Saturday, September 17, 2011

Step Away from the Pruners, Loppers, Shears, and Saws...Nice and Quietly

Fall has arrived with crisp nights and cool days in Chicagoland. As folk are itching to get back in the yard now that temperatures are reasonable, I suggest restraint.  Now is NOT the time to prune.

Pruning encourages new growth, especially side shoots. At this point in the season, if you prune, those little baby new tips won't have hardened off enough to survive frost. Now our average frost date tends to hover around October 20 or so, depending on who you ask. Will new shoots harden off in a month? Not really. If these tender darlings get zinged with frost, oftentimes they will turn black or brown.  Now you don't want your yew bushes covered in brown bits just in time for holiday entertaining, do you? So back off.

See that flower bud on this viburnum? Put those pruners down!

Also, if you prune now, you could cut off the flowers of spring blooming shrubs especially lilac, viburnum, and forsythia. What's the point of lilacs with no flowers?  I know that the landscaper crews are out and about trimming away, but trust  me, sit on your hands. Have a cup of tea on the patio with the newspaper and enjoy the migrating birds.

This year, think about leaving up some of your perennials. 'Sacrilege!' you may say, but really, what are you going to look at through four to six months of winter? Great white sheets of snow? Yes, cut back the perennials if they have had fungal problems. This year, peonies have taken a beating from botrytis, so it's best to cut them back and destroy the foliage. If your foliage is clean, though, leave it up. Not only are seedheads attractive in our frosty winter, but they feed the birds. We have left even basil to seed and the juncos thank us for it. There's a whole patch of hosta that has reseeded thanks to the chickadees. Also, dried foliage will help insulate the crown of the plant during our famous frost heaving. In spring, I tend to clip remaining material and let it compost where it sits. I also like to see where plants will reseed such as columbine, hollyhock, and campion.

If you have to do something in the garden - weed. Pull those bad boys before they go to seed and as they are sending nutrients to their roots. A thorough fall weeding can save you a lot of time in the spring.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Raising Butterflies

This summer, I've had a chance to revisit my childhood of bug collecting. I love bugs. Any and all of them. I'm fascinated by the insect world, the creepier and crawlier the better. As a kid, I had a mayonnaise jar filled with random insects found around the yard. Ask my mother! She swore I'd be a naturalist counting bears with Grizzly Adams in the Rockies. Little did she know all that tree climbing would lead me into horticulture.

With our big butterfly festival at the garden center this August, a bunch of us have been raising caterpillars.  We wanted to have a butterfly release and give the kids the experience of raising butterflies. I have been the proud mama of one monarch and three pipevine swallowtails. Finally, today, the last of them emerged from the chrysalis and fluttered to freedom. The monarch egg came from my own milkweed plants, but the three pipevine swallowtails were collected with permission from The Morton Arboretum.

This has been really an amazing experience. Being able to witness firsthand the transformation of a creature from egg to caterpillar to butterfly really makes you think about the complexities of nature and the compelling drive of life.  If you can, I highly recommend raising a butterfly or two if only to have your wonder of the natural world restored. Besides, they are very very pretty.

This is Millicent the Monarch, freshly hatched.

These are Alphonse, Beatrice, and Cameron munching away on Dutchman's pipe vine.

Millicent chowing down on common milkweed.

Almost full grown swallowtail caterpillar. He formed a chrysalis the next day.

This is not Millicent, but one of the monarchs at work shrugging off its caterpillar skin and becoming a chrysalis.

These are the boys. One was under a leaf at the time, so he's a green chrysalis.

 Beatrice has to be different and attach to the aquarium lid

Millicent surprised us and here she is crawling out of the pickle jar.

Free at last and still pumping up her wings.

Beatrice emerged this morning sometime. She flitted away and landed on the hackberry once I opened the aquarium.

Just for fun - three stages of black swallowtail hanging out in the break room.