Mid-Atlantic

September, 2008
Regional Report

Leave Monarch Butterfly Caterpillars on Milkweed

Colorful, striped caterpillars are likely feeding on your milkweed, butterfly weed, and joe-pye leaves now. Encourage, don't kill them. Monarch caterpillars catch the eye with their circular stripes in a pattern of white, black, white, yellow, black, yellow.... Their antennae are black. Milkweeds have a milky sap or latex in the leaves that's toxic, especially to predators. When monarch larvae feed on milkweed, they ingest and store the plant toxins, called cardiac glycosides. Vertebrate predators may avoid monarch larvae and adults because they learn that the insects taste bad and make them ill.

Give Away Unwanted Plants

Your unwanted plants may be another gardener's treasure ... or a nongardener's opportunity. If you're digging up vigorous perennials such as overgrown iris, hostas, daylilies, perennial sunflowers, and lamb's ears, consider giving them to a neighbor, coworker, community park, community center, or church group. We're finding neighbors stopping to ask if we're throwing those plants away. It's easy and helpful to say, "Enjoy! They're yours. Plant them in sun (or shade, depending on plant needs). Water them after transplanting and continue until frost."

Prepare a Holding Bed

Autumn is a great time to take advantage of shrub and perennial sales. You're not exactly sure where to put those irresistibly priced plants you've coveted all summer? Prepare a holding bed to keep them in the ground until spring planting. This could be an extension of an existing bed; a spot in the back forty; or a once-used, kind of overgrown but soil-prepped bed. Pull out weeds and pop in plants. Don't dig a bed UNDER the house or garage overhang or gutter. Those plants won't get needed rain.

Watch the Weather, Not the Calender

With global climate change, the usual plant rules aren't holding true. If you pay attention to the weather, you'll notice annuals are blooming longer due to later frosts. Perennials are flowering weeks later or beyond the expected duration. Enjoy them! Don't pull out or cut back just because you've done so by a certain date in the past.

Order Spring Bulbs

Snowdrops, crocuses, daffodils, and tulips are so welcome after even our shorter winters. They remind us of nature's rhythm, spring's promise, and the summer to come. Daffodils, Siberian squill, alliums, and grape hyacinths are largely deer resistant. Scan catalogs for attractive, new narcissus colors and cultivars. In city gardens and walled or fenced gardens where deer don't frequent, be extravagant with tulips. Most tulips -- especially the tall, showy, flamboyant, specialty types -- only bloom once or twice. Replanting will assure spring flowers. Species tulips return and colonize.

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