I know it’s really spring when…

I get the first issue of Home, Yard & Garden Pest News letter from the University of Illinois Extension. The 17 or so editions of  the newsletter is sponsored by College of Agriculture, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign and the Illinois Natural History Survey. It is edited by Phil Nixon, an entomologist at UofIL, and always has interesting articles on a wide range of plant pests.

Here’s a good example: Is it Really Soil? talks about the components of soil, what ‘soiless’ medium is, and how to amend your garden or potting media, all from the point of view of us average home gardeners.

In another article, Sand Wasps, I discovered another wasp that is an  active pollinator as well as a predator of some pretty pesty insects. Also mentioned is  how to keep them out of kiddie sand  boxes, from underneath kid swings, and sand volleyball courts.


Native Plant Pollinator Garden

My wife Annie is a Illinois Master Gardener and I am a Master Naturalist – you become one by sitting for about 50 hours in some very interesting classes, after which you have the opportunity to volunteer about 60 hours somewhere. Annie became an MG when we were still living in Maryland, but I had not yet had my relapse of the ecology bug.

Anyway, Annie is a committed participant in the O’Fallon (the one in Illinois) Garden Club. This very active club grew almost 4,000 pounds of fresh veggies for our local food pantry last year. At the community garden site in downtown O’Fallon – once a derelict trailer park reclaimed by the City and restored by the  Club – the club also has multiple flower beds, an herb garden, a three-hive apiary, and walkways and benches. The club has about 90 members, of which 25 are Master Gardeners. And there is one Master Naturalist – c’est moi.

Last fall the Club Board asked if I would be interested in getting a team of Master Naturalist together to put in a garden for pollinators, replacing a shrub-choked neglected bed. I chatted with a couple of other local MN’s and took it on. Currently we have three MN’s and 2 MG’s working on it.20161108_091039

The goals of our “native plant pollinator garden” are 1) showcase attractive true native plants so home gardeners can see how these plants might look in their own gardens and 2) choose plants to provide continuous growing season blooms to support pollinators.

In December, we planted our small flowering trees and shrubs. Eventually, these will provide shade on the  north side of the bed, allowing us to plant spring ephemerals and shade plants. But that’s a year or two away. The trees/shrubs are

Ozark Witch Hazel Hamamelis vernalis
Eastern Redbud Cercis canadensis
Wild Plum Prunus americana
Serviceberry Amelanchier arborea
Arrowwood  Viburnam Viburnam dentatum
Green Hawthorn Crataegus viridis
Ninebark Physocarpus opulifolius
Flameleaf/Winged Sumac Rhus copallinum
Virginia Witch Hazel Hamamelis virginiana

The redbud was planted several years ago.20170403_130804

Last week we planted two more trees/shrubs – only two more left to plant – and weeded the bed. We also added a rock pathway to invite visitors to walk through the bed.20170413_111432

This week we will plant about 50  perennials (10 species). List of plants to follow in the  next blog.

Monarchs have reached Southern Illinois

On April 14th, 2017, we saw not one, but two, monarch butterflies in our back yard. They were fluttering continuously around the very short swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) shoots in two of our rain gardens. Although the butterflies were completely uncooperative, I was eventually able to confirm that they were female How to tell male and female monarchs. I was too busy with spring clean-up to actually catch either one laying eggs and I have not found any eggs on the milkweed sprouts. But I will continue to check for the larvae.

BTW, there is no evidence supporting the urban folklore that “butterflies” were once called “flutterbys”. The OED – about as reliable as you can get for English etymology – shows the first citation from around 1000 ACE. The OED thinks “butterfly” may have entered from similarly pronounced Dutch or  German words. This link makes for some interesting reading on the name.