Moonlight Flight in the Garden: Attracting Lovely Luna Moths…

May 20th, 2012 § Comments Off on Moonlight Flight in the Garden: Attracting Lovely Luna Moths… § permalink

 Luna Moth (Actias luna) –  iPad Illustration by Michaela

One of the best parts about teaching is having the opportunity to further my own education. And when I am asked a great question that I can not answer, I get especially excited by the chance to do some research and learn something new! Yesterday morning, I presented a seminar, “Designing with Native Plants to Attract Butterflies and Hummingbirds to the Garden”, at Walker Farm in Dummerston, Vermont. The attendees had a number of great, familiar questions about plants and plant care, pollinators and insects in general. But when I was asked how to attract Luna Moths (Actias luna) to the garden, I admit that I was stumped. I’m a horticulturalist, and while I have taken entomology classes —and continue to study and work with insects almost daily in my gardening career— I’m certainly no expert in the field. So, when I returned to my studio, I consulted Whitney Craneshaw’s comprehensive Garden Insects of North America. I was surprised by what I learned, and thought I’d share it here with all of you…

Moonlight Flight of the Luna Moth –  iPad Illustration by Michaela

Luna Moths (Actias luna) are members of the giant silkworm —or in adult phase, royal moth— family (Saturniidae). Approximately ten days after eggs are lain by an adult, the giant, green Luna Moth caterpillars emerge and begin feeding upon foliage of native trees and shrubs; including Black Walnut (Juglans nigra), American Beech (Fagus grandifolia), Red Maple (Acer rubrum), Willow (Salix ssp), Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua), Sumac (Rhus), Black Cherry (Prunus serotina), White Oak (Quercus alba), Hickory (Carya), American chestnut (Castanea dentata), as well as the leaves of other nut and fruit bearing shrubs, trees and shade trees. In spite of their voracious appetites, Luna Moth caterpillars pose little threat to trees and shrubs, due to their modest numbers. Predators of the large —2.5″— caterpillars are numerous; including wasps and many other insects, as well as birds and rodents. Once the adult Luna Moth emerges from its chrysalis, it only has about one week to live, and during this time, its sole mission is reproduction. Such a large moth —with a wingspan of 4.5-5″— must dodge many predators, and slow flight makes the Luna Moth easy prey for nocturnal creatures like bats and owls. Of course, the adult Luna Moths still has plenty of free time to find a mate, as it doesn’t need to spend the week seeking food. Luna Moths emerge from their cocoons without mouths, and never need to eat! The females attract males by emitting a chemical into the night air (Luna-fume?), and lay their eggs beneath the leaves of trees; preferably those of Black Walnut (Juglans nigra). Usually, there are two cycles per year with moths taking flight in late spring and again in mid-late summer.

So how to attract Luna Moths? Try planting trees and shrubs preferred by the Luna during it’s larval stage —all listed above— and be mindful about protecting natural habitat for wildlife. Once plentiful, the Luna Moth is now considered endangered in some areas of the United States. Avoid use of insecticides and herbicides (even organic methods such as Btk and insecticidal soap can kill Luna Moth caterpillars if sprayed indiscriminately) and unnecessary clearing of understory trees and shrubs in their environment. They may be rare, but keep your eyes open at night: if you head outside at dusk, or just before dawn during the early summer, you may get lucky and spot a moonlight flight of the Luna Moth!

Illustrations and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All photos, articles and content on this site (with noted exceptions) are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

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Out With The Old & In With The New: Creating A Lush & Lively Indoor Oasis …

January 3rd, 2012 § 6 comments § permalink

Bringing Nature’s Beauty Indoors: A Scene from My Wintertime Oasis. Clockwise from back: Cycas revoluta, Agave geminifolia & Kalanchoe ‘Manginii’

I kicked my Christmas tree out yesterday (p.s. Sorry Mr. Balsam, I will miss your sweet fragrance, but you were growing stale and it was time for a fresh start). Of course no sooner did I shove that big boy out the door than I began to long for something fresh and new to fill the void. Luckily, I have a growing collection of houseplants —many transitory summer residents of the balcony and terrace, seeking seasonal shelter from the cold— and they’ve been begging to move beyond their cramped corner in my studio.

This gorgeous orchid has just begun to bloom (Paphiopedilum Magic Leopard #1 x Paphiopedilum fairrieanum). Some orchids prefer dry, desert-like conditions, and others prefer tropical heat and humidity. Click back to my previous post on orchid obsession for resources and easy-care, species suggestions.

And while it’s certainly true that there’s a plant for almost every indoor situation, finding the right place for each species can be a challenge. Cacti and succulents thrive in hot, dry conditions; making them perfect winter residents for homes with wood stoves and furnaces. But other houseplants prefer cooler temperatures and high humidity. Just as you would investigate the cultural requirements of a perennial or shrub before choosing a spot for it in your garden, it’s wise to get familiar with the needs of your houseplants in order to provide them with the best microclimate within your home.

Most herbs, like this rosemary plant, prefer full sun and infrequent watering throughout the winter months. Situated beside a south-facing glass door in the kitchen, this plant provides fresh flavor to many dishes and refreshing scent beside the compost bin and dog dish (is that your bad breath, Oli?)

If you have pets or small children in your home, it’s very important to familiarize yourself with toxic plants and either avoid them entirely, or situate them within enclosed terrariums, high upon shelves, or in out-of-the-way, closed-off rooms. Revisit my post ‘Dangerous Beauty’ for helpful links, online lists and other toxic plant resources. And no matter how careful I am, inevitably some insect pest or other finds its way into my home and onto my houseplants during the winter months (even fresh cut flowers sometimes provide a ‘free ride’ to bugs!). Click back to my previous post on the subject of insect infestation for some non-toxic solutions and trouble-shooting resources.

Peperomia are wonderful, easy-care  houseplants. This particular cultivar, P.caperata ‘Raspberry Ripple’, has become one of my all-time favorites. Read more about this beauty in my previous post, ‘Hello, I Love You, Won’t You Tell Me Your Name’ by clicking here.

In addition to providing a pet-proof glass barrier for poisonous plants, terrariums also increase humidity and create endless possibilities for beautiful display of small, tender plants and objects. Learn how to make a terrarium and find more resources on my Indoor Eden page by clicking here.

Photographs and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All photos, articles and content on this site (with noted exceptions) are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

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Oh, What a Fashionable Dresser! Meet Widget the Walking Stick …

September 30th, 2011 § 2 comments § permalink

Hello Widget! What a Snappy Outfit You Have There …

Meet Widget the Walking Stick. And isn’t he the most fashionable fella? While installing a new garden for a client last week —design post forthcoming— I happened to notice what appeared to be a colorful stick, stuck to my boot. As I bent down to get a closer look, I met the curious gaze of a rather large and beautiful Walking Stick (I later learned this friendly guy is a well-known, local resident; dubbed ‘Widget’ by his human friends). Luckily my camera was nearby, and when I sat down to snap a photo, the dapper little gentleman decided to march up my leg to have his portrait taken. How thoughtful! Turns out he was as interested in me and my moving camera lens as I was in him and his colorful costume …

Look at the length of his bright orange antennae! 

According to Whitney Cranshaw’s Garden Insects of North America (a great book for gardeners and backyard entomologists, by the way), Walkingsticks or Stickbugs (Diapheromera femorata) can be found throughout North America —more frequently east of the Great Plains— and are most common in the northern and mid-Atlantic regions of the continent; particularly surrounding the Great Lakes. Although they rarely cause significant damage, all walkingsticks are leaf chewers. The diet of these curious insects includes the leaves of black locust, black cherry, oak, basswood elm, birch and hickory trees. Females lay eggs in soil throughout the latter part of the summer and fall, which will generally hatch in spring. However in colder climates, eggs can remain dormant for up to two years.*

During my brief encounter with Widget the Walking Stick, I observed a naturally curious —dare I say “intelligent looking”?— and very friendly insect. Amazing what you can find in the garden, when you slow down and open your eyes! One of the greatest rewards of organic gardening is the opportunity to meet such fantastic creatures. To help protect fascinating insects like Widget, remember to limit or altogether eliminate the use of pesticides and herbicides in your garden. Keep in mind that even organic insect controls should be applied in a carefully considered and targeted manner, and only when absolutely necessary. Widget thanks you, and so do I!

*Entomological Information Source: Garden Insects of North America by Whitney Cranshaw, is available by clicking here, from amazon.com

Photographs and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All photos, articles and content on this site (with noted exceptions) are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

Do you enjoy The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through affiliate links (including Amazon book links). A small percentage of each sale will be paid to this site, helping to cover web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you so much for your support!

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Native Pollinators: A Close Up Look at The Humble Bumble Bee …

July 7th, 2011 § 1 comment § permalink

Bumble Bee on Veronica spicata ‘Sunny Border Blue’ (Speedwell)

Now that summer is in full-swing, my garden is just buzzing; filled with pollinators of all kinds. And on warm, sunny mornings, the Wildflower Walk literally hums with the sound of bumble bees. This fuzzy, sweet-looking insect is rarely aggressive and only stings when it is threatened with harm. Like honeybees, bumble bees are very important pollinators of our agricultural crops and wild plants. But unlike the naturalized, European honeybee, our North American native bumble bee does not keep substantial quantities of honey in its hive. Because they only store enough food to support the colony for a couple of days, bumble bees must continuously forage when not in hibernation. All bees, including the bumble bee, are extremely sensitive to pesticides —including organic insecticides— and their health and welfare, so directly tied to our own, is critically dependent upon responsible garden and farm practices.

Bumble bees visit many kinds of flowers throughout the growing season. But like all pollinators, bumble bees do prefer some blossoms more than others. When certain plant species are blooming —particularly Ajuga reptans, Veronica, Salvia and Lespedeza— my garden is literally buzzing with activity. Like honeybees, bumble bees are very effective pollinators; gathering from one or two species at a time (this behavior is known as constancy, and it’s key to the pollination of fruits and vegetables we humans depend upon). Bumble bees and other bees communicate with one another in various ways. Ever wonder how a bee knows where to go for food? Bumble bees actually let one another know which flowers have already been visited by marking those blossoms with scent. These fascinating insects have a language all their own; one we are only just beginning to understand …

When I snapped the photo above —amused by the sight of a bumble bee raising one of its middle legs— I thought perhaps it was stretching. Surprise, surprise! I recently learned that this is a defensive behavior. The bumble bee was warning me to back off, because I (and my camera lens) got too close for comfort!

Recently, while out capturing images of early morning bumble bees visiting the blue Speedwell (Veronica spicata ‘Sunny Border Blue’) along the Wildflower Walk, I noticed a bee raising one of its middle legs. It struck me as amusing, and as I came in closer for a shot, the bee extended its leg even further; looking a lot like a karate kick! After downloading the photos, curiosity got the better of me and —doing a bit of research on the fantastic bumblebee.org website— I discovered that by raising its leg, the bumble bee was actually trying tell me that I’d come a bit too close for its comfort. The bee wanted me to move away, but ignorant of its social cues, I came even closer! What I thought a fascinating experience was actually quite unpleasant for the bee, and it was striking a defensive pose. Sorry friend! I’ll pay much closer attention to your signals next time.

Do you enjoy listening to the hum of bumble bees on a summer day? Invite these native pollinators into your garden by providing a steady supply of blossoms throughout the growing season. Some early blooming spring flowers for bumble bees: Salix discolorHamamelis vernalis, Hamamelis x intermediaVacciniumViburnumCercisPierisEnkianthusAjuga reptans, CrocusRhododendron and spring blooming Erica and Calluna. And to attract bumble bees later in the season, try planting some of the following summer and fall blooming flowers for bumblers: Lupine, Aquilegia, Nepeta, Aesculus, CornusVeronica, Asclepias species, Perovskia, Lespedeza thunbergii, Clethera alnifolia, Hamamelis virginiana, Itea virginica, Sedum, Asteraceae, Monarda, Agastache, Penstemon, Lavendula, Mentha, Allium, Stachys, Althea (single flowered), Lavendula, Valeriana, Salvia, Thymus and most other herbs. Check out the links below for more flower lists and information on supporting bees of all kinds in your garden…

For more fascinating information about the humble bumble, visit the bumblebee.org website by clicking here.

And for information on the honeybee, and other bees —plus great tips and useful information for supporting all pollinators— visit thehoneybeeconservancy.org by clicking here.

Photographs and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All photographs, articles and content on this site, (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

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Of Sunshine and Swallowtail Butterflies…

May 30th, 2011 § Comments Off on Of Sunshine and Swallowtail Butterflies… § permalink

A Perfect Spot for Sampling Lilac Nectar – An Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) on Syringa vulgaris ‘Mme. Lemoine’

Sunshine at last! Finally, after weeks of rain and fog, golden light returned to the garden this week. And suddenly, the sultry air is filled with Tiger Swallowtail Butterflies —bright as the sun itself— fluttering about blossoming trees, shrubs and perennials; looking for a place to rest and a sample of sweet nectar. Here in my garden, the voluptuous French white lilacs —Syringa vulgaris ‘Mme. Lemoine’— seem to be the flavor of the week.

Papillon. Poetry in Motion…

Thank you, sweet papillon, for pausing to show off your bright, beautiful colors

***

More Information on the Tiger Swallowtail, and How to Attract this Beauty to Your Garden

The Eastern Tiger Swallowtail is commonly found at the edge of North American deciduous forests from early-mid spring through autumn. Adult females lay their eggs on host plants; including Ash (Fraxinius), Basswood (Tilia), Birch (Betula), Black Cherry (Prunus serotina), Lilac (Syringa), Mountain Ash (Sorbus), Poplar (Populus), Sweetbay (Magnolia) and Tulip Trees (Lirodendron). When caterpillars emerge, they hungrily eat their way through foliage, pupate and re-emerge as beautiful butterflies. The entire process takes little more than a month. In springtime, adult swallowtails feed on the nectar of flowers —particularly those forming clusters— such as lilac (Syringa), wild cherry trees (Prunus serotina), phlox, daphne, abelia, and viburnum. Later in the season, they feast upon the nectar of verbena (particularly Verbena bonariensis), butterflyweed and milkweed (Aesclepias), sweet pepperbush (Clethra alnifolia), asters, stonecrop (Sedum), butterflybush (Buddleja species*), Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium), bee balm (Monarda), phlox, heliotrope, pincushion flower (Scabiosa), Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus carota), gayflower (Liatris), and many other cultivated trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals and wildflowers. Provide a continuous supply of flowers and caterpillar host plants throughout the growing season to keep swallowtail butterflies in your neighborhood.

Sadly, a large number of butterflies are inadvertently killed each year —particularly as caterpillars— through the use of pesticides. Even organic methods of pest control can be harmful to beneficial insects, and should only be used in a targeted manner. Although Btk is an organically approved pesticide (made from a bacterium found naturally in soils), commonly and safely used to control harmful worms, it will kill beneficial caterpillars if used indiscriminately. So please, use organic pest controls sparingly, and with great caution. Familiarize yourself with all stages of the swallowtail butterfly lifecycle and pass along the information to your neighbors and friends.

For more information about butterflies and how you can attract them to your garden, visit my previous posts here: “Butterflies on My Mind”, and also here: “On Magic Wings”. More free information about lepidoptera (butterflies) may be found online at the non-profit website,  Butterflies and Moths of North America. In addition to these resources, there are also many excellent books available on gardening with butterflies in mind, as well as books on the butterfly lifecycle and identification for both children and adults. Click here to browse top rated butterfly titles at Amazon.com.

*Caution: Buddleja davidii is considered an invasive plant species in some regions of the United States and Canada. Please see my previous post,  “Butterflies on My Mind”, for more information on butterflybushes, and useful USDA links.

Article and Photographs ⓒ Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden. All photographs, articles and content on this site, (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced or reposted without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

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