Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Attracting Butterflies to Your Garden

monarch pupa
 Karma Larsen
        Almost any flower garden will attract butterflies, but if you’re trying to attract as many different varieties of butterflies, in as many different stages of life, for as long as possible, here are some of the plants you might want to include:
        Many butterflies will lay their eggs only on the particular plants the caterpillar will need to eat once it hatches. For monarchs, that includes any plants in the milkweed family—butterfly milkweed, swamp or smooth milkweed, etc. Swallowtails lay their eggs on members of the parsley family—dill, fennel, Queen Anne’s lace, etc.  The caterpillars of viceroy butterflies feed on willows. Other good trees and shrubs for butterfly larva include birch, cherry, crabapple, plum, buckeye, etc.
        Asters or daisies are other good food sources—coreopsis, rudbeckia, coneflowers, asters, yarrow, etc.
Sulfur on pitcher sage
        Good nectar sources for the mature butterfly are bright-colored (lavender, purple, pink, red), fragrant flowers with “nectar guides.” Asters and milkweeds are good nectar sources, along with lilies, bee balm, gayfeather, goldenrod, phlox, etc. Flowering shrubs like viburnum, butterfly bush and lilacs are also good choices.
        Native grasses like Indiangrass, bluestem and switchgrass provide good resting and hiding places. And one of the easiest recommendations to follow is to leave a weedy patch somewhere in your yard since clover, violets, thistles and fleabanes are also important parts of their diet.
Cabbage whites on mud
Monarch on gayfeather

Monday, July 21, 2014

Summer Blues (and Yellows)

Justin Evertson
      A simple but very effective color combination for the flower garden is blue with yellow. Mother Nature must have understood this from the start as she dispenses both colors in great quantities. In fact, it is relatively easy to keep the color combination going throughout the growing season as different plant species succeed each other in flower prominence. From spring through fall, here are just a few of the great combinations possible:
 ·         Catmint (Nepeta spp.) and Cushion spurge (Euphorbia polychroma): These two plants grow from 10” to 18” tall and are most striking in early to mid-spring.
·         May Night Salvia (Salvia nemorosa) and Moonshine Yarrow (Achillea x ‘Moonshine’): Both plants are extremely reliable, easy to grow, reach about 18” tall and are at their peak in late May to early June.
·         Blue False Indigo (Baptisia australis) and False Sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoides): These two prairie natives grow from 24” to 36” tall and are going strong in late spring and early summer.  Give each plenty of room to grow.
·         Russian Sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia) and Goldsturm Rudbeckia (Rudbeckia fulgida ‘Goldsturm’).  The soft spray-like blue of Russian sage (36” to 48” tall) makes a great backdrop to the summer-long blooms of Rudbeckia (18” to 24” tall). 
From top: catmint; goldenrod; pitcher sage
·         Sunny Border Blue Veronica (Veronica x ‘Sunny Border Blue’) and Fernleaf Coreopsis (Coreopsis verticillata).  Both plants stay under 24” tall and are typically mid to late summer bloomers.
·         Pitcher sage (Salvia azurea) and Goldenrod (Solidago spp.).  Mainstays of the late summer and fall landscape, these native plants can both grow 48” tall, depending on the type selected.  However, both can be cut back frequently during the growing season to keep low and to delay blooming.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Rain Gardens

Chadron State College rain garden, planted June 28, 2014
Christina Hoyt

        Water conservation can be as simple as directing downspouts to planted areas, placing small areas of grasses or other deep-rooted plants on slopes or areas off downspouts, decreasing paved areas, using permeable pavers and installing rain barrels. A growing awareness of the pollutants in rainwater, however, has led to the use of rain gardens—depressions planted with native or adapted plants that help absorb excess water and filter out excess nutrients before entering the groundwater system. When placed to receive runoff from roofs, downspouts and paved areas, they can capture and filter as much as 90 percent of common pollutants.

        Plants for these areas need to tolerate extremes since there will be periods of standing water when the soil is saturated and also very dry periods. They are meant to drain within 24-48 hours, a rate that will depend on the amount of runoff the area receives, quality of the soil, plant absorption and the depth of the depression. Recommended depth is about 8” since deeper areas are less likely to drain well, difficult to plant effectively and soil and mulch are likely to erode. Gravel or rocks can be placed where water enters and exits to help slow the water flow, spread it out and prevent erosion.

Lincoln Fireworks rain garden, planted in 2009.
        Some of the plants recommended for rain garden areas in full sun are deep-rooted native and ornamental grasses, black-eyed Susan, goldenrod, iris, butterfly milkweed and gayfeather.

        They can also be planted in part shade with plants like: astilbe, lady’s mantle, iris, Korean reedgrass, sedges, aster, coneflower, turtlehead, Joe Pye-plant, germander, hibiscus, etc.

        Fast facts (more at arboretum.unl.edu and  water.unl.edu): 

  • Stormwater runoff is the primary water quality problem in America
  • In cities, about 50 percent of rain water goes into storm sewers
  • Runoff from a 1” rain may exceed 5,000 gallons—even from a 1,500 square foot house on a small lot
  • More than 50 percent of outdoor water usage goes into watering lawns and gardens
  • On a dry summer day in Lincoln, lawns alone may absorb more than 50 million gallons of water per day from the Platte River

        There are a wide range of regional resources on water conservation and rain gardens at water.unl.edu and lincoln.ne.gov (keyword: rain gardens). Nebraska Statewide Arboretum has a “Waterwise Landscapes” publication and there is a series of stormwater management NebGuidesfrom the University of Nebraska: Rain Garden Design for Homeowners, Installing Rain Gardens in Your Yard and  Plant Selection for Rain Gardens in Nebraska.