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Rick’s Aloe and Butterfly Garden

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The current population of monarch butterflies is a mere 4% of what it formerly was. These once ubiquitous butterflies are on the brink of extinction. Anyone with even a small garden, in any part of the US, can help reverse this sad trend.

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I knew that Rick Bjorklund’s garden in San Diego would delight me with its aloes, but I didn’t expect to see butterflies who felt the same way. Not only do monarchs love aloe blooms, their offspring have settled into Rick’s garden, too.

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This is because Rick also cultivates milkweed, the one and only food of monarch caterpillars. His numerous Asclepias curassavica shrubs are infested with striped, leaf-eating, antennaed tubes.

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Hm. Which end is which?

Once they’re fat and sassy, caterpillars look for a place to hang out…literally. To pupate, they attach themselves to a branch or eve, and their skin splits open, revealing a conical box that resembles a jade earring. What a surprise to see a chrysalis hanging from a kalanchoe (below). It’s amazing that insects native to the Americas are at home in a garden of plants mainly from Madagascar and South Africa.

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This one’s attached to an agave leaf.

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Here’s what happens next (photo courtesy of http://www.monarch-butterfly.com/):

Butterfly emerging

Monarchs also like Verbena bonariensis. I photographed this in a northern CA garden in early autumn.

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What every friend of butterflies should know: 

— To promote the survival of monarch butterflies, cultivate milkweed (one or more plants in the genus Asclepias).  Native to the Americas, milkweeds can be cultivated as far north as Quebec.

— When designing your monarch-habitat garden, position nectar-producing plants (like aloes, daisies and verbena) near milkweed. Adult butterflies look for both when laying their eggs, to ensure that their offspring will have plenty to eat.

— Refrigerate milkweed seeds three to six weeks prior to sowing. Get them off to a good start in peat pots with a thin covering of topsoil (they need sunlight to germinate). Transplant into the garden when rooted, four to six weeks after germination, in a full-sun location. Daytime highs should be at least 70 degrees F. Plants grow 36 to 60 inches tall, and can be spaced 12 to 18 inches apart.

— Monarchs and other butterflies have liquid diets. They like muddy water for its minerals, and the nectar of numerous flowers, which they ingest through a proboscis that unfurls and serves as a flexible drinking straw.

— Monarchs produce four successive generations annually, each with phases of egg, larva, pupa and butterfly. Adults of the first three generations live two to six weeks. The fourth generation, born in the fall, migrates to a warmer climate where the butterflies live through the winter, mate, and then return north.

— Butterflies fly best when temperatures are between 80 and 100 degrees. They’ve been clocked at 12 mph.

— Make sure butterflies have plenty to eat by supplementing their diet with a quality commercial nectar. To keep ants out of a butterfly feeder, coat an inch or so of the rod that supports it with Vaseline. Clean the feeder and replace the nectar daily. Place the feeder close to the milkweed and flowering plants in your garden, but out of direct, hot sun lest the liquid evaporate.

— Provide a mud puddle as a water source, ideally near a boulder on which butterflies can sun themselves.

Resources for butterfly gardeners:

Online article on saving and aiding butterflies, by British expert Clive Harris of DIY Garden, who emailed me: “76% of our butterfly species have declined over the past 40 years, so anything that helps spread the word about protecting these little chaps would be massively appreciated.” 
Milkweed seeds
Butterfly feeder
Butterfly nectar

Reference books:

Milkweed, Monarchs and More by Rea, Oberhauser and Quinn
Monarch Butterfly by Gail Gibbons

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No-Water Succulents for Southern California Gardens

 

Certain readily available succulents not only get by on rainfall alone, they’ll grow in nutrient-poor soil and can handle searing sun and frost. No-water succulents for Southern California gardens that are native to the Southwest and Mexico include dasylirions, agaves, cacti and yuccas. They thrive from south of the border to the Bay Area and in parts of Colorado, Texas and the Carolinas (Zones 7b and higher).

No-Water Succulents for Southern California Gardens
Above: Mark and Cindy Evans’ hilltop landscape in Laguna Beach is several miles inland from the coast.  It features these no-water succulents for Southern California gardens: several varieties of dasylirions, agaves, cacti and yuccas. Also in their garden are highly drought-tolerant South African succulents such as euphorbias, crassulas (jades) and aloes.  Can you tell which is which?

No-Water Succulents for Southern California Gardens

Above: In the Evans’ garden are Yucca rostrata, Agave attenuata and Yucca aloifolia (Spanish bayonet). A topdressing of golden decomposed granite lends a finished look.

No-Water Succulents for Southern California Gardens

Above: Two Dasylirion whipplei (which resemble pincushions) are 15 years old. The Yucca aloifolia at left was there when Mark and Cindy bought the house in 1999. “I think it’s pretty old; its base is huge,” Mark says. Four silvery blue Yucca rostrata also are 15 (the much larger one at right gets more sun). Mark planted the spineless paddle cactus along the wall from cuttings six years ago. Behind them, at right, is a 6-year-old blue Agave americana. Growing in the dry fountain are 8-year-old foxtail agaves (Agave attenuata).

How is it possible that yuccas and dasylirions, which have thin leaves, are succulents?  It’s because they store water in their trunks. A succulent by definition is “any plant that stores water in fleshy leaves or stems in order to withstand periods of drought.”

Related info on this site:

Go to my Agave page for labeled photos of 20+ varieties

No-Water Succulents for Southern California Gardens

Read my article: “Is Cactus the New Black?”

Long a pariah plant, cactus is becoming cool. Spiny succulents are following smooth ones in popularity, notably in [Continue reading]

Why Grow Paddle Cacti? DLB’s 16 Reasons

No-Water Succulents for Southern California Gardens

Of the dozen or so types of cacti in my garden, I have more opuntias than any other. Also known as paddle cactus or prickly pear… [Continue reading]

Be sure to see my YouTube video: What you MUST know about century plants (Agave americana

 

Obtain my comprehensive guide to succulent landscaping, Designing with Succulents.