Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Where Have All The Monarchs Gone?

     Summer has defiantly left us and fall is close on its heels.  The frost covered lawns in the morning, is a good indicator that winter will be here in no time.  Gone are most of the leaves and most defiantly, gone are the butterflies.  Looking back on this summer, I am pretty sure that I did not see a single Monarch butterfly.  I saw quite a few swallowtails and skippers and loads of fritillaries, which loved my Sedum Autumn Joy, but no Monarchs.  What is the reason behind this?  Global warming? Global cooling?  Pesticides? Pollution? A high-rise in the middle of their migratory path?  May be all of the above.  I miss seeing that distinctive orange and black beauty; it’s not called Monarch for nothing.

     Growing up, the arrival of the Monarchs was always exciting.  My sister use to swear that the same Monarch came to visit her every year and the fact that the butterfly only lives about six weeks did not sway her from her belief.   Monarch butterflies seemed to be in abundance when I was a kid, and come to think of it, so was milkweed.  The milkweed grew along our roadsides, developing those funny looking seed pods which would turn brown, break open, and release those downy fluffs with a seed attached.  We use to use the fluffs for Santa’s beard on Christmas cards. 

     So, in short, Monarchs lay their eggs in the milkweed and the caterpillars only eat the milkweed.  Decline of milkweed leads to decline in Monarch butterflies.  I may have to go on a hunt for milkweed and let it grow wild in my ditches, in the hopes of attracting the monarchs back to my yard.  And to my sister, if you are reading this, because if you’re not…shame on you, if I see your Monarch, I’ll be sure to tell him you said “Hello”.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Tip Toe Through The Tulips

     Are you looking for a shovel ready job?  Well get your shovel and get ready to plant those fall bulbs.  Get out there now and get your daffodil and tulip bulbs planted and you will thank yourself this spring when your garden is filled with bright colors, after a long, grey winter.  So much color from something that requires little if any maintenance is hard to resist.
     When choosing a place to plant your bulbs, avoid areas that tend to stay damp; excessive moisture will cause the bulbs to rot.  Loosen the dirt in the planting area, adding in some compost and peat for drainage.  Now the tricky part is to make sure you don’t plant your bulb upside down.  Flat down, point up.  Planting depth should be on the package or use this rule of ‘green’ thumb:  bury the bulb about three times as deep as its diameter.  Pack the dirt firmly, and if you mulch over the top, make sure you pull the mulch away in the spring because mulch tends to slow down the blooming.  Once spring has arrived and your flowers are done blooming, cut the flower stem to stop it from setting seed, thus sending this energy to building a bigger bulb for next year.  However, do not cut the leaves as they are necessary to continue feeding the bulb.  If you can’t stand the leaves you can always do what the English do, braid the leaves together, or just learn to live with them as I do.
     Tulips come in an astounding array of colors, shapes & sizes and can get expensive if you fall in love with some of the more unusual ones.  And if you have deer, plant daffodils, because tulips are deer candy.  Tulips only last three to five years, so plan on planting a few every year, to keep the bloom coming.  Daffodils, on the other hand, seem to come back forever and in greater numbers and deer avoid them.
     So between bastings of the turkey, get some bulbs planted, then sit back and watch Green Bay make mincemeat of Detroit.  Go Packers and have a Happy Thanksgiving.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Amazingly Beautiful Oakleaf Hydrangea

     I have so many favorite plants, but Hydrangea quercifolia or Oakleaf Hydrangea is one of my favorite favorites.  It is a beautiful four-season plant which is another way of saying, it saves time and money. 

      Native to the southeast, it is a great addition to our local gardens.  It grows six to eight feet, with some varieties topping out at twelve feet.  The large leaves emerge a light green in spring, turning deep green by summer, giving this plant a lush appearance.  The summer bloom is a cone shaped flower which can be a foot long.  The blooms are primarily white, developing a pink tinge, and then a deeper russet as their season ends.  The leaves of the Oakleaf hydrangea remain in place well into the winter.  The leaves turn shades of deep purple and red, staying on the plant until November and sometimes into December.  Come January when the leaves are finally gone, the beautiful peeling bark of the plant can be seen and along with the dried flower heads, provide  a good deal of winter interest that many gardens often lack. 

     Oakleaf hydrangeas can handle the heat, but prefer some afternoon shade.  They do not ‘faint’ in the middle of the day as their mophead cousins do.  They also do not like wet feet, so make sure there is good drainage when planting.  Pruning is rarely necessary, but if you do, make sure it is done after blooming and before the end of August.   The following year’s flower buds are set in late summer and early fall
     I am a big fan of white and a big fan of hydrangeas, so this plant is high on my ‘must have’ list.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Sweet Dreams

    Do groundhogs hibernate?  I certainly hope so.  

As I cleanup my summer garden getting it prepped and ready for some winter gardening, but mostly getting it ready for spring, I look back on my summer harvest.  My potatoes did well, but could have been better if I had planted them earlier.  My green peppers started out promising but seemed to stall mid-way through summer.  I had a fair amount of tomatoes, but not nearly what I should have after planting thirty-six tomato plants.  My cherry tomatoes went wild, and seeing as how I am the only one who eats tomatoes in this family, I couldn’t keep up with them.  My heirlooms suffered terribly in the heat and the ones that did well were usually left half eaten on the ground by my garden thief.   My newly planted squash and zucchini were devoured by the next morning, and since I am a glutton for punishment, I tried three more times, earning the same results…kind of like the definition of insanity.  Eggplant must also be high on his favorite list because that was chewed up also.  I tried cantaloupe for the first time this year, and was so excited when I saw that lovely green fruit stating to get a nice size to it, unfortunately, I found the melons in the grass, dragged there by the tell tale teeth marks on the rind. 
     So again I ask, do groundhogs hibernate? 

If so, I plan on making his winter slumber as miserably as he made my summer garden.   As he lay curled up, in his den under my garden shed, just starting to dream of what delicious vegetables will be awaiting him in the spring, I will make every effort to disturb his deep winter’s nap.  I think a couple good blows from the air-horn should get his attention, and if it doesn’t, stay tuned for Round II – Me vs groundhog….this time it’s personal.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Act Like A Tree And Leave

Did you know you can burn 240 calories for every hour of leaves raked?   I have never been so lucky to only rake leaves for an hour.  It always turns into an all day or weekend event, and that is usually round one of the leaf drop.  You know the drill….head out side with several layers of clothing because the mornings are chilly and in no time you have peeled off most of the layers.  You spend the day raking, only to look up and notice all the leaves just waiting to fall on your freshly raked yard.  You vow next year to cut down all those huge trees that are causing this mess, but come spring you fall in love with them all over again.  You spend the day raking and probably sneezing a little, sweating then getting chilled when taking a break and defiantly, working up an appetite.  So add up all those hours of work at 240 calories per hour and you have earned a well deserved reward.  A Milky Way bar has 228 calories, Bo’ jangle’s French fries have 344 calories and a S’more only has 277 calories. 

Pile the leaves up and jump in with the kids and play for a while and you have the right to eat anything you want that night.  I guarantee you will sleep great, maybe wake up a little sore, but defiantly proud of yourself for how nice the yard looks…that is until you walk outside the next morning to get the paper and see that your neighbors’ leaves  have blown all over you lawn.  Don’t waste your time cursing and shaking your fist at the trees, because, like I said, come spring this will all be a faded memory.