BBB Seed’s Wildflowers to Attract Butterflies and Birds

by Heather Stone

Photo of two birds on a birdbath.

Photo courtesy of pixabay

It brings great pleasure to see more birds and butterflies about the garden and we as gardeners can do a lot to attract and protect the birds and butterflies that visit our garden. These critters simply need a safe place to live and healthy food to eat.

Wildflowers to attract butterfly and birds seed packet.

Butterflies

For butterflies, providing food (host plants) for caterpillars, nectar sources for adult butterflies and a safe place to overwinter can all be accomplished in a small area. Caterpillars of some species of butterflies have very specific larval host plants, while some will eat a wide range of species. Nectar is the primary food source for most adult butterflies. Planting nectar-rich plants in the garden is sure to attract more butterflies. Depending on the species, butterflies overwinter in all stages of life from egg to adult. Some places they overwinter include leaf litter, the bases of bunch grasses, rock piles, brush or wood piles, behind loose tree bark and near their host plants.

 

Birds

Just like butterflies birds need healthy food to eat and shelter. Start by planting native plants in your garden that provide seeds, berries, nuts and nectar. Shrubs and trees, especially evergreen species, provide excellent shelter and nesting sites for birds. Birds also need a year-round water source such as a bird bath. Providing nesting boxes and offering food in feeders will attract even more birds.

Photo of an orange and yellow butterfly on a marigold bloom.

Photo courtesy of pixabay.

Try planting our Birds and Butterflies mix to attract more birds and butterflies to your landscape. The mixture of annuals, perennials, introduced and native wildflowers is designed to attract butterflies over a long season of bloom from spring until fall and a variety of birds to the seeds come autumn.

 

Sources:  Gardening for Butterflies, The Xerces Society

https://www.nwf.org/sitecore/content/Home/Garden-for-Wildlife/Wildlife/Attracting-Birds

 

Monarch Butterfly Migration

Graphic stating, "Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Monarch Migration."

 

by BBB Seed

Each fall, about this time in October, millions of Monarch butterflies begin the journey to their overwintering sites in Mexico and California. In the spring, the Monarch butterflies will then return to their breeding areas across America and as far as Eastern Canada. Four generations of monarch butterflies will be born and die by the time this journey is complete.

In February and March, the butterflies come out of hibernation and begin looking for a mate. These butterflies will then begin to migrate north and east looking for a place to lay their eggs. This begins the first generation. Eggs are laid on milkweed plants in March and April. These eggs will hatch into baby caterpillars that will then feed for about two weeks before beginning metamorphosis. After completing metamorphosis the monarch butterfly emerges and enjoys its short lifespan of about two to six weeks. Before dying the butterfly lays eggs for the second generation. This second generation is born in May and June and the third in July and August. Both of these generations will go through the same life cycle as the first generation. The fourth generation of Monarch butterflies is born in September and October and will go through the same process as the first three generations except for this generation of butterflies will live 6-8 months making the migration journey to the warmer climates of Mexico or California.

A mass of Monarch Butterflies.

photo courtesy of pixabya – skeeze

Monarch butterflies living east of the Rocky Mountains will overwinter in Mexico in oyamel fir trees. The Monarchs living west of the Rockies will overwinter in eucalyptus trees in and around Pacific Grove, California. It wasn’t until 1975 that we discovered these overwintering sites. The Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve is a World Heritage Site that contains most of the overwintering sites for the eastern Monarch population.

Monarch butterflies migrate for two reasons. The first is because the butterflies can’t withstand the freezing temperatures in the northern and central continental climates during winter. Second being their larval food source (milkweed) does not grow in their overwintering sites.

In recent years researchers have found the Monarch population numbers to be declining. Some reasons may include the loss of milkweed species needed for larval development, unintended effects of pesticide use and the loss of habitat in overwintering sites in both Mexico and California. Creating more Monarch habitat could help the declining populations. Planting milkweed species and other nectar-producing plants is a great place to start.  Start by planting our Monarch Rescue Mix!

Photo of a Monarch Butterfly on orange milkweed blossom.

photo courtesy of pixabay – balloonimals

Sources: https://www.monarch-butterfly.com/monarch-migration.html,

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monarch_Butterfly_Biosphere_Reservehttp://pollinator.org/

 

Mexican Sunflower, Pollinator Magnet!

by Heather Stone

Close up photo of an orange Mexican Sunflower blossom.

photo courtesy of pixabay – impradip

Mexican Sunflower, Tithonia rotundafolia is a must for the butterfly garden and is a favorite of our beloved monarch butterfly. This 4-6’ tall annual (perennial in USDA zones10-11) is covered in vibrant orange flowers the monarchs can’t resist. But it’s not only a favorite of monarch butterflies. Mexican Sunflower is also equally adored by many other butterfly species including painted ladies, fritillaries, eastern tiger swallowtails, giant swallowtails and more. Honeybees, bumblebees and hummingbirds flock to these nectar-rich flowers as well.

Mexican Sunflowers are easy to grow. Plant seeds indoors 1-2 months before your average last frost date or directly in the garden in late spring when the soil has warmed. Once germinated, these plants take off reaching heights of 4-6’ by 3-4’ wide so place them in the back of the border. Staking these tall plants helps to avoid any toppling over. The vibrant orange blooms appear mid-summer and last until the first frost. Deadheading every 2-3 days ensures continual bloom, equaling more visitors. Mexican sunflowers make great cut flowers too and are easy to grow in containers. Don’t leave this beauty out of your pollinator garden.

Mexican Sunflower blossom against blue sky.

photo courtesy of pixabay-4924546

 

 

 

 

Check out this cool video of Monarch butterflies enjoying the blossoms of Mexican Sunflower.

https://www.facebook.com/MonarchButterflyGarden/videos/895905987113736/

 

 

 

Food for Fall Pollinators

by Sandy SwegelFall Pollinators

Fall is a great time for birds and bears.  Gardens and natural areas are full of seeds and berries for getting the calories needed for winter.  Pollinators like bees, flies, butterflies, moths and insects need nectar and pollen food sources.  When I was in the foothills this weekend I noticed that native sources of nectar weren’t very evident. We haven’t had much rain so some late season flowers finished earlier.  There were still tiny white aster blooms and stray late blooms of penstemon, liatris and gaillardia, but this is nothing like the abundant feast of spring.  Poor pollinators…Fall must be a difficult time…addicted to sugar all summer and then have it all cut off.

 

Fall is one time when it’s good to have nice irrigated areas with annuals and non-native plants so that you can feed the pollinators of fall who are still active.  In home gardens this week I saw dozens of butterflies, bees and moths on late season annuals like verbena bonariensis, cosmos, zinnias.  Our love of home gardening is very helpful to pollinators.Fall Pollinators

 

Cornell University released a study this year about monarch butterflies.  While it is true that milkweed is the only food of the caterpillars, adult butterflies eat from all flowering plants.  This time of year the monarchs need a lot of nectar and pollen to give them the strength to migrate back home.  The monarchs can find nectar in areas gardened or farmed by humans.

 

So for those of us who love pollinators, providing some fall habitat with blooming flowers is very helpful to butterflies and all the pollinators. The longer in the season they eat, the better the chance they’ll survive winter.  To get ideas for what to grow, notice what might still be blooming in wild areas and where the pollinators are actively feeding in gardens.   Each year I give out awards to the plants I know for things like “First Bloom of the Year” or “Best Season Long Performer.”  The last award of the growing season is “Last Bloom of the Year.”  Sometime in November long after hard frost there is still some little single perennial flower that had several bees visiting it.  Most years it is blue scabiosa, but borage is putting up a last-minute burst into bloom.  Who win the last bloom of 2016 in your habitat?Fall Pollinators

 

 

 

http://monarchbutterflygarden.net/are-native-only-wildlife-gardens-starving-fall-pollinators/

http://diet.yukozimo.com/what-do-honey-bees-eat/

 

Seven reasons to grow Agastache

by Sandy Swegel

Agastache

The number one reason of course is because hummingbirds love Agastache.  I was trying to pull a few weeds yesterday and at least three different hummingbirds were dining on the agastache blooms…with one dive-bombing me to get me out of “their” territory.

As I enjoyed the late afternoon sun amid the buzzing I thought six more reasons I REALLY love agastache.

Startling beautiful flowers

Complex blossoms in multi colors with long tubes.  Mine are orange and red.  Agastaches come in several colors in red-orange-apricot sunset colors.  Another agastache (Lavender Hyssop) is blue. The agastache stems make for an interesting addition in a cut flower arrangement.

Interesting Foliage

This agastache (Agastache rupestris) has thin airy leaves that look quite blue.  An interesting texture when planted en masse.

Pnik Agastache

Divine Fragrance

My little patch smells like root beer.  There’s a whole series of Agastaches named after the bubble gums they smell like.

Great in a Mixed Border

This little patch grows in the lavender bed.  When the lavender is in full display, the Agastaches are still small.  Then as the agastache come into play, the lavenders are still putting out a few complementary purple flowers.  Orange butterfly weed is planted next to the agastache making both look more interesting.  The agastache reseed gently throughout the border.

Attract bees and all kinds of pollinators

Yesterday I saw hummingbird moths, native bees, honey bees, a huge bumblebee and some tiny flies…in addition to the hummingbirds.  Butterflies were there earlier in the day.

 

 

 

Photo credits

Sandy Swegel

monarchbutterflygarden.net/5-butterfly-flowers-attract-monarchs-and-hummingbirds/

 

 

The Aster

The AsterBuckeye Butterfly on Aster

by Sandy Swegel

July is when the aster begins to shine in the garden.  We were walking around a hot drought xeric garden yesterday where many flowering plants were going to seed (ah, flax and larkspur we miss your blues already) or had complete browned and been cut back (goodbye poppies).  Amid the browning foliage, there were splashes of color we forget about each year like the amazing zinnia grandiflora, a very short aster, native to plains and foothills, that thrives along hot concrete walkways.

Sulphur Butterfly on Aster

Standing near this tiny aster, we could look up to the back of the garden where there was a bit of shade and moisture and see tall asters in full bud.  In the sunny grassy open space nearby, purple asters had already bloomed and were feeding pollinators and butterflies. We looked to a neighbor’s irrigated garden and saw a splendid patch of Michaelmas daisies ready to bloom with hundreds of flowers.  Aster may have small individual flowers, but they cram dozens of flowers onto each flower stalk.

Wild Aster

Asters aren’t very picky about location and in cities you’ll see they seed themselves into alleys and  sometimes into your flower beds.  In fields the purple asters often grow one plant here and one there out among uncut grasses.Aster Branching

 

Zinnia Aster

Zinnia grandiflora

The very best thing about asters:  butterflies love them.  And we definitely want to keep the butterflies happy.

 

 

 

 

http://swbiodiversity.org/seinet/taxa/index.php?taxon=1961

http://2.bp.blogspot.com/

http://gaiagarden.blogspot.com/2011_10_01_archive.html

https://photoflurries.wordpress.com/2010/09/

 

Planting Wildflowers

Grow a Wildflower Meadow!02.15.16 'Planting Wildflowers'_Donna-Allenbaugh Backyard02.15.16 _Donna-AllenbaughBackyardBefore

by Sandy Swegel

 

 

This blog post is for anyone who wants to grow wildflowers.  It is especially dedicated to BBB Seeds’ friends at the Rockies Audubon Society who have an awesome program called Habitat Heroes that encourages “wildscaping” your garden with native plants that attract pollinators and birds and support wildlife even in an urban area.

 

  • Deciding What and Where to Grow

Look at the site where you want to grow a wildflower meadow or patch.  An ideal site would have sun and good drainage and not too many weeds. Nature seldom provides what we consider ideal. So the next step is choosing the right mix of wildflowers.  We help by providing mixes for unique conditions such as sites that are dry or sites that shady.

  • Prepare the Soil

TX-OK-1oz

Some don’ts:

  • Don’t deep till!

That’s the number one rule….unless you are planning a year ahead of time.  There are enormous numbers of weed seeds in any soil area and tilling up the soil brings up all those weed seeds to the light and they start to grow.  You do have to deal with weeds and you will lightly till/scratch in a shallowly.  But this is time to leave the tiller in the garage.

  • Don’t use weed killer

Especially don’t use the weed killers for your lawn or those with pre-emergents that stop new seeds from germinating. Those will have long-lasting effects that will thwart your wildflower growing efforts.

  • Weeds:

You will have to deal with weeds especially if you have an area that is pretty barren of other vegetation.  People have good success with putting down black fabric or cardboard weeks ahead of time to suffocate the weeds.  For big hunkin’ weeds like dock, it’s good to get the shovel out. You can’t get all the weeds, but after you put your seeds out, you won’t be doing any weed-pulling for awhile because you’ll accidentally pull the new wildflowers or disturb their young roots. Replacing weeds with wildflowers will be an ongoing process.

  • Scratch and Rake

You do need to break the soil and rake it smooth, but not more than 2-3 inches deep.  You want little crevices for the seeds to slip into so they have a cozy home.  I’ve had the best success by loosening that top couple inches of soil and waiting a couple of weeks for all the weeds to germinate. I then scratch up those weeds, rake again, and then put the wildflower seed out.

  • How Much To Plant

One ounce of seed (a small packet) plants about 100-150 square feet.  (eg 10 feet by 15 feet.)  Follow this rule of thumb.  Planting more than this makes the plants choke each other out.  Planting less gives weeds free run.

Expert Tip:  Mix some sand with the wildflower seed to make it easier to spread the tiny wildflower seeds evenly.  About four parts sand to one part seed.

https://www.bbbseed.com/wildflower-grass-tips/method-of-application/02.15.16 'Planting Wildflowers'

  • When to Plant                                                                                                           A wildflower/native plants garden at Harlequin Gardens, Boulder, CO

If you live someplace mild and humid, you can plant almost anytime.  The rest of us either plant in the Spring (about one month before last frost date) or Fall.

  • Water

That’s the biggest challenge for many.  If you aren’t living in the above mentioned mild and humid area, you need to be sure the wildflowers get enough water.  One gardening buddy said her secret was to go out and seed the night before a big snowstorm and let melting snow help.  I personally use row cover over the area to keep water from evaporating.  I also use a soft rain nozzle to hand water over everything.

Our website has a Resources Section with more detailed instructions on seeding wildflowers. https://www.bbbseed.com/wildflower-grass-tips/

02.15.16 HabitatHero 'Planting Wildflower'

A wildflower yard in Moab Utah

That’s really it.

Pick an appropriate wildflower mix.

Get rid of the huge weeds and prepare the top couple inches of soil.

Plant.

Water.

Wait for Nature to do What She Does Best: Create beauty for you and food for all the wild creatures.

 

Before and After Pictures are some of my favorite things.  The Habitat Heroes program has awesome before and after pictures that will inspire you:

Photo Credit:

http://rockies.audubon.org/get-involved/habitat-hero-winners

A Parking lot median at the West View Rec Center in Westminster, CO, before and after

02.15.16 'Planting Wildflowers' WestViewRecCenter

02.15.16 'Planting Wildflowers' WestViewRecCenter2

 

 

It’s Caterpillar Time!

by Sandy Swegelcaterpillar-emerging

Protect our friends. So many butterflies in our area have laid their eggs and their baby caterpillars are getting big and fat and chewing up plants. Be sure you know who your friends are before you squash any of them! You’ll love having the butterflies.

Swallowtail caterpillars
I found these this week, not on the dozens of dill plants I planted for them but on a lone leftover parsley from last year. Next year, more parsley.

Monarch caterpillars9793003_orig
Also yellow stripey…they look a little more serious. I’m watching for these now. Quite a few eggs on the milkweed plants I let take over part of the back garden…so I’m hoping

caterillarPainted lady caterpillar
I almost never see these although I see lots of the butterflies. Skinny little black prickly caterpillars. Their host is the malva family like thistles or hollyhocks.

Cabbage looper   looper-caterpillar1(1)
Well this is one you’re probably seeing a lot of right now. Cute little white moths fluttering everywhere. Bright green little loopers inching along devouring your cabbages. If you want cabbages, you have to treat these as pests.

 

 

Photocredit:
lagbchbutterflies.weebly.com
www.monarch-butterfly.com
wildones.org

 

Monarch Butterflies

by Sandy Swegel

Wanting More Butterflies

by Sandy Swegel

That’s one thing I’m hearing this week.  One gardening buddy recently read Barbara Kingsolver’s novel “Flight Behavior” and wanted to grow milkweed for the monarch butterflies.  That’s my idea of a good book….one that makes you want to go out and garden.  Monarchs eat nectar from many different plants, but they only lay eggs on milkweed plants because that’s the only thing the baby monarch caterpillars eat.  Without milkweed plants to lay the next generation of eggs on, monarchs have no way to reproduce.

Milkweed traditionally has grown self-seeded along ditches and roadways and in moist ends of fields.  GMO farming across mid-America has meant applying Roundup heavily to fields, and killing the milkweed in the fields and the runoff from the fields inadvertently kills the milkweed along the ditches and open spaces near the fields.  If there’s no milkweed, the monarch dies somewhere in mid-migration without having produced babies.

We’ve been on a campaign to encourage growing milkweed plants in gardens in the hope it will help the monarchs survive.  And they are really pretty plants that attract all kind of butterflies and pollinators!

We carry different kinds of milkweed seed (Asclepias) for different growth conditions.

Here in Colorado where it is dry,
Showy Milkweed
  and Common Milkweed (both with pink flowers) grows in the wild because it can handle dry conditions. In other areas, Swamp Milkweed (pink flowers) grows in wet boggy conditions.

Then there are the orange milkweeds.  Butterfly Milkweed (asclepias tuberosa) has a delightful orange and yellow flower and is sometimes sold in garden centers. It is winterhardy.  The most lush vivid milkweed is Tropical Milkweed or Bloodflower which is Zone 9 hardy or grown as an annual in colder areas.

So many pretty choices to help save a butterfly from extinction!  An easy way to grow milkweed is to spread the seeds in late Fall.  I like growing milkweed because it makes me feel so connected to the cycles of nature knowing that I’m fostering baby monarch caterpillars whose parents left Mexico last Spring to travel perhaps as far north as Canada, and whose grandchildren will finally return to the family home in Mexico this winter.  What a journey.

It’s also Show and Tell time.  It’s time to take the kids or some curious adults outside and prove your superior knowledge of the ways of nature and introduce them to butterfly eggs.  It will bee a good milkweed year in the wild this year. Lots of spring rains followed by warm days will made the perfect home for milkweed plants.  Milkweeds are growing in my garden and along roadsides and ditches.  If milkweed plants are fully grown, you can walk up to almost any plant and look under the leaves and find little tiny white monarch butterfly eggs.

The butterfly lays her eggs on the underside of the leaves. The eggs hatch hungry little larvae that chew up the leaves.
The larvae get big and fat and eventually form a pupae, also on the underneath side of a milkweed plant.
Finally, “ta da” a monarch butterfly emerges.
I have two favorite kinds of milkweed plants in my garden.  The “showy milkweed” Asclepias speciosa with the big pink seed head you’ve seen in fields, and “Butterfly weed” Asclepias tuberosa which is my favorite because it’s bright orange and looks good in the dry August garden next to the Black-eyed Susans.  It also makes a great picture to see a Monarch butterfly on one of the orange flowers.

Monarchs are happy to choose either of these two “milkweeds” or any of the other more than 100 different species of milkweeds around the world. So you can pick the flower you like and grow it in your own garden. Grow it and the monarchs WILL come.  I’ve had good luck with fall or winter direct sowing of the seeds that easily grow into blooming plants the next year.  After that, they reseed themselves gently.

Video links http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_profilepage&v=9Q2eORu1hP8

And, just in case there are any monarch butterflies out there that don’t know how to do this, there’s an instructable!

http://www.instructables.com/id/Monarch-Butterflies-Egg-to-Butterfly/

 

No Neonics: Three Easy Ways to Help

by Sandy Swegel03.25.15 bees

Just a moment to be serious now. Spring has arrived and stores are filling with bedding plants and seeds. At the same time homeowners are noticing all the weeds in yards and some still go out to buy weed killer.

There are three easy quick things you can do that make a difference to help protect bees and yourself from the “neonic” pesticides.

Learn One Name
Imidacloprid
That’s the neonic most likely in retail products. If you’re an over achiever, the other names are: Clothianidin, Thiamethoxam, Acetamiprid, Dinotefuran. These are ingredients in weed killers, especially products marked Bayer or with names like Systemic or Max. Just check your labels and don’t buy these.

03.25.15 neonic tag
Watch For the Label
Customer pressure led Home Depot and Lowe’s last year to agree to put labels on all plants treated with neonics. The label is deceptive….makes it sound like neonics are better…but watch for the label.

Ask Your Retailer
There’s no government regulation (Alas!) that says neonics have to be labeled. The best thing you can do is ask at the garden center if the plants you are buying have been treated with neonics. If they don’t know…then you can probably assume the plants have been sprayed. The treatments can last up to two months in your garden…making your pretty flowers potentially lethal to bees that land on them.

 

Every time you ask a garden center employee or a grower if their plants have been treated with neonics, you are educating them. That’s what we are after. Nobody really wants to harm bees or the environment. Two years ago when I asked a major grower here in the Denver area if they used neonics, the owner looked at me like I was some crazy Boulder liberal. Which of course I am. He said, “Bah humbug, there’s no way to grow plants without neonics.” But last week, his greenhouse (Welby) had an open house in which they proudly said that most of their plants were grown without neonics and they were continuing to work on how to get neonic-free.

Oh and of course there’s a fourth thing to do to help the bees. Grow your own plants from good non-pesticide treated, non-GMO, often organic, often heirloom, always neonic-free seeds like ours!
For lots of info on neonics in consumer products, you can read this pdf put out by Xerces.
http://www.xerces.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/NeonicsInYourGarden.pdf

Photo Credit
http://ecowatch.com/2015/02/10/global-ban-bee-killing-neonics/