Garden Talk: April 5, 2012
From NGA Editors
The New Sunset Western Garden Book
Western gardeners know this book as their gardening bible. Since the 1930's, growers of all kinds of plants in the many diverse climate regions of the western U.S. have referred to this book for regionally appropriate information. The newest ninth edition, released this year, is completely updated and redesigned to include the latest on issues such as climate change and water conservation. 2000 full color photos and 9000 entries in the plant encyclopedia provide an amazing breadth of information on both ornamental and edible plants, supplemented with a helpful section covering basic gardening principles.
Sunset has also relaunched an updated version of its popular online Plant Finder database, along with a companion mobile app. These new offerings feature 2000 of the West's most popular plants, including 1000 new entries that are searchable by zip code, Sunset Climate Zone, plant type, sun and water requirements, height, spread, problem solving attributes and special needs.
If you garden anywhere from Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico west to Alaska and Hawaii (and corresponding areas of Canada), this is a reference you'll return to again and again.
Sprinkle Faerie Dust in the Melon Patch
Summer just wouldn't be summer without enjoying the crisp, sweet taste of watermelon. But if the thought of this delectable treat conjures up the image of a large, oblong fruit with a green rind, think again. The new variety 'Faerie', a 2012 All-America Selections award winner, is a non-traditional watermelon with a creamy yellow rind with thin stripes. Its red-pink flesh has a high sugar content, giving it a delicious, sweet flavor. The globe-shaped, 7-8 inch diameter melons weigh only four to six pounds, making them the perfect size for many families. And the size of the vines is relatively small as well. They get about 11 feet long, making this an easy variety to incorporate into many home gardens.
'Faerie' has good insect and disease tolerance and sets fruits prolifically beginning early in the season, so you can count on an early and ample harvest. Growers in short season areas can get a head start by planting seeds indoors in peat pots 3-4 weeks before the last frost date. In longer season areas, seeds can be sown directly in the garden once the soil is warm and the danger of frost is past.
Look for 'Faerie' seeds at your local garden retailer or from mail-order seed companies. All-America Selections (AAS) winners are new garden seed varieties that have been selected by AAS judges for superior garden performance in impartial, judged trials across the country.
Monarch butterflies are beautiful visitors to our gardens, but over the last fifteen years there have been fewer and fewer making an appearance. During the winter of 2009-2010, the number of monarchs from eastern North America overwintering in Mexico reached an all-time low. The numbers came up somewhat for the 2010-2011 winter, but are still low. What's behind this decline?
Researcher Lincoln P. Brower and colleagues, in an article published in the March 2012 journal Insect Conservation and Diversity, suggest three factors that have contributed to the bust in butterflies. First is the degradation of the forests in Mexico that provide overwintering habitat to the monarchs. Much of this habitat has been lost due to illegal logging in areas that have been set aside as reserves.
Another big factor is the increased cultivation of genetically modified glyphosate-resistant corn and soybeans in the U.S., which has resulted in more extensive use of the herbicide glyphosate in farm fields. This herbicide use has led in turn to a sharp decline in the milkweed plants in the fields that provide breeding habitat for monarchs.
The third factor noted is the role of extreme weather interfering with winter survival or summer breeding. For example, overwintering butterflies experienced record-breaking precipitation over the 2009-2010 winter during what is normally the dry season, which caused flooding, landslides, and high winds that wreaked havoc on their habitat. In 2009 high spring temperatures in Texas limited breeding. As the climate warms, the expectation is that these types of weather extremes will increase, further harming butterfly populations. The study's authors suggest that only with better stewardship in both the U.S. and Mexico will we be able to count on having these lovely lepidopteron visitors continue to frequent out gardens.
To read the entire article on the decline of monarch butterflies, go to: Wiley Online Library.
Make Your Own Wooden Bee Nest
Putting up bird houses so our feathered friends can find a place to raise their young is something lots of gardeners regularly do. But how about providing the same amenities to our native bees? Besides filling the garden with native plants that offer food and habitat to these important pollinators, you can also add some constructed nesting boxes to your landscape. The wooden boxes offer nesting spots for the many native bees that nest in hollow or pithy stemmed woody plants, such as carpenter, leaf cutter, masked and mason bees.
Pollination Guelph, a Canadian organization that is dedicated to the conservation and development of pollinator habitat for current and future generations, has put together some easy instructions for building, placing, and maintaining the bee nests. Early spring is the best time to put out new nests, so now is a great time for a fun weekend project -- and a great one to do with kids -- that will help our native pollinators.