s pretty shady and I hadn’t planned anything for that area yet.  These flowers do attract sphinx moths, hummingbirds, and butterflies, so that’s kind of cool, and I planned to keep a few plants even though I wasn’t a huge fan of the boring flowers.  But about four years ago something interesting happened…

Four o'clock yellow bloom
Four o’clock with yellow bloom!

One of the plants had some yellow flowers on the same plant with the fuschia flowers.  That was really neat!  The next year, more of the flowers were yellow or streaked.  This kept increasing, until last summer I had several different colors of four o’clocks.  I saved some seeds to give to friends; who knows what they will produce?

After some research, I found that this is not at all unusual with Mirabilis; the thing I don’t understand is why the different colors took so long to show.  Perhaps one of those nice moths brought pollen from different colored flowers and got us some genetic variation going.  Regardless, I no longer dislike the four o’clock flowers.  I will still judiciously pull hundreds of seedlings as they show up where I don’t want them, but I will be sure to leave several plants.  I can’t wait to see what they look like this summer!

If you decide to plant some four o’clocks, now is the time.  After danger of frost, plant the seeds in the garden and water regularly.  They prefer full sun (6 hours minimum).  I don’t fertilize, but some garden sites do recommend a little fertilizer.  They can get up to four feet high and wide–mine usually top out around three feet, but I don’t water as much as they would probably like and we have a lot of wind.   You can trim back if they get too enthusiastic.  They start blooming mid-summer and will go until frost.  The seeds are considered poisonous.  Most pests don’t seem to bother them, but in seriously bad summers, we have had grasshoppers eat some of the flowers and leaves.   Give them a try!

The Easiest Roses

Springtime is a great time to plant roses!

Knockout Roses HouseofIngrams.com

Knockout Roses HouseofIngrams.com

Knockout Rose HouseofIngrams.com

Star Roses and Plants, the growers who produced the amazing and wonderful Knockout Rose family, have my undying gratitude.  (I am in no way affiliated with their company, I just love their plants!)  I have four of the Red Double Knockouts in my front flower bed and they look fabulous.  They have cherry red blooms that look like a classic rose.  My sweet husband bought them for me as an anniversary present years ago.

Knockout Roses HouseofIngrams.com

This post contains affiliate links.  

 They are super easy to maintain and are prolific repeat bloomers from early May til frost.   They are hardy in zones 5 to 11.  They need full sun and adequate drainage.  Maintenance consists of pruning down to around 12 to 18 inches tall in February or early March (ideally before they leaf out but that’s always hard to pin down here in Oklahoma) and maybe some rose fertilizer occasionally.  Pruning large canes is much easier if you have something like these Fiskars loppers

Bypass pruners are also very useful, these from Fiskars are great:

Thorn-proof gloves are really nice to have, these are on my wish list:

Regular deep watering keeps these roses blooming like crazy.  The tradeoff for all those blooms is the lack of fragrance.  They have survived my preferred gardening method, “Benign Neglect”, for seven years. These roses are “self-cleaning”–which means you don’t have to deadhead to get more blooms, but it won’t hurt and might help reduce the incidence of Rose Rosette virus (more on that below)…  

If you put them out in the landscape, pruning is optional but they will get pretty big, like four feet tall by four feet wide, and I don’t think they look as nice as with that yearly pruning.  Of course they are roses, and these babies have some seriously wicked thorns, so don’t plant them where thorns will be a problem–and consider how big they could get before you place them near a pathway or under a window.  You can give them a trim any time of the year except in the late fall because it could encourage tender new growth that could be killed by frost (you’re probably going to prune that away come spring, but it might harm the overall health of your plant.) 

The only potential downside to these awesome roses is Rose Rosette disease, also known as Witches’ Broom, which is a nasty virus carried by microscopic mites.  Here’s a link to an informational PDF from Oklahoma State University.  There is no treatment or cure, and infected plants start getting uglier and uglier until they finally die.  If your rose gets this, the recommended action is the immediate removal of the entire bush, roots included. It should be burned or bagged and discarded.  Do not compost these bushes!  Roses in proximity may or may not get infected; direct contact seems to be the easiest way for it to spread but I think it’s windborne to some extent considering the way it has spread around here.  Since nearly every landscaper in Oklahoma has planted some of these roses, the disease has made its way all over the state.  Luckily mine are okay so far but I keep a close eye on them. If they ever get the disease my backup landscaping plan (after the wailing and gnashing of teeth) involves dwarf Crepe Myrtles. Once they are established, they are almost bulletproof.

There are ten colors of Knockout Rose available now (wow!).  I just spent some time on the Star website and now I am seriously trying to figure out where I can put more roses.  One of each, please?  You can find Knockout Roses at most garden retailers in the US and Canada.  Look for the lime green pot and enjoy your roses!

Knockout Roses HouseofIngrams.com

 

Knockout Roses Bud HouseofIngrams.com