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Keeping the Fall Chores Away

By: Stacey Wildberger

I am once again appealing to your lazy side when it comes to fall gardening chores.  I am asking you to consider leaving the leaves, resisting the urge to cut back the stalks and let Mother Nature be her own housekeeper.  If we are to garden for wildlife and adopt an attitude of “re-think” pretty your fall to-so list can list can be greatly reduce, leaving time for football, bonfires and apple picking.  The bees, butterflies, birds and even small mammals will greatly benefit as well from your lazy gardening style. 

Let’s talk about the leaf litter, I know Cape has a great many trees in most parts so you may not be able to leave them all but consider using the leaves in your yard as natural mulch and fertilizer as well as habitat and food for wildlife.  By letting the leaves accumulate where they fall or even moving them to garden beds you are letting Mother Nature fertilize your yard for you.  The leaves will break down naturally over time adding rich organic matter to the soil.  You can speed up the process by mulching the leaves; although it is preferable to wait until spring to mulch the leaves as many of our butterflies, moths, bees and other insects will use the leaf litter to overwinter, emerging in the spring.  These are beneficial bugs and pollinators that are greatly needed in the ecosystem.  In addition to adding to the fertility of the soil you are also increasing the soils ability to penetrate and retain water. Another benefit to those leaves are a source of food during lean times. There are many birds and even small animals that forage on those hibernating insects and keep them fed throughout the long winter. One of my favorite insect-foraging birds is the flicker.  He will root through your leaves looking for tasty treats!  Instead of wasting energy raking and bagging leaves this fall consider leaving at least some of them and using them as natural fertilizer, topsoil, habitat and a food source for the local fauna.

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Another chore you can skip is cutting down the stalks of your dead perennials.  There is still a lot of life left in them!  Once again, they are a valuable food source for our migrating and over wintering birds.  The sight of a goldfinch clinging to an Echinacea seed can be a bright spot on a dreary winter’s day. Those high fat content seeds can fuel our feathered friends through the old winter, keeping them energized and warm.  Those fluffy seed heads can make excellent nesting material in the spring mating season.  There are also many insects that will overwinter in the stems of the flowers as well. In particular hollow or pith filled stems make the perfect winter home for these beneficial bugs.  I find Joe Pye Weed, Baptisia (False indigo), Helenium sp. (Sneezeweed), Echinacea (Coneflower) are ideal stems for overwintering.  Once spring comes you can cut the stems, leaving 12-18” standing to accommodate the late risers and even as fresh nesting sites.   As the plants sprout new growth you won’t even notice those hollowed stems left behind. Some examples of insects that will use your garden litter are queen bumblebees, swallowtail caterpillars, frogs, spiders, and beetles.

Many of you may have seen the troubling report that came out recently on the decline of birds, nearly 3 billion since 1970.  Many of those are the backyard birds we enjoy viewing at our backyard feeders and natural areas in the community.  There are many reasons for the decline, including habitat loss, pesticide use, insect declines, climate change as well as direct threats such as window strikes and cats.  We can help our backyard friends by beginning to think differently in who we are gardening for.  By leaving our yards a little bit “messy’ and skipping a few autumn chores we can provide much needed habitat and food source.  The food web is occurring right in your backyard.  If you provide the habitat required for insects to overnight in, they become the food birds require to rear their young on (96% of terrestrial birds feed their young insects). By leaving the seed heads, grasses and other debris you are providing the nesting material they need as well. During this time of mass extinction we have a responsibility to those without a voice to provide for them in our own landscapes.  It may seem to be a drop in the bucket but by recognizing our place and obligation we will begin to make broader changes that can make a difference.  Start in your garden, encourage others to re-think pretty and begin to see changes. Our landscapes can be both beneficial to other species and beautiful to the human eye.  One of my favorite winter views is looking out over the garden with its standing stems and leafy ground, seeing the snow cling to the upright forms. I much prefer that to stripped down, mowed, and raked bare landscape.  Void of any life.

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There are some things you can so this fall and winter if you cannot sit idle.  Plan a new native garden for next year.  You can prep the area now putting down a layer of cardboard or newspaper and piling compost, and those extra leaves.  By next spring your new plot will be ready to plant.  As I always do, I encourage you to plant native plants as they have co-evolved with the local fauna and are best prepared to nourish our local ecosystem. Fall is also a great time to plant as well, which is why we have our plant sale in the fall……

Which brings me to my final point, a great BIG THANK YOU for all the support the community gave to our Native Fall Fest and Plant Sale.  We were overwhelmed by the support that you showed.  You came early, you bought it all and I hope you learned something too from many of the experts we had on hand.  Chris Pax, a local landscape designer (by local I mean a Cape resident) was on hand to guide people in selecting the right plants for their landscape, advice of what plants work well in what conditions.  In addition to her landscape design business Chris is making a series of videos that you can watch at home on a variety of plants and gardening topics.  Her first one, all about Ferns is available on her website https://www.annapolisnativelandscape.com/.  I highly recommend it!  You can also check out the landscape design services she offers.  Nancy Lawson, author and blogger who is “cultivating compassion for all creatures great and small” was there to share how plants and animals interact and what to plant to attract pollinators and butterflies, provide habitat, and what host plants certain butterflies need to lay their eggs.  Check out her website for great articles and her book “The Humane Gardner: Nurturing a Backyard Habitat for Wildlife” https://www.humanegardener.com  Other great partners were the AA Co Watershed Stewards with a great demo on slowing down runoff using native plants, the Master Gardeners were there to share their Baywise program with us and tell you how you can become Baywise Certified.  Thanks also to Adkins Arboretum for sharing their expertise and the great work they are doing at their Ridgley, MD location. The Fest/Sale was sold out by the end with many plants sold out in the first hour.  Hope you got everything you were looking for but if not we will be back next fall with more great native plants at super low prices! Thanks again for coming out and adding native plants to your landscapes.

The Serene Ravine of Lake Claire

By: Stacey Wildberger w/ Al Todd

There is a little known, sometimes forgotten Ravine that feeds into Lake Claire, across from the property address 1037 Lake Claire.  According to resident Al Todd, most of the flow into the ravine is intermittent (i.e. flows mostly in response to rainfall and storm water runoff with some minimal base flow)  The watershed reached up to St Margaret’s Road and Hampton Road, Glenwood Dale Drive to Summit Drive.  When the sewer lines were first installed in the Cape, a main line was run down through this area and for a long time there was an access road to the pump house that ran from Lake Claire Drive down.  The rusted poles and part of the old cable gate are still there.  Soon after the sewer line, a storm drain inlet was installed at 1037 Lake Claire and the original stream channel that ran through this lot was placed in a concrete culvert to prevent flooding of the road. Gabion check dams were installed about the same time to prevent too much erosion from the storm water system.   It is likely that the entire area was disturbed during this decade of sewer installation and storm water work. A group of residents formed Friends of Lake Claire and began working on cleaning up the many invasive plants and hauled tons of debris out of the ravine, pointing to the fact that it was likely a dumping ground and storage site for construction supplies. In 2013, with funds from a grant, they hired Eco-Goats as an environmentally and efficient way to remove the invasive plants that covered area.  You can still see the vines hanging down to just above the tallest goats reach.  Later, Friends of Lake Claire became Cape Conservation Corps in 2015 as we broadened our focus to other natural areas of Cape St Claire. 

Interestingly, there is still a small intermittent wetland on the lower west side of the ravine that is likely fed by groundwater.  It remains wet for several days to a week after rainy spells.    Bald cypress and willow were planted down there; keeping the lower part of the trail very wet as it overflows during these periods.  Long-time Broadneck Peninsula Mac Rideout resident shared the following story with Al many years ago, before his passing.  “His family owned much land in the area (including Whitehall manor and other properties).  He was a real history buff and wrote a history of the area some years ago.  One of the stories he told me one time he was at my house was that when he was a boy (and there was no Cape St Claire, no Highway 50, no Bay Bridge, etc.  They used to ride their horses all over this area because they were part of the Pony Club (red building at entrance to CSC) and used to race on the track that used to be at Revell Downs and the straight race track that turned into Hampton Road.  He said they used to ride horses down to the beach near Lake Claire and they always stopped at a spring that was in the ravine just behind my house.   That spring is gone of course, probably largely from the reduction of recharge from development.”   

Over the past year Cape Conservation has stepped up our efforts to further clear invasive plants from the Ravine to make way for beneficial native plants.  Some of the plants have been planted by us but many have sprung up on their own after being given a chance to thrive once the invasives were under control.  Last spring we experimented with fighting plants with plants.  We ordered 200 plugs of Packera Aurea golden ragwort and planted them in groups of 10-12 in various 5’ circles areas that invasive garlic mustard was known to grow.  The idea is that the golden ragwort will spread and suppress the garlic mustard. Throughout the spring and summer we have met almost weekly to hand pull the garlic mustard before it produced seed to help stop the spread of even more.  We have watched those small plants thrive, and spread in just this first season.  As we are weeding we have been planning where to plant another 150 plugs at the end of September for even more coverage.

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Jewelweed

As I mentioned, the more we have removed the invasive plants from the area the more you can see other plants, particularly native plants volunteering in the space.  I was very excited to see the following native plants come up in the Ravine as they offer valuable resources to our local fauna.  Please do not judge these plants by their names (almost all end in WEED).  A weed is simply a plant growing in a place you do not want it.  While some of these natives tend to be a bit aggressive they all serve an important part of our ecosystem.  The banks of the ravine are covered right now in Impatiens capensis jewelweed, a 3-5’ late spring to early fall orange blooming herbaceous plant.  One of the best features of this “jewel” is it attracts hummingbirds, butterflies and  bees  It is commonly found growing in ditches and along creeks so the Serene Ravine is the perfect location for it to thrive. 

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Boneset

One of my favorite pollinator attracting plants that has sprung up in the Serene Ravine is Eupatorium serotinum late-flowering thoroughwort or boneset.  A member of the aster family, it is fall blooming so it offers an important late season nectar source for pollinators and migrating butterflies.  The tiny white flowers can be seen covered in the largest variety of bees, flies, and other small insects I have ever seen.

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Common Milkweed

As we know, Asclepias sp. milkweed is the only host plant that Monarch butterflies can lay their eggs on.  The Serene Ravine has become a nursery for the baby monarch caterpillars as Asclepias syriaca common milkweed has volunteered there.  While I was there last week I found many caterpillars munching happily away on this plant that many consider a “weed”.  These caterpillars will become the next generation of Monarchs that will soon begin their fall migration.  Luckily, in addition to their host plant we also have several nectar sources at the ravine for them to fuel up on for their long journey.

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Pokeweed

This next native “weed” I have a love/hate relationship with, Phytolacca Americana, pokeweed.  I love it because the dark purple berries provide a wonderful source of food for migrating and over wintering birds, the hummingbirds enjoy the nectar of the white flower and it is a host plant for giant leopard moth.  The berries even nourish our neighborhood foxes, opossums and raccoons. The hate because it can become so aggressive and quickly take over an area.  In my own yard I let it be in some of the wilder areas but try to control (remove) it from the garden areas.  In the right setting this “weed” can be a valuable addition to the ecosystem. 

What I learned over the last several months of weeding at the Serene Ravine was to not judge the plants that are growing there too quickly.  I have spent time getting to know what is there, identifying them and finding out what benefits or hazards they offer.  I took time to look for caterpillars on the milkweed, watched the swallowtail butterflies sip nectar from a highly invasive vine we are trying to eradicate, I studied the delicate boneset supporting so many varieties of pollinators and I noticed the ripening berries of the pokeweed that will soon nourish a variety of birds, including cedar waxwings, mourning doves, eastern kingbird, great catbird, summer tanager and hooded warblers. I encourage you to stop by the Serene Ravine and walk the path, stop on the benches and observe the life that is being supported in this little slice of natural area.  We need Wednesday Weed Warriors to control the invasive that continue to pop up and nurture the natives that spring up to support the local fauna.  If you are interested in helping with the continued restoration efforts please let me know at president@capeconservation.org. 

Our Native Plant Sale & Fest: Fall is the Time to Plant

By Stacey Wildberger

As usual the summer passes by quickly and we are preparing to welcome fall this month.  The good news is that fall is the best time of the year to plant!   We are having our 3rd annual Native Plant Fest and Sale on September 21st (9 AM to noon in the field behind the Cape St Claire clubhouse), so there will be a great selection of native plants suited for your Cape landscape right in your own backyard!  Why is fall the best the time of the year to plant?  The benefits to planting this time of year are numerous.  The cooler weather means less stress on the plants, less watering for you to do and they get a head start on getting established for next year.  There is also less insect and disease pressure and fall-planted blooming plants provide support for pollinators.  Of course the cooler temperatures also mean a more pleasant planting experience for the gardener!  We are going to have plugs, quarts and gallons in a variety of plants from A-Z (aster to zizia!) Let’s explore the plants we will have (subject to availability) at the sale.  You can see a complete list with hyperlinks to full descriptions on our website https://capeconservationcorps.org/events/event/fall-native-plant-fest-sale/

Let’s talk about plugs first.  This year we have ordered plugs from North Creek Nurseries for a variety of our plants.  They will be available by the flat and ½ flat.  A plug is a plant grown in cells of a planting tray and are a great way to get your garden started quickly. The LP50 (50 plugs per flat) are 5” deep by 2” square and the LP32 (32 plugs per flat) are 4” deep by 2.22” square.  Plugs will typically reach flowering maturity in their first year of planting.  They are quicker and more reliable than seeds, getting established in weeks rather than months.  They are an inexpensive alternative to larger sizes.  So, if you want to buy a large number of plants as groundcover or for large areas, you get more bang for your buck.  We will have Carex, ferns, and several ground covers available as plugs.  We will offer 3 ferns, Marginal Wood fern and Christmas fern for drier, shady areas and the beautiful Cinnamon fern that prefers a moister site.  Carex and grasses offer a beautiful structural element to your landscape and we will several varieties for all types of conditions.  One of my favorite Carexes is the soft flowing Carex pensylvanica; it thrives in part to full shade, dry to medium moisture. This low growing sedge with its soft, delicate arching leaves will make an excellent ground cover.  Another highly adaptable sedge is creek sedge.  It can tolerate full sun to full shade, moist to dry coil conditions as it works as a slope stabilizer or as an edging to a garden path.  Every garden needs the work horse ornamental native grass Little blue-stem.  This upright grass will not only add structure to your garden in the summer months but the fall and winter beauty of this grass cannot be beat.  It will thrive in poor conditions, full sun with dry to medium suits it best! Just 2-4” in height it will be a perfect addition to your landscape. If you are looking for a taller grass that will not flop as some tall grasses do, then the switchgrass “North Wind” is the plant for you.  This 4-6’ tall ornamental native grass will do well in full sun to part shade, its beautiful seed head will provide for migrating birds.  We will also have 5-6 groundcovers as a plug.  My favorites are Plantain Pussytoes, the host plant of the American Lady butterfly will make a beautiful groundcover in sun to part shade, dry soil.  The white (male) or tinged pink (female) bloom is so delicate and resembles a cat’s paw.  Another favorite I have talked about before, and that CCC planted in the Serene Ravine to combat invasive garlic mustard, is Golden Ragwort.  It grows and spreads easily to naturalize areas of your yard in a range of conditions, but will thrive in part shade with medium to wet soil.  Although it gets a delicate yellow flower on a 2’ stalk in early spring the best part of this plant is basal foliage that will stay green all year!  

The sale will also feature many herbaceous perennials that will offer many years of flowering beauty.  It is important to have something blooming during all seasons to support our pollinators.  We will offer a wide variety of spring, summer and fall bloomers.  Everyone loves to plant for Monarchs and we will offer 2 popular milkweeds, the host plant for the Monarch, Swamp Milkweed and Butterfly Weed. However, in the fall, the Monarchs need fall blooming plants to prepare for the long migration ahead.  Our selection of fall bloomers include several varieties of asters, and goldenrod for all conditions.  The White Wood Aster will work in the shadier areas of the yard, while Smooth Aster, New England Aster and Aromatic Aster will give you beautiful purple color in the sun.  Asters will attract a large variety of butterflies.  If you pair them with the yellow goldenrod you will have a stunning fall combination.  Our selections include Blue Stem Goldenrod that will tolerate poor, dry shady areas as well as full sun, Sweet Goldenrod will tolerate the same conditions but will thrive in full sun as will the arching stems of wrinkle-leaf “fireworks”, a pollinator magnet. Another great pollinator plant that I cannot say enough about is Mountain Mint.  Although it can behave as mints do, aggressive spreader, the benefits this plant can add to your garden cannot be topped.  I have seen a greater variety of pollinators on this plant than on any other plant I have.  The Swallowtails were so abundant this year and the top plant they were drawn to in my yard was Joe-Pye Weed.  We will have smaller cultivar (‘little joe”) that will attract those large butterflies to your yard.  My sleeper pick that many people aren’t familiar with is Blue Mistflower. This delicate plant offers a showy blue bloom from July to October and performs in a large variety of conditions, spreads by seed and rhizomes but it is easy to pull and share with friends.  It will weave its way through the taller perennials as it attracts butterflies.  We will have many more beautiful natives plants to enhance your landscape and add value to our ecosystem.

In addition to the sale of plants many experts will be on hand to help you select the best plants for your conditions.  Chris Pax, a Cape resident and landscape designer will be there to give you a tour of the plants and guide you in selecting the best combinations and ones suited for your growing conditions.  Visit her website to see the services and classes she offers https://www.annapolisnativelandscape.com/. The landscape designer, author of The Humane Gardener and blogger Nancy Lawson https://www.humanegardener.com/ will explain the relationships between the native flora and fauna.  She too can guide you in your selections.  Master Gardeners, Master Naturalists, Watershed Stewards, and Adkins Arboretum will all be ready to answer your gardening questions.  Find out how your yard can become Baywise Certified from the Watershed Stewards Baywise folks!  We look forward to seeing you September 21 and helping with all your fall garden needs!

And remember, we are pricing all plants at cost (plus shipping and sales tax, all included) to encourage everyone to add native plants to their yards.  You will not find lower prices anywhere !

Reflections on Gardening for Wildlife

By: Stacey Wildberger

For many years I typically chose plants for the garden because they were pretty, they caught my eye or smelled good.  These days, about 5 years now, I have begun to think more about what can the plant offer to the local fauna? What is its role in the ecosystem?  Is it a host plant for a butterfly’s caterpillar? Is it providing a spot for an insect to overnight or tuck its babies in safely?  Does it perform a function in the ecosystem? I have begun to re-think pretty and have quiet compassion for the ones who have no voice. 

My backyard

I am beginning to see the many rewards for the change in my way of thinking. Every evening when I go out into the yard I look around at every leaf, stem and bloom, I am searching for signs of life. A caterpillar feasting on its favorite host plant, a solitary bee placing her babies in the hollow tubes of the leftover flower stalks.  The ones I left standing over the winter then only cut back to 12-18” in late spring so that these bees and other insects might lay their babies in them.  A safe sanctuary.  I am searching for pollinators of various sizes, happily feeding on the nectar of the blooms of the native flowers I have planted for them.  The plants that they have spent thousands of years co-evolving with.  The ones that will provide the best nourishment for them. 

I gaze into my pond, looking for signs of life.  Did a turtle make his home, after eating the fruit off their favorite food-the mayapples?  Did a frog decide to take up residence amongst the water plants?  Was that a pickerelweed frog I heard jump into the water from his spot on the plant named for him- the pickerelweed?  Are there tadpoles or dragonfly nymphs growing in the pond—waiting to eat the mosquito larvae?  I look up into the air, searching for the dragonflies themselves who will also feast on the mosquitoes.  No need for sprays and nasty chemicals here with a balanced ecosystem.  The balance comes from a self-contained ecosystems.  The beneficial insects taking care of the pests.  Keeping them in check.  Without sprays to kill the good bugs they are around to eat the bad bugs; the way nature intended.  A great example of this natural pest management control is the Braconidae, a member of the wasp family and friend to gardeners.  Yes, a wasp that is your friend.  These wasps (there are 15,000 species of them) are parasitoids, meaning they are parasite of their host, that is their larva eats their host insect alive (yikes!).  Their favorite meals include some of gardener’s biggest pests-caterpillars, beetles, aphids, squash bugs, ad stink bugs.  They often specialize in a particular pest.  One particular enemy of the home gardener is the Tomato hornworm, if the Cotesia congregata wasp deposits her eggs into the tomato Hornworm it weakens the caterpillar as the eggs develop and it eventually dies-preventing the defoliation of your tomato plants.  If you see these larvae emerging from the tomato or tobacco hornworm, nature is doing its own pest management!

Infected tobacco hornworm

As I continue to walk my backyard ecosystem I am rewarded with several butterflies because of the host plants I have been adding.  Of course the Monarch is the result of 1 of 3 types of Asclepias sp. milkweed I have offered, swamp, common and butterfly weed. 

Butterfly weed

What about the American Painted Lady flitting around the front yard – from the Antennaria sp. Pussytoes I offered for her to lay her eggs on.  The Black Swallowtails are happy to lay their eggs on the parsley, dill and native Zizia Golden Alexander.  How about the never-before-seen-in-my-yard Question Mark butterfly because I added her host plant this year-Boehmeria false nettle?  I wouldn’t have seen her if I didn’t plant false nettle this spring.  So many Skippers from the asters, grasses, such as Panicum switchgrass, Sorghastrum nutans Indiangrass, and a variety of sedges.  The sassafras is allowed to self-sow so that they may host Spicebush caterpillars.  The same reason I planted Lindera benzoin Spicebush.  My paw-paw trees, though small now may someday provide a spot for the Zebra swallowtails to lay their eggs.  Every plant selected for what benefit it can provide wildlife.  How is it increasing biodiversity and enhancing the ecosystems?  Did I mention the small violets that volunteer in my yard?  They are often considered weedy but not only do they make an excellent groundcover but without them we wouldn’t be able to enjoy the fritterly butterflies in our yards!

Beardtongue

We have not even admired the berry-producing trees and shrubs that provide nourishment to so many songbirds.  The Aronia Red Chokeberry, the spring offerings of the Amelanchier Serviceberry, Juniperus virginiana Eastern Red Cedars to attract the Cedar Wax wings, Callicarpa americana Beautyberry with its eye catching purple berries, Ilex verticillata Winterberry and their vibrant red berries, the wild cherries that I do not like the look of most of the time but the Robins are feasting on right now so I leave them.  The American Holly trees that are another favorite of many songbirds, as well as a favorite nesting area in the spring.  Another member of the Holly family (Ilex glabra) offering its dark ink colored berries up for the autumn feast-the Inkberry shrub.  Most nights you can find me outside, puttering around the garden, “working” on this or that but what I am really doing is reaping the benefits of having gardened for wildlife.  Putting the needs of nature in front of my own need or desire for a “pretty’ garden.  The end result is pretty on the inside and out.  I am sitting in one of several places in my yard that offer me a window into the ecosystem in my own backyard.  In times of climate change and mass extinction our backyard (and front) gardens provide a refuge for wildlife, a place where an ecosystem can exist.  The food web can exist—butterfly lays her eggs on a nearby host plant, the chickadee raising her clutch of babies in a nearby cavity scoops up the caterpillar to feed her babies (she needs up to 9,000 caterpillars to raise 1 clutch of chicks), and on up the line.  It can start in our own backyard.  It has to start there, because of loss of habitat and over development, wildlife can no longer simply exist “somewhere out there”  If we are all creating these mini ecosystems soon they will stitch together forming even larger areas of habitat.  We can find peace in our own landscapes and feel good about what we are providing.

Honeysuckle

Monarchs: Inside or Out?

By: Stacey Wildberger

In these times of mass extinction and climate change we sometimes feel helpless and ineffectual in our actions but we can make a difference one backyard at a time. Doug Tallamy writes in his book “Bringing Nature Home” the idea that our own small pieces on earth –our backyards- can be the difference in restoring ecosystems.  What better way to do this than by planting native plants that support pollinators and food webs.  Providing the host plants needed for our butterflies to lay their eggs because caterpillars can usually eat only one type of plant.  There are many relationships between insects and plants but the most widely recognized is the link between Monarch Butterflies and Milkweed.  Monarchs must have milkweed to lay their eggs.  When the egg hatches the caterpillar grows through various instar phases until he is ready to form his chrysalis where he will emerge as the iconic Monarch Butterfly.  Beyond milkweed though these Monarchs need nectar to support their long migration in the fall. 

Many people have started collecting the eggs they see on their milkweed, along with the milkweed plants, to raise them indoors. There are of course two viewpoints if this is the best way to help Monarchs.  Advocates for raising Monarchs indoors claim they are increasing their chances of survival by keeping them away from predators.  What they are ignoring is the caterpillars place in the food web; 97% of terrestrial birds are reared on caterpillars and other insects.  It takes 7000-9000 caterpillars to raise a clutch of chickadees.  Without the caterpillars for the birds to feed their young many will perish.

Beyond the fact that you are removing an important food source from the food web there are many other reasons to leave the Monarchs in the garden and let nature take its course.  Raising Monarchs indoors can have many negative effects on the butterflies themselves.  They are often smaller than wild raised ones-just a millimeter difference in wings size can have deadly results on their migration to Mexico.  They often do not develop the correct physiology to migrate, have under-developed reproductive organs and, instead of having the instinct to breed, they are cued up just to fuel up on nectar.  Being exposed to an indoor environment with artificial light, constant temperature and top choice of milkweed provided by their captors they do not develop the environmental cues needed for pre-migratory behaviors.   There is also a higher chance of developing OE (Ophryocystis elektroscirrha), a harmful protozoan that can be blamed on the overcrowded and unhygienic conditions of indoor living.  The butterfly may seem healthy but can spread this deformity causing disease to other butterflies.  Even worse when these infected Monarchs are released they spread it to the wild population, thereby causing more harm than the good that was intended (i.e., helping boost populations).

Of course it is exciting and an educational experience for child to see the full life cycle of these beautiful butterflies so I am not saying not to raise a few in the classroom or living room for the wonderment and discovery of youth but the widespread collection of eggs and even ordering them online (!) can and will cause more devastation than the problems of loss of habitat, disease, weather issues and predation. 

Instead of collecting eggs and raising them indoors, what can we do to help?  Provide milkweed.  Lots of milkweed for them to lay their eggs.  Make sure the milkweed you are planting is native to your area.  In Maryland we have Whorled milkweed (Asclepias verticillata), Swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnate), Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) and Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) to choose from.  Choose the one or ones that are right for your conditions.  While swamp prefers a little moisture the others thrive in just about the worst conditions you can throw at them.  In addition to providing their host plant, milkweed, they require plants they can nectar on in during the fall migration.  There are many beautiful fall blooming nectar plants you can provide for them.

  • Goldenrod (Solidago sp.)
  • Asters sp.  New England Aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae), Aromatic Aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium), White Wood Aster (Eurybia divaricate)
  • Conoclinium coelestinum Blue Mistflower (Conoclinium coelestinum)
  • Joe_Pye Weed (Eutrochiumsp.)
  • Boneset (Eupatorium sp.)
  • Woodland Sunflower (Helianthus divaricatus)
  • Tall coreopsis (Coreopsis tripteris)

As always is my advice (I probably sound like a broken record) the best you can do is plant native plants, natives that are hosts to our native fauna, native plants that provide nectar and pollen to our native pollinators and native plants that provide nesting and resting places as well.  When in doubt, choose native plants over the ornamentals.  Whenever possible choose the straight species over a cultivar that has had its bloom shape, color and height changed to fit our idea of pretty the last thing I implore you to do is not to plant Butterfly bush (Buddleja davidii).  While the name may imply you are doing right by the butterflies you are in fact providing the equivalent of a sugary soda or candy and not much else in the way of national value.  Not only that, but they do not host any butterfly larvae and they are highly invasive.  Their seed is spread into our natural areas thanks to the birds and outcompetes native plants.  If you have them in your yard and absolutely won’t remove it at least be vigilant about removing the dead seed heads to keep it from spreading.  There are some lovely alternatives to butterfly bush if you wish to replace it with a native:

Shrubs:

  • Southern arrowwood (Viburum dentatum)
  • Sweet pepperbush(Clethra alnifolia)
  • Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis)
  • New Jersey tea(Ceanothus americanus)

Herbaceous perennials

  • Blazing star (Liatris spicata)
  • Asters sp.  New England Aster, Aromatic Aster
  • Purple Coneflower(Echinacea purpurea)

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