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Welcome to my zone 9a habitat garden near Houston, Texas.

Friday, November 29, 2013

This week in the garden - #82

We had unseasonably (for us) cold weather for Thanksgiving week. A couple of nights ago, we even had a light - very light - frost. Light though it was, it was enough to put paid to some of my more tropical plants, like the cannas.

 And, of course, the bananas. They are gone for this year, but they'll be back next spring.

The exposed outer leaves of the hamelia shrubs were nipped by the frost and turned to mush, but you can see that the more protected leaves underneath are still green.

Most of the brugmansias and the daturas were full of blooms and/or buds when the mini frost came. It was enough to cause them to wilt and droop. But, again, I think you can see that the lower leaves that had more protection are still green.

Walking through the garden today, I noticed that the ends of some of the milkweed leaves were nipped by the frost but then I found these guys happily munching their way along the leaves.



These Monarch caterpillars are well along in their development and, with any luck at all, will soon be ready to pupate. Obviously, they came through the cold weather without discernible problems. From what I have read, I gather that these caterpillars are, in fact, able to withstand quite cold weather without damage as long as they have a food supply. If the weather is both cold and inclement, that can cause problems for them. Today, I saw another migrating female Monarch laying eggs on these same plants now being devoured by the caterpillars.

It may be another effect of the colder weather that the garden was full of honeybees today. They were visiting the remaining flowers, such as the Copper Canyon daisies.


But, also, they swarmed all over my hummingbird feeders!

This feeder has bee guards, but it also has a small leak at one of the seams and the bees crowded around to sip the leaking nectar.

No bee guards here and the bees sipped directly from the feeding ports - much to the annoyance of the Rufous Hummingbirds that were trying to feed there.

We are supposed to have slightly warmer weather over the next few days which is probably a good thing for the caterpillars and for any developing eggs on the milkweed. But we know that killing frost is inevitably on its way. On average, it comes around December 10,  so, much of the garden now exists on borrowed time and we must get ready to protect what we cannot bear to lose.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Say goodbye

(Cross-posted from The Nature of Things.)

I've often written here and elsewhere about the plight of the Monarch butterflies and of the bees. They are iconic insects that can be recognized by most people, even those that are fairly ignorant about other insects, and they are hugely important cogs in the ecosystem.

The migration of the Monarch is a tale which borders on the magical. A fragile insect which makes the long trek all across the continent from Canada to Mexico is something which catches people's imagination as a thing that is really quite marvelous.

The Monarch's migration is particularly important and is cause for celebration in Mexico where the butterflies have traditionally wintered. A story in The New York Times this week ("The Year the Monarch Didn't Appear") emphasized that important cultural link.
On the first of November, when Mexicans celebrate a holiday called the Day of the Dead, some also celebrate the millions of monarch butterflies that, without fail, fly to the mountainous fir forests of central Mexico on that day. They are believed to be souls of the dead, returned.
The story in the Times goes on to report how that return on November 1 did not happen this year. The Monarchs did not return then. It was only a week later that they began to straggle in in record-low numbers.

Last year saw the lowest ever recorded numbers of the butterflies to winter in the Mexican mountains at about 60 million. So far this year, only about three million have shown up. Some Monarch experts express fears that the spectacular migration of the colorful insects could be about to end. What a loss that would be!

Think of the Passenger Pigeons which in the early part of the 1900s blotted out the sun for days with their mass migrations. And yet, before the century was one quarter gone, humans had completely wiped out the species. Passenger Pigeons were extinct. Could the same thing happen to Monarch butterflies?

There are several factors that are related to the decline in Monarchs, as well as in bees and in insects in general.

Perhaps the number one enemy of the butterflies, bees, and other insects is the profligate use by farmers and gardeners of nicotine-based pesticides called neonicotinoids which kill indiscriminately. But even if those insecticides were no longer used, butterflies and bees would still be in trouble.

A huge problem for insects, as indeed for all animals, is the loss of native vegetation, i.e., the loss of appropriate habitat, across the United States. Typically, all the native plants in an area may be uprooted and destroyed for housing developments, roads, shopping centers, parking lots, etc. The landscaping that replaces them may consist of  imported, invasive species that the local wildlife cannot utilize. Thus it becomes a food desert for those critters.

Another problem is the prevalence of farming with Roundup. This is a herbicide that kills virtually all vegetation except for crops that are genetically modified to survive its application. As a result of its usage, millions of acres of native plants, including milkweed, the plant on which Monarchs are completely dependent for the nourishment and survival of their caterpillars, have been wiped out.

Of course, another big challenge which bees, in particular, face is disease. Viruses and parasites may weaken them to the point that they are not able to overcome the other stressors in their lives - for example, flying farther afield to find food when the supplies closer at hand have been wiped out.

The plight of the butterflies and bees is getting more press and more attention from the public and there are a number of organizations that continue to try to educate us about the need to preserve native vegetation and to plant native plants in our landscapes. Gardeners across the country, for example, are being encouraged to plant more milkweed in their gardens to try to compensate for all the native vegetation that has been lost to the bulldozer or to Roundup.

It is hard, if not impossible, to replace all those millions of acres that have been lost. One is chilled by the thought that in our lifetimes we might have to say goodbye to the Monarch butterfly, as our forbears did a century ago to the Passenger Pigeon.

But meantime, keep planting that butterfly weed. It is better to light one candle, however small, than to curse the darkness or to give in to despair for the fate of the beautiful Monarch. 

Female Monarch on milkweed.

Friday, November 22, 2013

This week in the garden - #81

This week in the garden has been mostly warm and pleasant, typical late fall days in Southeast Texas when it feels good to be outside. Then, overnight, everything changed.

Today dawned chilly and wet. The thermometer on the back porch, which admittedly is in a protected spot, said 50 degrees F. Since then, the temperature has been falling. Though still in the 40s, in comparison to our previous warm days, it feels a lot colder than that. I know my friends up north will laugh out loud to read that description, but there it is!

*~*~*~*

I haven't spent much time outside today, but I spent as much time as I could outside earlier in the week, and I did actually manage to get a few things accomplished. It's been a very depressing month because the effects of my illness have lingered and I've been too weak to do much. But finally I'm feeling a bit stronger and was able to do a bit of pruning and basic clean-up in the garden, as well as moving around some of the pots that I wanted to be in different places for the winter.

I even persuaded my hubby and sometime garden helper to assist in cleaning out the fountain and the pond and in removing a couple of dead and dying shrubs that had become eyesores in the backyard.

It certainly wasn't my most productive week, but all in all, I feel pretty good about it.

*~*~*~*

Butterflies have been a big feature of the week in the garden. Cloudless Sulphurs have almost been a "cloud" of their own as they swarmed around the garden.

Yesterday, I saw a lone Monarch female laying eggs on one of my milkweed plants. I've had no luck at all with producing any new Monarchs this year, so I'll keep my fingers crossed to see if anything develops from her efforts.

Earlier in the week, on one of those warm, sunny days, I photographed a Common Buckeye butterfly nectaring on the almond verbena shrub.






Buckeyes are not noted for their willingness to pose and so these pictures are not the greatest, but I enjoyed observing this butterfly as it nectared on this plant for at least an hour and it was fun trying to capture its image. They are one of our typical autumn butterflies and it is always a treat to have them around.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - November 2013

This week we had our first true cold snap of the season. While it didn't get as cold as had been predicted, the low temperature for the past two nights in my backyard was 38 degrees F., and that's actually pretty cold for this part of the world in mid-November. This weekend, high temperatures are supposed to be in the 80s once again. Such is our highly changeable weather.

Our average first frost date of the season comes around December 10 and so November Bloom Day finds the garden in perhaps its final big flush of bloom for the year. Here's a sample of those blooms from my garden this week.

 All the brugmansias are full of buds, and this white one is blooming already.


 The 'Caldwell Pink' roses are offering up their pretty blossoms.


 Sweet-smelling almost verbena reaches toward the autumn sky.


 The sunny yellow hibiscus continues to produce blooms on a daily basis.


 All the lantanas are in their glory in autumn, which makes the bumblebees happy.


 And the Gulf Fritillary butterflies, as well.


 A Painted Lady rests on the purple trailing lantana.


 'Butter and cream' lantana, too, is blooming profusely just now.


 The white cat's whiskers continue to put out some blooms.


 Autumn, of course, is also the time when the sages and salvias are at their best, like this pineapple sage.


 'Coral Nymph' salvia.


' Mystic Spires' salvia.


 'Hot Lips' salvia.

 This white mistflower has been in full bloom for about a week now.


 Cape honeysuckle is still attracting butterflies like this Cloudless Sulphur, as well as passing hummingbirds.


 Even spring-blooming crossvine, 'Tangerine Dream,' gets into the act with a few blossoms.


 The Copper Canyon daisies are nearing full bloom.


 And Hamelia patens, the so-called Mexican firebush, continues its all summer and fall bloom. It will keep blooming until first frost.


 Clerodendrum 'Bleeding Heart.'


This butterfly weed waits for passing Monarch butterflies. We've have a few straggling through, but I haven't noticed any eggs or caterpillars on any of my milkweed.


The old cannas likewise continue their almost year-long bloom which will end with our first frost.


 Wedelia, a wonderful ground cover.


Shrimp plant blossom.


 Turk's Cap 'Big Momma.'


 The cheerful blossoms of bush marigold.


 Even the tropical Jatropha continues its bloom.


The 'Graham Thomas' rose is always at its best in autumn.

Things may look quite different in the garden by December Bloom Day, but for now the season of flowers continues to gladden our hearts.

As always, thanks to Carol of May Dreams Gardens for hosting Bloom Day, and thank you for visiting my garden this month.