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Archive for the ‘Texas Natives’ Category

The Only Color I See Outside Is In My Own Backyard.

The butterfly garden is doing well, with my help.  I water it a couple of times a week and that seems to help the plants keep flowering.  The rudbeckia have been covered with blooms for the past couple of months now, while the homestead verbena continues to really branch out into a nice ground cover.  The lantana is fine with the heat and is a big attraction to butterflies.  On the left below, the Spanish lavender is getting ready for a second show of blooms this year.

While the milkweed I planted almost all died, spontaneous plants from last year’s seeds have popped up everywhere around the yard.   They, too, have attracted quite a few Queen butterflies and fritillaries.  Below is the stone path with pillars of milkweed growing between as well as sweet alyssum, which, to my surprise, continues to live and flower despite the heat.  I planted them in March, I believe, and I expect them to last through to the frost.

The chives are putting on quite a show of flowers and a buffet for the honeybees, wasps and gray hairstreaks.

I keep the feathered guests happy with daily offerings of seed and fresh water.  The finches and cardinals really love coming by, as well as doves and blackbirds.  And the anoles have their run of the place since the birds are well fed.  They, too, love the sun.

I have started the fall garden in hopes that the weather doesn’t kill off everything.  I have several tomato and pepper plants, as well as a couple rows of bush beans sowed.  I’ll be starting the carrots, spinach and broccoli in the coming month and then lettuce for the winter garden.  I can’t wait for cooler weather…

Silverleaf Nightshade flower

I had no idea what this was until I looked it up.   Also known as Prairie Berry, Silverleaf Nettle, White Horsenettle or Silver Nightshade, this plant is toxic to livestock.  I have one plant growing near the back fence line, and I wasn’t able to ascertain what it was until it flowered.  Pretty little flowers, nonetheless.

The Butterfly Garden and The Reason for My Missing Butterflies

The perennials in the garden have rebounded wonderfully.  The abundant sunshine and warm weather has been good to them, although the lack of rain necessitates a frequent watering with the garden hose.  We are thankful, however, for the recent rain.  It wasn’t nearly enough, but it did manage to saturate the first couple inches of soil.  I know the plants appreciate the rain water more than the city water, so I won’t complain.  Can I ask for more, though?

The perennial hibiscus is really bushing out and I suspect that, some time in May, it will begin flowering.  This variety has fluorescent fuschia blooms, which will bring additional color to the side of the house and is sure to captivate the attention of beneficial insects.  This is between our deep red-colored knockout rose bush, which is starting another wave of blooms, and the herb garden.

perennial hibiscus

The fall aster looks as if it is going to grace us with a pre-fall show this spring.  It is growing some flower buds as we speak, which will add a nice lavender splash between the orange and yellow lantana blooms.  It will continue to grow throughout the summer and put on its big finale in the fall.  It promises to be a good show.

fall aster preparing to bloom ... in spring!

In this photo, fennel flanks three dill plants at the very left side of the bed against the fence.  Surprisingly, the black swallowtails have been quiet the last few weeks after an early start of laying eggs and hatching baby caterpillars.  I don’t currently have a single egg or caterpillar on the hosts plants.  I’m hoping the rain will bring them back.  I mean, I have a total of twelve host plants for them!  Ding-ding goes the dinner bell!!

The three mounds of leaves on the right are black-eyed susans, which still have a little time before they’re in bloom.  At the back of the bed are my thyme plants that are finishing up their blooming stage.  I’ll shear them back when they’re done and encourage them to send up some new growth.

Texas lantana blooms

As a last minute decision, I sowed more Russian Mammoth sunflower seeds (I had four growing last year).  I had twelve come up, but some little creature ate two of them completely to the soil.  I still have nine going strong and another struggling a bit.   The six plants in the foreground below were planted at the same time as the others, but are already much larger than the other four.

Russian Mammoth sunflowers

The sedum wilts slightly in the heat of the day and rebounds by morning.  It seems to catch a lot of falling moisture as seen by these big balls of water.  I think I may need to shade them a little better.  They’re in the same bed as the Turk’s Cap, which enjoys partial shade.  The corner WAS in the shade when I planted them last fall, but the neighbors severely pruned the Texas Lilac tree that used to shade them.

water droplets on sedum leaves

Turk's Cap budding

It’s a challenge to photograph the honeybees on the gauras.   They move quickly from flower to flower, and the entire flower stalk sways so easily in the breeze.  These two photos came out fairly sharp, however.

Indigo Spires salvia barely lets on that it died back to the ground over winter.  These foot-long spires of flowers are everywhere and more are on their way.  In the second photo, the white Autumn Sage can be seen in the background, as well as the yellow blooms of Zexmenia.

The scissor-tailed flycatcher is Oklahoma’s state bird, but still calls the neighbor’s Mulberry tree its home.   Also known as the Texas Bird of Paradise, it is common in our area.   It is a beautiful bird, but I suspect it is the reason why I haven’t seen many butterflies and why the black swallowtail caterpillars disappeared.    It eats berries, grasshoppers, crickets, butterflies, moths and caterpillars.  I sure hope it got the squash borer bug, too.  Here it sits in the top of another neighbor’s tree at sunset.

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher ... and butterfly eater!

Additional Signs of Spring

I continue to be amazed by how much change just a week or two can bring in the springtime.   The plants that went dormant for the winter are bursting with brand new growth, while the evergreen plants are growing fuller and lusher.  It makes me wish that spring would last all year, especially considering how Central Texas heats up so quickly and moves from a short spring to a long, prolonged, dry and oppressing summer.  We’ve already had a couple of ninety degree days and are forecast to reach that high again in just a few days.  Oh, how I wish it would rain instead!  We still have received no significant rain since last September.  I sure hope the rain comes soon and sticks around for a week or two …

The salvia greggii (autumn sage) is blooming again, and – this year – is putting on a better show.  I planted these two bushes last April, so they didn’t really get going until early summer.  They are two to three times as large this season.   The Indigo Spires salvia plants are really bushing up and out, but still have not sent up any flower stalks.  I truly cannot wait for these plants to start blooming – they add a lot to that side of the bed.

salvia greggii

Indigo Spires salvia

salvia greggii

The Copper Canyon Daisies have really grown a lot the past two weeks.  If you remember, my post on 3/19 showed just a few sprouts of green shooting up from their bases.  Now they’re compact little bushes.   I expect them to reach three feet wide this year, but they’re going to be a little cramped between the salvia greggii and rosemary hedge.   They really were beautiful during their bloom period last fall.

Copper Canyon Daisies

I let the lavender get a little too leggy this season, but it still flowered.  Once it is done blooming, I will prune it back quite a bit and hopefully it will do alright.  I’ve had the bush now for a few years, so it may be time soon to make cuttings or buy another plant altogether.   I still have dried lavender from last spring.  In fact, just this past weekend, I put a handful in a pot on the stove and let it simmer half of the day.  The house smelled wonderful!

Spanish lavender

The Whirling Butterfly gauras have started blooming and won’t stop until the first frost.   They require very little care.  I give them some compost tea a couple of times a year and prune back spent racemes, but that’s it.  They are each at least three feet in diameter and now about a foot, maybe a foot and a half tall.  These plants send up a multitude of flowering branches up to four feet tall that are covered in white blooms.   The two plants together should be six feet wide by four foot tall this season.

Whirling Butterfly Gaura

Gaura bushes

The rose bush is four times larger than it was when I transplanted it last spring.  I gave it a bit of bone meal a couple of weeks ago and it is covered with thirty to forty blooms right now.  It really is a knock-out.

Double Knock-Out Rose

double the pleasure - more roses in bloom

The flare hibiscus has tripled its new growth in the past two weeks.  It will reach about four feet tall and three feet wide and eventually will be covered in large  fuschia-colored blooms.  I can hardly wait … hibiscus always brings a beautiful, tropical feel to the garden.

Perennial Hibiscus - Flare variety (blooms fuschia)

You’ve already seen the amaryllis blooms in my previous post.  You can’t see it from this photo, but another bloom has opened on the opposite side of this flower and two more will be open soon between them.  It is a gorgeous flower.

Amaryllis

The Mother-of-Thyme simply did not do well for me in between the flagstones.  A few of them appeared to have died, so I dug them up and transplanted alyssum in its place and also sowed more seeds to fill in the gaps.  I do have a couple of yellow thyme that came back and are filling in quite nicely again, however.

Sweet alyssum between pavers - yellow thyme in background

The truly wild flowers I have in the yard are limited to false garlic and primrose.  I don’t mind the primrose too much, but could do without the false garlic.

primrose growing wild along the fence line

primrose flower

Along the fence where the wildflower bed was, I have several flowering plants going strong.  The red verbena is just spectacular – literally covered all over with scarlet flowers.  The euryops seem to struggle a bit when the temperatures reach above 85, and I’m hoping this won’t be a continued issue once they are well-established (I transplanted them just a few weeks ago).  I come home in the evening and their foliage is wilted and unhappy, but by morning they look fine again.  I hope they last the summer as I really enjoy their bright, yellow profusion of blooms.   I lost a fern leaf lavender plant, but have a replacement getting acclimated.  I’ll transplant it this weekend.  I think I watered it too much.  Too much love, I guess. 🙂

Euryops flowers

Verbena in scarlet - love this plant

Fern Leaf lavender established after transplant

Here’s a look at a couple of the beds.  You can see that there is quite a bit of new growth already, but it’s still pretty bare looking.  There is room for about seven or eight milkweed plants.  I have twenty cuttings scheduled to arrive before the weekend, so those spaces will soon be filled up.

Corner of the yard - looks pretty bare as of yet

The purple prairie verbena just wasn’t going to come back, so I pulled it out.  I wasn’t able to locate additional plants in the few nurseries I tried, so I went with something different.  The homestead purple verbena is a lower profile, creeping variety.   It still blooms like crazy from late spring through fall like the purple prairie, but it should be hardy in our area.  I think it will look quite nice under and around the orange, yellow and red blooms of the milkweed as well the black-eyed susans.  It has a reputation for being a “rampant” fast-growing plant, so I hope it will fill in quickly over the spring and into the summer.

Homestead purple verbena - replaced the purple prairie verbena

Can anyone identify this plant?  I can’t remember anymore what it is, but it’s got cute little buttons of lavender flowers on it.  The foliage is having a hard time because the pill bugs are constantly eating it (prompting me to use Jenny’s – of Rock Rose Garden – solution: empty grapefruit peels turned upside down as “traps”).  Works quite well because I always have a ton of pillbugs under them, but the foliage eating continues…

I forget what this is, but the pillbugs have had a time with the leaves

The black-eyed susans are coming back strong, too.  They form a triangle in this spot of the garden.  I think they’ll be double the size this year and fill in the space nicely.  You can also see the fall aster, which continues to spread out.  It is at least four or five times the size that it was when I transplanted it last spring.

a triangle of Black-Eyed Susans

Fall aster continues to spread

The lantana is rebounding – the first plant has covered it’s woody base with new stems that already reach eight or nine inches.  I even see the beginnings of flower clusters.  The second plant is almost to the point where the other one was three weeks ago and will soon look just like this one.

Texas Lantana, plant one

Lantana, plant two, starting to come back

Turk’s cap is in the corner of the yard.  It was mostly shaded due to an over hanging Texas Lilac tree in the neighbor’s yard.  They cut their tree back a lot this spring, however, leaving the corner only slightly shaded.  I hope the Turk’s cap does well despite the additional sun exposure.   It has about six times as many leaves as it did just three weeks ago.  Also in this small bed (where the mint used to be) are two Autumn Joy sedums.

Turk's Cap

No matter how much rosemary I use for cooking (which is quite a bit!), the Tuscan Blue rosemary continues to bush out considerably.  It can get to six feet tall, but I won’t let it.  I’ll be more aggressive about pruning it this year.

Tuscan Blue rosemary

Here’s a shot of the creeping lantana.  Last year it created a ground cover that was four foot in diameter, spilling over the rock borders and into the yard and onto the path.  I had to cut it back a few times, but it is an exceptionally fast grower that blooms to frost.   I loved it so much that I bought two more for the bed along the fence line.  The butterflies love it, too!

Trailing Lantana

I keep forgetting to take pictures of the zexmenia, which is between the red and the white autumn sage bushes.  It is already twice as large as it was this time last year.  I think it may be okay in this spot for this year, but next spring I will have to transplant it.  It just won’t be able to compete with the salvias any longer.

Last, but certainly not least, is a pic of the Four-Nerve daisies.   It, too, is several times larger than last spring and continues to send up more and more and MORE flowers too beautiful not to include in this post!

Four-Nerve daisies

 

Out of the Old Comes the New

It is hard to believe that it has been four months since my last post.  Life has been really busy.  The holidays, the loss of my grandfather, getting ready for the baby who’s scheduled to arrive at the end of May … so many things and very little time for gardening.  Good thing there’s not much to do over the winter in the garden!

The past two weekends I have spent a considerable amount of time in the yard straightening up after the winter, getting things ready for spring planting and installing a new garden bed.   We had such a dry fall and winter that the yard really was in poor shape.  I lost a crop of broccoli as well as lettuce due to the hard freezes.   I should have covered them and mulched better, but I really thought they’d do alright.  Unfortunately, I was wrong.  Luckily, the spinach fared alright through it all as did the carrots and we enjoyed the harvests.  The spinach is finishing up now – literally going to seed as I write this.

Bloomsdale spinach going to seed

This spring, I have Celebrity and Early Girl tomatoes in the ground, along with bell peppers, habaneros, cucumbers and zucchini.  My wife also wanted to try watermelon and cantaloupe, a first for us, but we’re going to give them a go.   Looking back at the garden’s performance last year, I made the decision to put together another garden box – this time on the north side of the house where it will be in full sun all day long.  The other boxes just didn’t allow for enough exposure to the sun because of how the shade falls in the afternoon.  They only received – at most – six hours of direct sun, but most vegetables need at least eight hours to be really productive.  The new garden box measures eight feet by four feet and is a lower profile (half the height of the others).  This may prove to be small for the watermelon and cantaloupe, but time will tell!

The dry fall and winter also made for a very disappointing wildflower bed.  As the year before, I sowed the seeds in October, but they just never came up.  I made sure to keep the ground moist, but stopped after about thirty days when it was apparent that they weren’t going to germinate.  Instead of letting it sit there completely bare and taunting me with weeds, I worked it over and bought some transplants as additions to the butterfly garden.   Those include:  two Texas Lantana, two Trailing Lantana, two Fern Leaf Lavender, two Mexican Mint Marigold (tarragon), two scarlet verbena, two Mexican Heather (cuphea), and two Euryops.  I also sowed Maximillian Sunflower seeds in the northeast corner of the yard (down at the very end of the photo immediately below).

What was once the wildflower bed is now a home for flowering natives

Scarlet verbena flowers

Euryops flowers - "African bush daisy" - part of the Plants for Texas program

Trailing lantana - these two new transplants makes a total of three in the garden - I love them!

Fern Leaf Lavender- a new addition this year and part of the Plants for Texas program

Fern Leaf lavender flower - BEAUTIFUL!

Tarragon - I think this is Mexican Mint Marigold

Spontaneous primrose almost ready to flower (reseeded all over the yard from last year's wildflower bed)

Despite the dry spring thus far (I think our last significant rain was back in September), the perennial flowering plants are coming back to life.  Out of the old, comes the new – as they say.   Already, I have about ten milkweed plants coming back to life.  There are still about twenty that haven’t come back yet.  I’ll give them more time and hopefully they will.  In the meantime, I’ve sown another twenty seeds as replacements if they don’t come back.  If they do, well – the more the merrier (at least for the Queen and Monarch butterflies!).

Milkweed is coming along already!

It seems I’ve lost one of the Texas Lantana.  It has yet to sprout any new growth, but the other plant just a few feet away is already rebounded.

Texas Lantana

The Black-Eyed Susans have come back up, and it seems they’ve also reseeded around the original plants.  I left enough room for them to fill in!

Black-Eyed Susans

One of the purple prairie verbena is starting to make its way back, but the other is still lifeless.   They bloomed all the way from March through winter until we received snow.  I sure hope they do so again this year – the butterflies loved them.  In preparation, I pruned them back several weeks ago.  I’ll give them a couple more weeks to see if they made it through the freeze.

Purple prairie verbena starting to come back on one side

The fall aster has also spread its growth outwards, creating a larger diameter of new growth.  It is such a pretty plant once it begins flowering, so I’m already anxious to see how big it will grow over the summer and how spectacular it’s fall show will be.

Fall aster

The Four Nerve Daisies are a wonderful part of the garden.  The foliage is evergreen, unlike most of the plants in the garden.  It was lonely in its little corner of the bed while everything else retreated for the winter, but it continued sending up yellow flowers through the fall and early winter.  Now that spring has arrived, it has grown considerably and has a multitude of new flower stalks ready to open up!

Four Nerve Daisies

The rosemary bushes are also evergreen and unscathed from the winter months.  Here you see both plants, the prostrate rosemary and the Tuscan Blue.  The prostrate put on a show of blue flowers late in the fall.  I prefer the flavor of the Tuscan Blue, though both are highly aromatic.  I love to run my hands through them and take a deep breath!  MMmmmm!

Prostrate rosemary (foreground) and Tuscan Blue

Another evergreen plant is the Double Knockout rose bush.  It is covered with new buds and soon will be adding some great red hues to the garden.  I can’t wait!

Double Knockout Rose Bush

Both Copper Canyon Daisy plants are sending up new growth, too.  In the fall they were absolutely covered with yellow blooms.

Copper Canyon Daisy

I was worried about the Zexmenia, but it has surprised me.  Just in the past few days alone, it has sent up a lot of green leaves…

Zexmenia

Salvia greggii was also green throughout the winter, and with the onset of warmer weather, has really bushed out (these were taken after I pruned it back a bit).  I have two different colors: white (foreground) and red (behind).

Salvia greggii

One of my favorite plants in the garden is the Indigo Spires salvia.  It died back completely to the ground over the winter, but it is going strong now that spring has arrived.  It grew to over four feet tall by four feet wide last year, covered in eight inch long spires of purple flowers that were a favorite of bumble bees and honey bees.

Indigo Spires salvia (two plants)

The Autumn Joy sedum was a late addition last fall, but it turned out to be beautiful with pink flowers that darkened to red.  It died back to the ground over winter, but you couldn’t tell it by looking at it today.  Also, Turk’s Cap has just started popping up over the past few days.

Autumn Joy sedum

 

the other sedum plant, up close

Turk's Cap growth (all within the past three days)

Whirling Butterfly Gaura bushes also died back completely during the winter.  Judging from the growth they’ve put on the past couple of weeks, they could easily be twice the size that they were last year.  These were also a hit with the honey bees last year and added a whimsical feel to the southern side of the garden as the flower stalks twirled and whirled around in the breeze.

two Whirling Butterfly Gauras

new buds on the Gaura bush

this Gaura bud already shows signs of additional life ... not quite sure what these little guys are

The Spanish lavender is looking a little lean, but it is still managing to form flower buds.  These were very popular with the honey bees, too.  After it flowers, I will prune it back by a third and hope that it bushes out again.

Spanish lavender

Since I use so much thyme in cooking, I have a total of four plants now.  This one is easily a foot in diameter and is starting to flower.  My favorite chicken marinade uses a couple teaspoons of fresh thyme leaves, a tablespoon each of fresh rosemary and oregano leaves, 1/2 cup of olive oil, a teaspoon of sea salt and the juice of two lemons.  GREAT on the grill!

English thyme

thyme flowers

And, FINALLY, the herb garden.  In the pots, I have peppermint from two years ago.  Due to neglect, it mostly died (yes, you CAN kill mint!), but it’s coming back again.  In the bed below are chives (which should be flowering soon)(6 plants), oregano (3), thyme (2), and Italian parsley (3).  Two of the parsley plants almost succumbed to the freeze, but, with a little pruning and care, they have put on more leaves and soon will be huge bushes that will threaten to crowd out the other plants.   I plan to add a couple of basil plants as well to the garden, which I’ll probably pick up tomorrow.  They will have to go elsewhere in the garden as they won’t fit in here.  Also, in the bed behind the lantana, I have two fennel plants, two Italian parsley plants, and three dill plants (all of which are host plants for swallowtail butterflies – Yes, I love those big black beauties and will be raising a few more broods this year!).  They will all go to flower and be a good nectar source for all of those beneficial insects that are welcome guests in the garden.

Herb garden, 3.19.11

Oh, I almost forgot.  I put a new bed in the front yard, outside our bedroom window.  I have two Desperado sage bushes in there (planted last fall) and have just recently placed about fifteen blue lobelia plants and about twenty red pillar salvias.  They are remarkably colorful (like most salvias) and should attract butterflies, bees and hummingbirds.  Take a look at this striking, scarlet beauty!

Red Pillar Salvia

 

Fall is Coming

I took a much-needed leave of absence for the last month or so.  The hottest month of the year in Central Texas is August, so there was little I could do in the garden besides try to save a few plants that burned up in the hot, dry weather.  Now that the hottest weather has passed, I’ve managed to get outside the last couple of weekends to survey the damage, pull up unwanted plants and do a little maintenance.

The veggie garden is all but finished for the summer, but I still have some peppers and tomatoes that should be producing through the fall.  I have some broccoli in the ground now for the fall/winter garden.  I do have plans yet to get spinach, carrots and lettuce in the ground as well.  I can’t believe it’s that time of year again.  Last spring we were lamenting the fact that we would have no more fresh spinach and lettuce for awhile and now it seems it’s come around so quickly that I’m a little behind.

yellow and green bell peppers and cayenne in the back (not visible)

broccoli!

I certainly intended to be ahead of the game at this point, and indeed I was a month ago.  I sowed several broccoli and spinach seeds inside, but – due to neglect – they suffered and I decided to let them die off.  I bought broccoli transplants instead.  I made sure to put them in a different bed this season as it is recommended to plant them in the same place every three years.  The spinach I’ll sow directly as soon as this week – the time is right now.  The carrots will soon follow and then I’ll do successive plantings of lettuce through the winter.  I can’t wait until I get them on my plate!

The herb garden suffered a bit through my neglecting it the past month.  Then we received such a torrential downpour from the leftover tropical depression that the plants just looked downright ugly.  I harvested what I wanted, then ripped up the remaining plants and threw them onto the compost pile.  Fire ants had moved into the bed, no doubt relocating from some other spot due to all of the rain.  Having the garden bare was a good time to kill them off using several pots of boiling water.  I think I succeeded in killing most of them off, as is evident by the piles of red carcasses!

flat parsley, chives and oregano

In the meantime, I have more chives, parsley and oregano going, but I need to find some thyme as well.  I don’t plan to grow any more sage in the herb garden, and instead have expanded on the chives and oregano – and hopefully thyme (all the local nurseries were out).  I use those three herbs more than anything  – well, those and rosemary, but I have the rosemary planted elsewhere.  The basil plant grew so large due to my continuing to trim off the flowers that the weight of it finally tipped it over following the heavy rain.  I pulled a good six cups of firmly packed leaves off of the one plant and made pesto.  I have a tub of fresh pesto in the fridge that we’re eating on (we put it on some homemade pizza the other day and it was outstanding!) and another tub frozen in the freezer for later use.  I still have so many dried basil and sage that I can seriously provide for our needs for the next year or two, provided they stay fresh.

Butterfly garden

The butterfly garden is not disappointing me.  In early March I landscaped the area and dropped several plants in.  Now they have taken over the spot and are putting on a good show.  The verbena didn’t suffer at all through the summer and I’ve had to trim it several times to maintain a nice, compact bush.  The Texas lantana is sprawling out everywhere, especially now that I’ve cut back all of the fennel (which, by the way, is now growing back!).  The fall aster is gearing up for its fall show, with a beautiful display of lavender flowers.  The black-eyed susans look like they’re done for the year, but I’m still hoping they’ll come back this fall.  There are a couple of new flowers, but the foliage looks pretty bad.  The trailing lantana continues to push outward across the gravel walkway and will need to be cut back … again!  It has not stopped flowering since March.  The far end of the butterfly garden is in desperate need of re-spacing.  I’ll have to transplant the salvia greggii and the zexmenia, which has been overcome by the indigo spires and copper canyon daisies.  I’ll most likely have to move the rosemary, as well.  Since the tarragon didn’t make it through the summer, I now have room to move it over.  I’ll wait another couple of weeks to do that.

blooming milkweed (from cuttings) and verbena

indigo spires salvia and copper canyon daisies (right)

trailing lantana and four-nerve daisies (foreground)

whirling butterfly gauras

fall aster staring its fall show

zexmenia with a couple of blooms

Texas lantana and fall aster

thyme walkway

And the milkweed is doing well, too.  The largest suffered through the heat and dropped most of its leaves, but it has since rebounded.  The other cuttings are really flowering now.  Those that I started from seed are getting larger.  I was worried about them for awhile.  I had to water them literally every day to keep them alive through August.  The ground was so dry that a huge crack opened up along the entire length of the bed.  I lost a handful of the forty plants I had because they fell into the crack!  I put down some fresh dirt, mulched with compost and that seemed to work, but it wasn’t until all of the rain the past few weeks that the crack has filled in and the plants have taken off.  It’s almost time for the monarch migration.  I don’t know if they’re far enough along to generate much interest from them as they migrate, but there is always next year!  I was shocked to discover a couple baby monarch cats on them today, … so, we’ll see!  Despite my expectations, it looks like they ARE going to flower this year, even though they typically do not the first year from seed (which surprises me since I planted them in July!).    I have also harvested a hundred or so seeds from the cuttings that produced pods.  Perhaps I can get them going next spring …

milkweed bed grown from seed

milkweed plant

the cluster at the top indicates they will bloom soon

baby Monarch caterpillar!

I also ripped out all of the spearmint.  I wanted them to flower, which they did, and because of their invasive tendency, I decided to do away with them.  I pulled them up a couple of weeks ago, which was no easy task – they’re roots and runners sprawled in all direction.  Yet, after two weeks, there were no signs of them coming back to life, so I decided to plant a couple Turk’s Cap plants as well as Autumn Joy Sedum.  We needed more red in the garden anyway.

Turk's Cap (rear) and Autumn Joy Sedum

That’s all the updating I have for now.  I’m off to the nurseries to see what I can find, then I have a day cut out for me.  I’ll be brewing some more compost tea and doing some transplanting and trimming.  I’ll be back with some updates in the next few days, so thanks, in advance, for checking back.  I’m sorry, once again, for my absence the last month or so!

If you don’t mind, leave me a comment and let me know what you’re up to in your garden!

Beneficial Insect Files: Giant Swallowtail Butterfly


Giant Swallowtail on trailing lantana

I wrote a few days ago about the butterfly “that got away” – after seeing what I thought was the largest Tiger Swallowtail I’d ever seen in the garden.  Now I’m pretty sure that I was mistaken.  It wasn’t a Tiger Swallowtail at all!

The Giant Swallowtail is cousin to the commonly seen Eastern Black and Tiger Swallowtail butterflies.  It is also the largest species of butterfly in North America.  Adult wingspan ranges from four inches to nearly six and a half inches across, with an average of about five and a half inches.   Like its cousins, the Giant is brightly colored and has a whimsical hop to its flight.  They are quite a fascinating species to watch as they move through the garden!

At first glance, I thought the Giant was a Tiger Swallowtail because of the main colors displayed.  There is a big difference, though.  The Giant is mostly black with a solid yellow band running diagonally from the tip of the fore wing across the thorax and across again to the tip of the other fore wing.  In addition, there is another solid yellow band that runs from the middle of the tip of the fore wing perpendicularly across the fore wing band and then down diagonally along the border of the hind wings.  The Giant’s tail is solid black, with a yellow “eye” in the middle.    In contrast, the Tiger Swallowtail is mostly yellow with black stripes running perpendicularly across the fore wings, resembling tiger stripes.    The hind wings on the Giant are also much larger than the Tiger.

As far as range of flight, Giant Swallowtails are very common throughout the deep south and southwest.   Their range continues up from New Mexico, east of the Rockies through the midwest states.  They are also common throughout Florida and along the eastern coastal states all the way up to Vermont.  In northern climates, their flight is from May through August, and here in Central Texas, they can be seen into the middle of October.

Female Giants lay their eggs one at a time on twigs and leaves of their host plants, which include those of the citrus family, rue, prickly ash and hop tree.   This is why Giant Swallowtail butterflies are also known as “orange dogs” and “orange puppies” because, in its larva form, it can be destructive to plants of the citrus family (1).  As caterpillars, the Giant starts out looking like bird droppings, then develops into a brown snake-like worm with a false head and eye. If these defenses fail, like other swallowtail, they possess osmeterium, which poke out like orange antenna and emit a foul odor.

Adult Giants nectar on flowers of the milkweed family, japanese honeysuckle, goldenrod, lantana, bougainvillea and azaleas (2).

Did you know??

There are over 500 species of swallowtail butterflies in the world?

It takes about a month for a swallowtail butterfly to complete it’s journey from an egg to an adult.   They move through four phases of development:  egg, larva (caterpillar), pupa and butterfly.