Saturday, September 20, 2008

Acquiring & Caring For Bonsai

Most bonsai are hardy trees and shrubs whose natural habitat is out in the open. They are not permanent houseplants; and even semi-tropical trees should be placed outside when weather permits. During the summer the plant must be able to carry out the process of photosynthesis, and during winter it is resting and building up its strength for the coming spring. Too long in a warm room will persuade it that spring has arrived early and it will start budding. If this happens more than once, the tree will simply die of exhaustion.


Sunlight, especially the ultra-violet ray, affects the growth of trees. Therefore, except in special cases such as immediately after repotting, extensive trimming, etc, bonsai should be placed in a sunny location. Bright light will also work well but the tree should not be placed more than 12" away from the direct light source. An east, west or southern exposure works best. A northern exposure will require the use of "grow lights" which should remain on up to 16 hours each day and the lamp should not be more than 2 inches from the top of the tree. Incandescent light is too hot and will not provide the various spectrum of light that is required to maintain your bonsai tree. If you do not have a window or light source that provides an east, west or southern exposure, be sure to select a bonsai tree that does well in lower lighting conditions.


Unlike a houseplant, bonsai trees use a "free draining" type of soil because their roots cannot tolerate "wet feet". In addition, they are grown in significantly less soil and, therefore require more watering. Factors such as tree location, temperature, lighting conditions, quantity of soil used, and the changing seasons will determine the frequency of watering. You can get to know when your tree needs to be watered by observing the foliage, testing the soil with your index finger just below the surface, or just by the weight of the pot. (The drier the tree, the lighter it will feel.) To take the guesswork out of watering, an inexpensive moisture meter which works very much like a thermometer comes in handy. Insert it into the soil and the movement of the needle will tell you if it is time to water.

Rainwater is best for watering plants, but tap water that has stood for a few hours is adequate. In summer, trees should be watered in the early morning or late afternoon to avoid the midday heat. This will prevent the leaves of the finer bonsai from burning. In winter, water early to permit any excess to drain before the night frost. Plunging the pot into a bowl to soak is ideal for recently potted trees, small collections and for trees that have dried out. Be sure to drain properly, however!


All trees grow in more humid conditions than our homes, offices and dormitories. So what can we do to provide this essential humidity ? Misting the tree is only beneficial for a short time, so what we recommend is to place the tree on a humidity tray and add water to the tray. As the water in the tray evaporates it creates a humid environment around the tree 24 hours a day. When the water in the tray is gone, add more water. It's a good idea to separate the pot from the water in the tray by adding some pebbles to the bottom of the tray. This will prevent any roots from sitting in the water.


Because bonsai trees are cultivated in limited amounts of soil, adequate feed is very important. As a general rule, a small amount of feed is given in the spring and a larger amount in the fall. Feed for bonsai should contain three principle ingredients; nitrogen, phosphoric acid, and potash. It is also a good idea to use a fertilizer containing "chelated" iron. Water before fertilizing your tree and then apply at half the strength recommended by the brand's manufacturer. Rotate the use of brands since different manufacturers add different amounts of trace elements and minerals. You could also add Superthrive, which is a vitamin supplement to the fertilizer mix. You may find it simpler and easier to use slow release fertilizer granules (placed over the soil) whose nutrients are released with each watering.


All potted plants will eventually outgrow their containers. While houseplants need to be "potted-up", that is, placed in larger and larger containers, the miniaturization of a bonsai trees is maintained by keeping the roots confined to the small container. On average, repotting will be necessary every 3-5 years, but the tree should be removed from its container and its root system inspected once a year. If the roots form a circular ball around the perimeter of the pot, it is time to trim the roots and repot.

When repotting remember to:
? Use only bonsai soil
? Remove air pockets by working the soil down through the roots
? Do not remove more that 20% of the root system
? Repot during the appropriate repotting season
? Water well and keep out of the sun for a week or two

Trimming & Pruning

The main objective of trimming and pruning is to shape the bonsai into the desired form and to reduce growth above ground in order to maintain a balance with root growth.

The process of shaping begins when the tree is very young and is on-going as it continues its growth. Trimming is accomplished by using a sharp scissors or shears. This traditional tool is called butterfly shears or bonsai shears and is used for removing foliage and light branches. When heavier branches are removed, we call it pruning and the tool to use is the concave cutter, for which there is no substitute. The concave cutter allows you to remove small, medium and even large branches without leaving any visible scars. Some trees such as the Juniper should be trimmed by using the thumb and index finger to remove new growth and to prevent browning and a "sheared" appearance.

Pests & Diseases

As living trees, bonsai are susceptible to insect attacks and disease. Preventive and corrective measures include:
? Keeping your bonsai in good health, since insects and bacteria tend to attack weak trees
? Giving your tree ample light, fresh air and ventilation
? Keeping the soil free of spent blooms and fallen leaves etc. You may also use an insecticidal soap spray which is not harmful to humans or animals. This soap derivative, however, may require more than one application to control the insect population. It's also a good idea to use this spray weekly to prevent any attacks.

About Hummingbirds and How to Attract Them to Your Garden

The key to attracting hummingbirds to your garden mainly consists of the right type of flowers and places where they can perch and rest during the day, such as trees or large plants. Hummingbirds are guided by visual means and are particularly attracted to certain shades of red. According to The Hummingbird Society, there are several possible explanations for their preference of red blossoms. Given that insects also see nectar, they can be regarded as competitors. Nearly all insects see well in the visible and near-ultraviolet light but poorly in the red end of the spectrum. Also, a red blossom may appear nearly black and unattractive to a number of insects, but not to the hummingbird, which can see the full visible spectrum but also some in the ultraviolet. This makes it less likely that an insect has taken nectar from a red flower. Another likely explanation is that during migration, red blossoms effectively contrast with a green environment more than other colored flowers do.

Hummingbirds are welcomed guests to nearly all gardens. By planting flowering shrubs and plants that are their favored food source, we can easily attract them to become regular visitors to our gardens. Below is a short list of their preferred flowering plants by common name, separated by region:

Southeastern United States:

Butterfly Bush
Cardinal Flower
Coral or Trumpet Honeysuckle
Cypress Vine
Native Trumpet Creeper
Texas Sage

Southwest United States:

Indian Paintbrush
Lily of the Nile
Mexican Honeysuckle
Texas Sage
Western Coral Bean

West Coast United States:

Bottle Brush
Cape Fuchsia
Woodland Orchard

Northeastern United States:

Blue Lobelia
Cardinal Flower
Red Morning Glory
Scarlet Sage

Midwest United States:

Coral Bells
Coral Honeysuckle

Even though flowers are the natural means to attract hummingbirds to your garden, man-made feeders filled with a mixture of water and sugar (sucrose) are an essential alternative. Sugar, whether from a flower or a feeder, is a necessary nutrient in a hummingbirds diet. Tests have shown that hummingbirds favor sucrose in flower nectar more than other sugars such as fructose and glucose. Therefore, with the proper ratio of ingredients, your feeder becomes a good substitute to the flowers that hummingbirds like best.

The formula for the mixture used in hummingbird feeders is 4 parts water (not distilled) to 1 part table sugar. Boil the mixture for one to two minutes, then cool and store in refrigerator. The mixture can be stored in the refrigerator for up to one week. Do not use red food coloring, honey, or artificial sweeteners in your mixture, as this could be harmful to the hummingbirds.

If one of your goals is to attract hummingbirds to your garden, a visit to your local nursery is a great starting point. Find an experienced employee who can tell you which species of plants grow well in your area and have a history of successfully attracting hummingbirds. Most importantly, be imaginative and have fun planting and growing your garden to attract beautiful hummingbirds.

A Beautiful Rose Is Nature's Gift

Roses are one of natures most beautiful and splendid gifts. Roses come in a variety of colors and scents, from deep, deep red to the brightest yellow. The many pedals on roses offer a texture and fullness to roses that far outshine any other flowers. Black roses, red roses and white roses have all been used in historical writings.

Even Sherlock Holmes paused from his busy work while solving the case of "The Naval Treaty" and said, "All other things are really necessary for our existenceBut this rose is an extra. Its smell and its color are an embellishment of life, not a condition of it. It is only goodness which gives extras, and so I say again that we have much to hope from the flowers.

Its interesting that something as beautiful as roses are also equipped with sharp thorns. An interesting play on our concept of taking the good with the bad from nature. The most esteemed of all cultivated plants, are the true roses. Rosa occurs indigenously in the north temperate zone and in tropical mountain areas, usually as erect or climbing shrubs with five-petaled fragrant flowers. The rose has been a favorite flower in many lands since prehistoric times. It appears in the earliest art, poetry, and tradition. It has been used in innumerable ways in decoration. In ancient times it was used medically. But, for many gardeners just being able to grow beautiful roses is reward enough.

You can search all over the web to find some great resources to help. Yellow roses, blue roses or climbing roses can all be found on the internet. Take your time to look around and consider what kind of roses you would like to have blooming in your garden.

5 Perennials For Shade Gardens

We all know that flowers love sunshine, but did you realize that there are perennials that love the shade?

You can create a beautiful garden in the shade that can act as a cooling retreat on those hot summer days. By using perennials, your flowers will come up year after year for a lifetime of enjoyment.

Shade gardens offer much more than gardens that sit in the blazing sun all day. You can actually sit in them and enjoy them. Pull up a nice lounge chair or have a beautiful granite bench installed. Sit and read on a hot day, or just sip a drink and enjoy the birds and butterflies.

Like any other garden the best shade gardens will have taller plants in the back against the house or woods, medium growing plants in the middle and the shorter or ground cover plants on the inner edge. Since most perennials bloom for a short time, you ll want to plant them so that you always have color in the garden. Stage the planting so that each area has a blooming plant at all times of the season.

Heres a list of some perennials that thrive in the shade:

Astibe - This plant comes in 3 sizes which grow to 20", 30" and 40" in a variety of colors. You can make a whole garden just with this 1 flower! It looks best planted in groups and has clumps of fluffy flower spikes.
Foxglove - This is a great plant for the back row of the garden as it can grow to 5 feet tall. It comes in a variety of colors and has large spikes filled with bell shaped flowers. This beautiful flower is highly toxic if ingested so be careful with it around animals and small children.
Lily Of The valley - This wonderfully fragrant plant has dainty white bell shaped flowers. It is great for a ground cover or the front of the garden as it grows to only about 6" tall.
Lousiana Iris - This beautiful velvety purple black flower produces 4" blooms that last well into June. Plant in groups for best effect. Grows about 2 feet tall.

Virginia Blue Bells - This medium sized plant has lavender bell shaped clusters. It grows to about 2 feet in height and is very hardy and easy to grow despite its fragile appearance.

3 Things to Consider when Building a Greenhouse

A greenhouse has the potential to provide many benefits for the average flower-lover. However, if they are not built in the appropriate location the results can be detrimental. That said, before you build a greenhouse, it is important to consider all aspects in order to ensure you receive the best results possible.

If you are thinking of building a greenhouse, but are unsure of factors which can affect the outcome, read the information below which will inform you on everything you need to know before you start building. Consider the following factors when determining where you are going to build your greenhouse:

1. Light Everyone knows that plants need light to grow and sunlight is even more crucial for greenhouses because there are so many different types of plants and flowers requiring light. You do not want to build your greenhouse in an area which receives no sunlight at all however you do not want to build it in an area which receives too much sun either. Not enough can be harmful to the plants and flowers, yet so can too much sun. You will want to build your greenhouse in an area which receives a minimum of 6 full hours of sunlight a day. You may also want to consider planting a tree on either side of your lighthouse which will provide some shade through the day. Overhanging trees are not a good idea and may put your greenhouse in danger due to falling branches.

2. Convenience You will want to build your greenhouse in a convenient area which can be easily accessed, but is not in an area which may be targeted by high winds. You dont want to have to walk a mile just to get to your greenhouse because chances are you wont maintain it as well this way. Other things to consider when building your greenhouse are access to electricity and water. These are important in the successful functioning of your greenhouse.

3. Setting The actual setting of your greenhouse will greatly affect its overall performance. Many areas throughout the world receive high levels of rain during certain times of the year. This can be detrimental to operation of your greenhouse since too much rain can cause flooding inside. The best way to ensure this doesnt happen is by building your greenhouse in a high level area that is a great deal higher than most of the other property.

Choosing the location of your greenhouse is the most important factor you will need to consider. Take your time and research all your options before you start building. A greenhouse is a large investment and you want to make sure the money you spend now will be worth it in the future.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

There is More to Wooden Garden Sheds Than Meets the Eye

Garden sheds are a characteristic feature of many a modern day home with a garden, because they are so versatile. There is the traditional use of the garden shed: a place where everything, including the kitchen sink, can be stored. But these day people are using their imagination when it comes to garden sheds; some see their garden shed as an extension to the home and are converting them into:

A reading shed, with recliners, rugs, soft lighting, where tranquillity can be enjoyed, and of course a resident coffee pot and a permanently filled biscuit tin

A play shed, which is in competition with the local toy store for the amount of toys the shed holds

A music shed, either located at the bottom of the garden or fitted with soundproofing so little Johnny can bash, sorry play, his drums to his heart’s content

A craft shed where artistic moments can be nurtured

A rubbish/garbage/recycling shed used to store and ‘hide’ the numerous refuse and recycling bins given to householders by the council.

Several reasons why garden sheds are no longer being seen as ‘just a shed,’ is because sheds now come in an array of shapes, sizes, colour, and materials. For example, even a simple garden shed design will have side and rear windows that allow natural light to stream in. The shed will have full-height walls and doors that give it a ‘house-like’ appearance, and many sheds come with add-on options such as: window shutters; flower boxes; decking; veranda, to enhance the visual appeal. These day’s garden sheds are seen as an attractive feature for the garden and not something that needs to be tucked away behind a hedge.

Then there are the garden sheds that are multi-functioning and combine the expediency of a garden shed and something else, such a marquee and a potting shed all in one. These sheds are ideal for gardeners who only have a small garden but need a place for storing things in while having a place to tend to seeds and plants. A firewood shed combines a garden shed with an attachment for storing firewood.

Now, there are some people who just see a shed as a place to store things in or as an extension of the home. Then there are people who actually love their sheds and called themselves ‘sheddies’ (a term used amongst fans of sheds but I don’t think is in the Oxford English Dictionary just yet). There is an annual ‘Shed of the Year’ competition organised by the Readers Shed that was held during National Shed Week, which commenced on July 7th 2008. The celebrity judges for the competition included the shed enthusiast and real estate expert, Sarah Beeny, Trevor Baylis who is the founder of the Windup Radio, Alex, of, and Dr. Kathryn Ferry, professor of beach huts. Together, they decided which shed was the most unique and different after a public voting system that started in June 2008 produced a shortlist of winners. There was huge public response to the competition with more than 3,000 votes for over 900 entries in 12 categories. And the winner for 2008 was “The rugby pub” a pub shed owned by Tim from Sudbury in Suffolk and is said to be the perfect ‘man’ shed. The shed was designed and built by the owner. It has eight roof lights in an octagonal roof, a pair of double doors, a 15′ fully fitted bar, a ceiling fan, sink with cold running water, comfortably furnished with sea grass matting floor, a hammock… basically everything a shed should be fitted with.

So, if your converted garden sheds are something you think the world should see, don’t forget to enter next year’s Shed of the Year competition.

Beware of Toxic Mulch

Mulching beds has become extremely popular these days, and mulch can be really beneficial to your plants and the soil in your planting beds, but there are things you need to watch for.

Here in Ohio the most popular type of mulch that people use is shredded hardwood bark mulch, which is a by product of the timber industry. When they haul the logs into the sawmill the first thing they do is debark them. Years ago the bark was a huge problem for the mills because there didn't seem to be a useful purpose for it, until people realized the hidden benefits that it held. Still to this day, the bark is a headache for the saw mills, and they don't always understand how to properly handle it.

They like to pile it as high as they can so it takes up less space in their yard. The mulch really tends to back up during the winter months because there is little demand for it. In order for the mills to pile the mulch high, they literally have have to drive the large front end loaders up onto the pile. Of course the weight of these large machines compacts the mulch in the pile, and this can become a huge problem for you or I if we happen to get some mulch that has been stacked too high, and compacted too tightly.

When the trees are first debarked the mulch is fairly fresh, and needs to decompose before we dare use it around our plants. The decomposition process requires oxygen and air flow into the pile. When the mulch is compacted too tight, this air flow can not take place, and as the mulch continues to decompose it becomes extremely hot as the organic matter ferments. Sometimes the extreme heat combined with the inability to release the heat can cause the pile to burst into flame through spontaneous combustion.

In other cases the mulch heats up, can not release the gas, and the mulch actually becomes toxic. When this occurs the mulch develops an overbearing odor that will take your breath away as you dig into the pile. When you spread this toxic mulch around your plants the gas it contains is released, and this gas can and will burn your plants.

It has happened to me twice. Once at my own house, and once on a job I was doing for a customer. This toxic mulch is very potent. We spilled a little mulch in the foliage of a Dwarf Alberta Spruce that we were mulching around, and just a few minutes later brushed the mulch out of the plant. The next day my customer noticed that one side of the plant was all brown. The mulch had only been there for a matter of minutes.

Not only did I have to replace the Dwarf Alberta Spruce, but the mulch also damaged at least 10 other plants that I had to replace. I once saw where somebody ordered a truckload of mulch, had it dumped in their driveway, and as the toxic mulch slid out of the dump truck onto the asphalt the toxic gas that was released settled on the lawn next to the driveway.

The gas, not the mulch, turned the grass brown next to the mulch pile.

This same person spread several yards of the mulch around their house before they realized the problem, and it ruined many of their plants.

Now here's the hard part. Trying to explain to you how to identify toxic mulch. It has a very strong odor that will take your breath away. But then again almost all mulch has a powerful odor. This is very different than your typical mulch smell, but I can't explain it any better than that.

The mulch looks perfectly normal, maybe a little darker in color than usual. If you suspect a problem with the mulch you have, take a couple of shovels full, and place it around an inexpensive plant. Maybe just a couple of flowers. When doing this test use mulch from inside the mulch pile and not from the edges. The mulch on the edge of the pile has more than likely released most of the toxic gas that it may have held.

If after 24 hours the test plants are okay, the mulch should be fine. The
purpose of this article is not to induce panic at the mulch yard, but toxic mulch can do serious damage. At my house it burned the leaves right off some of the plants in my landscape, and burned the grass next to the bed all the way around the house. It looked like somebody had taken a torch and burned the grass back about 2” all the way around the bed. If I hadn't seen it with my own eyes I wouldn't have believed it.

Getting Rid of Standing Water in
Do you have one or more areas in your yard that hold water after a rainfall? This is a common problem, and sometimes difficult to solve. Over the years I’ve talked with dozens of people trying to battle this problem, and on several occasions I have been hired to solve the problem. So what can be done?

Too often people come to me asking what kind of a tree, or what kind of shrubs can be planted in a wet area to dry it up. This is the wrong approach. Most plants, and I mean almost all plants are not going to survive in an area where the soil is soggy for extended periods of time. The roots need to breathe, and planting a tree or shrub in a water area will kill it.

Another common approach is to try and fill the area with topsoil. Depending on a variety of variables, this can work, but many times adding additional soil to a wet area will only shift the water to another area just a few feet away.

If you are lucky enough to have some natural fall to your property, or a drainage ditch nearby, this problem is easy enough to solve. If you happen to live in an area that was developed over the past few years, there might even be a system to remove storm water nearby. In many new home developments I’ve seen storm water catch basins already installed in backyards. Trust me, this is a good thing. There is nothing worse than having a soggy yard all the time.

If you are fortunate to have some fall to your yard, or a storm water system that you can drain water into, this problem is easy to solve. Make sure you check with your local officials before you do anything at all with a storm drain.

All you have to do is go to your local building supply center and buy some 4” perforated plastic drain pipe. The best kind for this purpose is the flexible kind that comes in 100’ rolls. This type of drain pipe has small slits all around the pipe. These slits allow water to enter the pipe so it can be carried away.

Just dig a trench from the center of the low area you are trying to drain, to the point that you intend to drain it to. Using a simple line level you can set up a string over top of the trench to make sure that your pipe runs downhill all the way. A line level is a very small level that is designed to attach to a string. Any hardware store sells them for just a couple of dollars. Set the string up so it is level, then measure from the string to the bottom of your trench to make sure you have constant fall. You should have 6” fall for every 100’ of pipe.

The highest point is going to be the area that you are trying to drain, so you only want your pipe deep enough at this point so it can be covered with soil. Once the trench is dug just lay the pipe in. At the highest end of the pipe you’ll need to insert a strainer into the end of the pipe to keep soil from entering the pipe. Cover the pipe with some washed stone, and then backfill the trench with soil. The washed stone creates a void around the pipe so that the water can find its way into the pipe.

Washed stone is usually inexpensive stone that has been washed so it is clean and free of mud. The only part of the pipe that needs to be exposed is the low end, where the water exits the pipe. Do not put a strainer in that end.

If you do not have anywhere that you can drain the water to, you still might be able to do something. But first consider what is happening, and why the water is standing where it is. Even if you have well drained soil, water can not soak in fast enough during periods of heavy rain, and it runs across the top of the ground and eventually finds the lowest point, and either leaves the property, or gets trapped.

If you have well drained soil, the trapped water usually soaks in. If you have heavy clay soil, the water lays there, and the soil underneath becomes very compacted, and the problem compounds itself. The more water that stands, the worse the drainage gets.

What I have done in areas like this, where there is standing water but nowhere to drain it to, is to install a French drain system that actually carries the water away from the low area, and allows it to seep into the ground over a larger distance, where the soil is not quite so compacted. To install this French drain system you do everything exactly as explained above, except instead of draining the water to a lower area, you can send it in any direction you like. Even in the direction from which it came, which is uphill.

When installing this type of system, it’s a good idea to dig a number of shorter trenches, all heading away from the area where the water stands. Using the line level, make sure your trenches fall away from their point of origin so once the water enters the pipes it will flow away from the wet spot. What is going to happen is that during times of heavy rain the low area is still going to trap water, but much of that water is going to seep into the drain pipes and eventually leach into the soil under each trench.

Because this soil has not been compacted by the standing water and the baking sun, it will accept the water. It won’t happen near as fast as if you could just drain the water to a ditch, but at least you will have a mechanism in place that will eventually disperse the water back into the soil. It’s a lot easier to leach 200 gallons of water into a series of trenches that total 100 lineal feet, than it is to expect that water to leach into a 10’ by 10’ area that is hard and compact.

Transplanting Tips

Early spring is a great time for transplanting trees and shrubs, but you must do so before they wake up. Transplanting a plant is a very traumatic experience for the plant if it is awake. It’s like doing surgery on a person while they are awake. Dormancy starts in the fall as soon as you experience a good hard freeze, and the plants remain dormant until the weather warms up in the spring. This is when you should transplant, while the plants are dormant.

You can transplant in the spring up until the plants leaf out. When the buds are green and swollen you are usually safe to still transplant, but once the leaf develops, you should wait until fall. When transplanting you can dig the shrubs out bare root, just make sure they are out of the ground for as short a time as possible, and keep the roots damp while out of the ground.

Make sure there are no air pockets around the roots when you replant them. When possible, it is always better to dig a ball of earth with the plants when you transplant them. The rule of thumb is 12” of root ball for every 1” of stem caliper. If the diameter of the stem of a tree is 2”, then you should dig a root ball 24” in diameter.

Don’t be afraid of cutting a few roots when you transplant. Just try not to cut them any shorter than the above guidelines allow. Cutting the roots will actually help to reinvigorate the plant. It’s a process simply known as root pruning. When the roots are severed, the plant then develops lateral roots to make up for what is lost. These lateral roots are more fibrous in nature, and have more ability to pick up water and nutrients.

Some nurseries drive tractors over the plants in the field with a device that undercuts the roots of the plant just to force the plant to develop more fibrous roots. This make transplanting the plant the following year much more successful, and makes for a stronger and healthier plant.

The old timers root pruned by hand by forcing a spade in the ground around their plants. If you have a plant in your landscape that is doing poorly, a little root pruning while the plant is dormant could bring it around. It’s worth the effort.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Greenhouse Calamities � Thoughts from a Novice Gardener

Greenhouses are a great addition to anyone�s garden. They come in all different sizes and you can nestle them right where you want them and with smaller versions of greenhouses you can move them quite easily. That said, as great as they look and of course smell, there should be some type of manual to buy when you are first setting up shop in there. There are many things no one bothers to tell you and if you don�t know, you don�t ask. Here are five things I learned by plodding along on my own:

1. Never assume that your seeds are not growing and then buy plants instead. I started growing tomato seeds, in the proper seed tray, and within a month nothing had happened. However, I used pretty expensive potting soil and didn�t want to waste it so I dumped it on the floor of the greenhouse and turned it in. Then, I planted 6 tomato plants into the ground and had homemade salsa recipes salivating in my head. A month later I had well over 30 tomato plants tumbling over each other. The worst part was that I didn�t label the plants and wasn�t sure which ones to thin out. I thinned and ended up with the orange pixie variety mostly and they were about the size of a mutant cherry tomato.

2. Never assume that just because your garden is now �indoors� that you won�t get an insect infestation. If you are afraid of insects, greenhouse gardening is not much better than being out in nature. After you plant your garden, whether in grow bags, on tables or directly in the ground, look up. There he is�Sammy the Slug peering down on you with a slight smirk on his face. If you are allergic to bee stings, every year at least one gets in your greenhouse and seems to twoddle around in there for what seems like an eternity.

3. Never think you are a pack mule and can water your plants enough by using a gardening can or bucket. You can�t! With the heat and the sun shining through the glass the plants need more water than the outside plants. You need a mister, some type of irrigation system, ideally, and at bare minimum a hose. This means you�ll require a water source. Think about it when you are putting the greenhouse in place. If you�re water source is close to the house you must put the greenhouse within reach. Or, you can be like me� carry about 20 buckets of water out each night and only water � of the plants before you give up. (That said, the cursing involved in the greenhouse creates more carbon dioxide and makes plants grow better).

4. Always read or know the size to which your plants grow. Picture this�novice to gardening and new, proud-owner of a large greenhouse. �Oooh, what can I grow,� immediately pops into ones head. She plants dill, (accidentally) 30 tomato plants, eggplant and zucchini among other things. Everyday the novice goes out to water her plants and gets very excited. Until slowly, the greenery is a foot tall, then 2 feet tall then, well, then these plants are insanely out of control. Have you ever seen the size of a zucchini plant�s leaves�they are twice the size as your head! Zucchini sucks the life out of the plants planted underneath it and surrounding it. So, as for the garlic cloves planted�she was forced to make salsa sans garlic. On another note, the dill she planted grew to be at least 15 feet tall. A word to the wise, find out how big the stuff gets and plan accordingly.

5. Never buy a greenhouse if you have no one to look after it while you are on your holidays. Greenhouse plants require a lot of work because generally the soil dry-out quicker. Therefore you must water everyday at least once. Irrigation systems can help with this, but it is still advisable to have someone check it regularly to ensure it works. I went on holidays for 2 weeks and yes I had a friend looking after the glassy greatness, but the following things happened:

� She left the door open one night and some strange animal went on a frenzy hacking up all of the plants, probably eating a couple too.

� She watered, but not enough water was used. Therefore, I lost a lot of plants including my favorite.

� Leaving the door open also helped some of my plants get infested and it also created havoc with the internal temperatures.

� Some of the tomato plants needed to be pinched out and after 2 weeks I had inferior, deformed tomatoes.

� Cats. Cat pee in a damp, warm environment smells well, like cat pee.

6 Fashion Tips for Gardeners

Clothes and skin cream are far removed from potting out your begonias, or digging a trench for a line of potatoes. But the clothes you wear are important for your protection in the garden. Here are six simple but effective solutions to various gardening hazards...

1. Starting from the top, you need to protect your head. Body heat escapes through the head and in the cold weather a warm hat should be worn. Knit yourself a 'gardening crazy' hat or buy a simple woollen hat on the high street.

And in the summer, even more attention should be paid to the head. The sun's rays are not only hot but they actually burn you. We all know this but how easy it is to forget when you want to soak up the sun after months of grey or cold weather. Invest in a cool sunhat. Not only will it help protect you from sunstroke, it will also protect against the drying out of your hair and skin.

2. Keep one old comfortable jacket or short coat, preferably with fairly large pockets, especially for the garden. When you're working, you won't need to worry about dirty marks. Leave them there, it's all part of the gardener's designer uniform!

3. Suitable trousers.. again keep a couple of old pairs especially for gardening. Wear heavy duty jeans for heavy duty work. A good waterproof pair are handy in damp climates. In fact, in damp climates, a whole waterproof gardening suit is invaluable. There is always planting to do in the rain, and a waterproof hat, jacket and trousers tucked in a pair of boots will keep you nice and dry!

4. Protect your hands. For light work, potting on or pinching out tomato plants, a disposable plastic pair of gloves or a pair of kitchen rubber gloves will be enough. For heavier work - pruning roses, weeding thistles and nettles, wear heavy duty gardening gloves, or your hands will suffer.

5. Watch those toes! Invest in a pair of steel toe capped boots and wear them! If you're pottering in the greenhouse or doing a little weeding, a simple pair of wellington boots will do, or even sandals if the weather allows. But as soon as you pick up a large tool, your steel toe-caps should be worn. If you're not used to them, these boots can feel heavy and cumbersome at first, but stick with it. If you're doing heavy work, you need heavy boots.

6. And last but certainly not least, you must protect your skin. Moisturise all exposed body parts whenever you are woking in the garden, rain or shine. Working outside will give you a nice healthy glow, but the wind and sun will dry your skin given half a chance.

So there we have it, not a fashion designer's dream, but these 6 garden fashion tips will make life a lot more comfortable, and safer, for the average home gardener. Happy gardening!

How to Grow Avocado

Fruit gardening and vegetable gardening is a very exciting venture. Growing Avocado's was one of the challenges I took on as a hobby fruit and vegetable gardener. When you are not an inhabitant of state with a tropical climate you can grow avocado's in containers.

So, if you�re a fan of the avocado, chances are you already know how to grow avocado plants. Although the avocado tree is a tropical plant that thrives only in zones 9, 10, and 11, many gardeners grow avocado plants indoors, they grow it as a houseplant. Avocado plants are typically started from the seed in the center of the fruit. Many gardeners begin their avocado plants by piercing the seed with toothpicks and then suspending it (pointed end up) over a glass, vase, or jar of water. You can keep the water sweet by adding some charcoal in the bottom of your container. In two to six weeks, if the seed germinates, you should have a young plant, ready to pot. However, not all avocado seeds will germinate in this way. If your seed hasn�t sprouted in six weeks, toss it out and try again.

Another method of how to grow avocado plants is leave the pit in the sunlight until is begins to split and then potting it in soil partly exposed like an amaryllis bulb or sweet potato vine. Use a four or five-inch pot to start your plant and set it in a nutrient rich potting soil that has good drainage. After your plant is about a foot tall, pinch it back to half. Pinching it back produces a rounder and fuller plant. Once your plant has filled its pot with roots, it�s time to move it to its permanent home.

When you�re learning how to grow avocado plants, don�t expect fruit. Avocado trees take up to ten years to mature enough to bear fruit and indoor grown plants rarely last for that length of time. However, if you provide it with a moist soil, plenty of sunlight, and fertile soil, your avocado plant will be an interesting addition to your home container garden for three to five years.

Grow Organic Vegetables

There are more reasons than ever why anybody with access to a few square feet of the outdoors should grow their own organic vegetables.

You may be shocked at how much of the produce at your local supermarket has been genetically modified. Some estimates now put this at over 50%. While there is no strong evidence that genetically modified foods are immediately harmful to your health, there are no long term studies either. Do you want to take that risk?

Let�s take a look at pesticides and fertilizers. Farmers no longer use crop rotation or natural manures to improve soil fertility, so they are forced to use ever increasing amounts of chemicals to improve yields and multiple pesticides to protect the weakened plants. Pesticides penetrate deeply into the leaves of plants and pestiside residues remain even after you have scrubbed them.

To quote from The Environmental Protection Agency � �Pesticides are designed to kill pests. Many pesticides can also pose risks to people. The health effects of pesticides depend on the type of pesticide. Some, such as the organophosphates and carbamates, affect the nervous system. Others may irritate the skin or eyes. Some pesticides may be carcinogens. Others may affect the hormone or endocrine system in the body.�

Sure you can, and should, buy organic fruit and vegetables but have you seen the prices? Anybody with even a modest vegetable garden can grow healthy organic vegetables at much lower cost than those at the local supermarket. Not only can you grow them at much lower cost, but you can grow them one hundred percent better.

Even the long-keeping vegetables such as potatoes, onions and squash are noticeably tastier picked straight from the home vegetable garden; but when it comes to peas and corn and salad vegetables- well , there is absolutely nothing to compare with the home garden ones, gathered fresh, in the early slanting sunlight, still gemmed with dew, still crisp and tender and juicy, ready to carry every atom of savory quality and taste, without loss, to the dining table.

It is not in price or health alone that home gardening pays. There is another point. Agribusiness has to grow the things that give the biggest yield. They have to sacrifice quality and taste for quantity and long shelf life. You do not. The strawberries on the supermarket shelves may look bright and red and uniform but you will soon find they taste more like the cardboard of their containers when compared to a home grown variety picked straight from the vine.

And this brings us to what may be the most important reason you should garden. It is the cheapest, healthiest pleasure there is. Give me a sunny garden patch in the springtime, give me seeds to watch as they find the light, plants to tend as they take hold in the fine, loose, rich soil, give me succulent and tasty springtime salads. And when you have grown tired of the springtime, come back in summer to even the smallest garden, and you will find in it, every day, a new vista, new pleasures and, yes, new challenges.

Better food, better health, better living -- all these the home vegetable garden offers you in abundance. So, turn off that computer, pull out some old clothes and find a spot to dig.

The Meanings Behind the Colors of Roses

Roses are a sign of love and friendship and by giving someone a rose you are telling them how truly special they are. There are a number of colors of roses available and each one represents a different meaning to the receiver. If you are looking to purchase roses for that special someone, but aren�t quite sure which color would best suit your relationship, keep reading to find out what each color represents.

Red � Red roses are a sign of love, beauty, courage and respect. This color represents romantic, sincere and passionate love. If you want to show your loved one that they are the love of your life, red roses are the ones to choose. Giving a single red rose to someone is a simple way to say �I love you�.

White � White roses are a sign of purity, innocence, silence and youthfulness. They are given to individuals who are shy about love and are used to tell the person how special they are. White roses can also be used in weddings as an indication of new love which is just beginning.

Pink � Pink roses are a sign of appreciation and are often given as a thank you. Pink flowers also represent happiness and admiration and are given to someone you love whether it be a significant other or a best friend.

Yellow � Yellow roses are a sign of friendship, happiness, joy and promise. Yellow roses are often given to show happiness for loved ones who are returning from a long trip or leave of absence.

Orange � Orange roses signify desire and enthusiasm. They can be given at a graduation or a commencement to celebrate the ending and beginning of two different phases in life.

Lavender/Purple � Lavender or purple roses are a sign of love at first sight. If you just meet someone and have fallen head over heals for them, show them how you feel by giving them lavender roses.

Regardless of the color of roses, they represent love and friendship among many other wonderful things. Roses can be planted in your garden or kept in vases throughout your home. If you are growing roses in your garden follow this gardening tip to ensure you receive the best results possible:

Pruning Your Roses � Using pruning shears, trim your roses around the edges and remove any dead leaves from the plant. Cut out any dead wood, twigs or stems which are cross-growing over one another. Pruning should be done twice a year (once in the spring and once in the fall) to ensure your roses are kept in top condition.

Where you decide to plant your roses and the kind you choose will affect the overall appearance of your garden. Roses are quite possibly the most popular flower to show love and happiness and anyone who receives a rose for any reason should consider themselves a very lucky person.

Growing Great Tomatoes

For many people, growing big juicy tomatoes is part of what makes vegetable gardening so enjoyable. Whether purchasing plants from your local nursery or starting tomatoes from seed, there are a few basic steps to follow to ensure that you harvest an abundant crop at the end of the growing season. There are many different varieties of tomatoes to choose from, depending on whether you will be cooking, canning, slicing, or eating miniature or grape-like varieties right off the vine. Sweet 100�s are very abundant, and are good for salads as well as eating fresh from the garden. Roma tomatoes are good for making salsa, because the peels are not as tough as others so you don�t need to peel the skins off. Romas are also known as the classic paste and sauce tomato. There are Early Girls, Early Boys, Big Boys, Big Mamas, Sweet Baby Girls, Beefsteaks, French Rose hybrids, Big Rainbow, specialty tomatoes and many more. So start by choosing the kind of tomato you would like to grow.

Planting Tomatoes from Seeds

Tomatoes grown from seed will require six to eight weeks before they can be planted in the garden. Purchase individual containers or flats, starter soil or mixture, and the seeds of your choice. Fill each container with soil, pressing it tightly to remove air and to avoid settling problems after watering. Typically, seed companies print instructions for planting right on the tomato seed package. Each variety is a little different so follow instructions carefully. Prepare a label identifying the type of tomato and the date started. You can make your own from Popsicle sticks or purchase them at the store or garden center.

Insert your label in the pot and mist with water. Place containers in a sunny window and keep seeds moist by placing a plastic bag over them. Small greenhouse containers are also available at your local nursery. Watch for seeds to germinate and remove plastic when plants emerge. Wean out weaker looking seedlings to give strong ones more room to grow. Keep moist by misting or watering tomatoes when needed. When plants have a second pair of leaves it is time to transplant these seedlings to your garden or a large pot in which they are to grow.

It is a good idea to harden off or acclimatize a plant to outdoor conditions before planting by setting it out in direct sun during the day and bringing it in at night. After a few days, the tomato plant will have adapted to the new surroundings and can be transplanted in the desired location. Place plants directly outdoors after the threat of frost in a shady location, out of the wind and protected from heavy rains.

Purchasing Started Plants

If you prefer to purchase plants from your garden center or greenhouse, select dark green plants that are stocky in size and that do not have any fruit. The fruit will stunt the plant growth and the total yield will be reduced. Tomatoes are one of the few plants that will tolerate being planted deeper than they sit in the pot. So a taller plant can be placed a little deeper if preferred. As mentioned, harden off the plant before moving it to a final location.

Preparing Garden Soil For Tomato Plants
The soil should be deep, loamy, and well-drained for the best harvest. Tomatoes prefer a slightly acidic soil with a pH of 6.2 to 6.8. The term pH balance refers to acidity or the alkalinity of your soil from a numerical scale of 1.0 to 14.0. The neutral point on the pH scale is 7.0. Higher than 6.5 indicates alkaline soil, lower than that indicates acidic soil.

Test kits are available at garden centers or through local horticultural organizations. To raise the soil�s pH, work agriculture lime into the soil. Use sulfur to lower the pH of alkaline soil. Using fertilizers and compost amendments will also change the soil�s pH over time. Adding decomposed organic compost will improve any soil structure. You can purchase or make your own compost. Once you have cultivated your garden area and prepared the soil, it is ready for the plantings.

Planting The Tomatoes

Inspect all of the transplants, looking for insects, wilting or blight. Plant only healthy plants. Tomatoes prefer full sun, so choose an area with at least six to eight hours of sun per day. Practice crop rotation in your vegetable gardening by planting tomatoes and other vegetables in a different spot every year. Tomatoes prefer to be planted by chives, parsley, marigolds, nasturtiums, garlic bulbs, and carrots. Avoid planting tomatoes by potatoes or members of the cabbage family.

For large healthy tomatoes, give them plenty of room to grow. Space plants twenty-four inches between rows and leave twenty-four inches between plants. With your shovel or spade, make holes slightly larger than the plants. Tap gently on the bottom of the individual container, loosening the soil and gently removing from the pot. Tomatoes are susceptible to cutworms, but placing a 3-4 inch nail next to each stem before planting or wrapping strips of newspaper around the bottom of the stems will help prevent these pests. A paper cup surrounding the stem also works well.

Place tomato plant in hole and back fill with soil until it is well compacted. Place a rack or cage around each individual plant to help support future growth. Water around the base of the plant, avoiding the foliage. Do not over water or soak the seedlings as this can promote disease and rot. Water early in the day to discourage blight.

Using a rake, spread organic mulch, such as weed-free straw, over plants at least two inches deep. These is an effective way to prevent weeds, preserve water and keep the soil warm, thus reducing the maintenance required for vegetable gardening. Fertilize the plants throughout the growing season with compost or organic matter. Water when needed and inspect leaves periodically for the signs of tomato blight and insects. If blight is discovered, remove any infected leaves and destroy them. Treat plant with a fungicide. Be sure to remove all debris from your garden in the fall, as blight can survive on the dried tomatoes over the winter.

Most tomatoes take 100-days to bear fruit, so follow these easy directions and get ready to harvest the fruits of your labors and enjoy that first BLT of the season.

Items Needed For Growing Tomatoes:

- Tomato seeds or plants
- Containers or flats
- A small greenhouse kit or plastic bags
- Starter soil or mixture
- Marking pen
- Popsicle sticks or labels
- Rake
- Spade and shovel
- Water, sun, adequate soil and patience

Rose Gardening Challenges

Rose gardening can be a challenging exercise but you don't have to be an expert to grow roses. Roses are grown successfully in gardens in nearly every different type of climate and environmental condition. Coming in a rainbow of colors and thousands of different modern-day varieties, roses offer a wonderful array of choices to followers of this beloved rose gardening pastime.

Rose gardening is special, though there are numerous recipes for cultivating the perfect rose garden, with even just a few of the basics such as sunshine, water and fertilizer, a rose garden can thrive in any climate. By adapting the following rose gardening tips to your specific needs, you can maintain a lush and lively rose garden.

Before you plant

Be sure your roses will be in an optimum location where they will receive at least six hours of direct sunlight per day, preferably morning sunshine.

Provide your roses with ample space to grow by digging a hole that is at least two-feet wide and two-feet deep. Add potting soil or organic compost for nutrients.

Keep roses moist by watering diligently for several weeks once you have planted them.

Help your rose garden to flourish

Monitor the pH levels in the soil as roses generally prosper at a pH of about 6.5.

Fertilize in the spring when roses begin to leaf out and continue regularly until just before the arrival of winter frosts.

Remove dead flower heads occasionally to instigate new bloom growth.

Prune your roses at least once per year. With new plants, prune after the first blooming period is over. For older plants, pruning after the winter will help to begin rejuvenation and new growth. In colder climates you may also want to prune just after the first frosts to prevent harsh winter damage.

And always remember, roses love lots of water and proper drainage.

How to Attract Beneficial Insects

Possibly you will look at this title and say you don't care how to attract beneficial insects and you don't want to! But the term beneficial says it all. You need insects in your garden if you are going to have the best possible garden. There are statistics that say that there are many more beneficial than destructive insects. To name a few destructive insects: there are flies (but they are also pollinators); there are mosquitoes (also pollinators); there are cockroaches (but they eat garbage and scavenge); there are termites (maybe these insects are strictly destructive). Now that we have gotten the bad bugs out of the way we can concentrate on bugs that are good in so many ways.

For a good while the term beneficial insect (or natural enemy of other bugs) has meant that the good bugs attack and eat the bad bugs. Some bad garden insects include the ever-present and always plentiful aphid; many vegetable garden pests such as Colorado potato beetle, Harlequin bug, green cabbage worm, tomato hornworm, flea beetles, corn ear worm, and many other caterpillars are also considered bad-especially

Caption is Ladybug larva--usually described as looking like a small alligator. It is the stage that eats most of the aphids.

by gardeners. And, of course, Japanese beetles are the bane of the gardener's life. Every one of these pests is eaten or parasitized by lady bugs, green lacewings, bees, wasps, and flower flies. The ladybug is probably considered the poster child of good insects and its larva can eat between 30 and 40 aphids a day, while a single lacewing devours between 1,000 and 10,000 aphids in its lifetime. Insert picture of ladybug larva in this paragraph. (Caption is Ladybug larva--usually described as looking like a small alligator. It is the stage that eats most of the aphids.

I hope you won't put bees in the bad category. We desperately need honey bees, bumblebees, and solitary bees to pollinate our plants. If you are stung, it's most likely that you will be stung by a yellow jacket and that happens most often in the late summer or fall when these insects are seeking sugar and scavenging in our picnic food. Keep in mind proper behavior when you are around yellow jackets. Don't panic and run or wave your arms around. Stay calm and move slowly away from the wasp. Avoid wearing strong scents and bright-colored clothing. Yellow jackets live in the ground so this is often a source of the attack because you have disturbed the nest.

Attracting beneficial insects depends on you planting flowers and other plants that attract the insects. Some insects are very small (tiny wasps that don't sting humans) and so they like tiny flowers such as alyssum, or those in the mint family, or many herbs. Of course to attract the insect you must allow the plant to form flowers. If you are growing herbs, you may be picking off the basil flowers as they appear or the parsley flower when it appears. All flowers of the flat type consisting of many tiny flowers (parsley, dill, fennel, Queen Anne's lace, sunflowers, and yarrow) are very attractive to bees and flower flies and wasps. The beneficial insects that arrive will eat up the pests first and then stick around to eat pollen and nectar from your flowers.

Note the speckles on the foxglove flower that lead a bee to the interior for nectar and pollen.

Other flowers that attract bees especially are tubular flowers such as foxglove. If you look carefully at a foxglove flower you can picture the lip of the flower as a landing pad for the insect and the speckles and spots that are in many foxgloves will lead the bee into the flower for the nectar. Insects don't see color the same as we do: bees cannot see red flowers but they are attracted to blue and yellow flowers. Hummingbirds, with their sharp, pointed beaks, are also attracted to tubular flowers and they do like the color red. Most hummingbird feeders include parts that are red.

Include a mixture of plants in your garden that bloom at different times of the year. In the early spring when witch hazel shrubs and early crocus are blooming, you will usually find some bees that come out of hibernation early and get busy pollinating. Other plants that provide food for insects in early spring are Cornus mas (Cornelian cherry), Winter aconite (a bulb), and Oregon grape. At the end of the season, provide Michaelmas daisy, purple coneflower and goldenrod to serve the bees and other insects before they hibernate or die. Include in your plantings small trees and shrubs to provide songbirds with cover, food, and nesting sites. Choose a berry-producing shrub, perennials left to go to seed, and fruiting vines with berries or fruit that will persist throughout the winter. Some examples might be Ilex verticillata ('Winter Red' winterberry-buy a male and a female plant for more berries), 'Donald Wyman' crabapple, Staghorn sumac, and Viburnum trilobatum (American cranberrybush-you should have more than one viburnum to encourage flowers and fruit).

If you have room plant a patch of native wildflowers in or near your garden; this will attract native beneficials that will use them for shelter and food. And plant as many native plants as you can since they are adapted to the area and in general will grow better than some exotic plants.

Another thing you can do to make your garden attractive to insects is to provide water and shelter. Using a thick layer of mulch (2 to 3 inches) will attract ground beetles, spiders (they are good for your garden!) and toads. All are considered beneficial to your garden; they all devour many insects. The side benefit of mulch is that it cuts down on weeds and conserves water in the soil.

Flowers that are not attractive to insects include double or very full-petaled flowers-the insects can't find the pollen or nectar. These flowers would include double hollyhocks, double petunias, and many hybrids such as pollenless sunflowers. Getting rid of the pollen in a flower benefits the human who cuts flowers for bouquets, but the flower is useless to insects.

Butterflies and moths are considered beneficial, in addition to being beautiful. They don't actually eat when they are in this adult stage, but they do sip nectar and in the process help to pollinate flowers. Moths are most often active at night and this is why so many white or pale flowers bloom at night and have a scent that is attractive to moths. Think of moonflowers or four o'clocks that actually do start to bloom in the late afternoon. There are hawk moths that fly at night and are attracted to nicotiana, moonflowers, cleome, and petunias. Do you ever notice the scent of a petunia at dusk on a hot summer evening? So does the moth.

Butterflies are active in the daytime and actually only fly when it is warm and sunny enough to suit them. You will not see them flying around on cloudy days and certainly not when it is raining.

The juvenile stage of the butterfly and the moth is the caterpillar that makes the cocoon or pupa from which the butterfly or moth emerges. Most caterpillars are considered pests and people do their best to eliminate them. The green cabbage worm turns into that ubiquitous white moth that flutters on cabbage and broccoli plants, the tomato hornworm or tobacco hornworm turns into a large attractive moth. So even though you don't like the worms or caterpillars you should let some complete their life

Parasitized tobacco hornworm on tomato plant with braconid wasp cocoons along back of caterpillar

cycle and turn into the beautiful butterfly. Here is another reason not to kill the tomato hornworm. There are tiny wasps that lay their eggs on the caterpillar and the eggs grow and finally hatch from the parasitized worm that doesn't die until the eggs have hatched into new little wasps.

It is obvious that you shouldn't use chemicals if you want to attract beneficial insects. The chemical can't tell the difference between good and bad bugs-you are most likely to kill all the insects. Even if you follow the directions carefully, there will be at least some good insects that will be killed. When insects do return to your garden, you may have destroyed the balance between good and bad and the bad insects will take over. If you feel that you have too many aphids and you don't see any ladybug larvae, you can always shoot a hard stream of water on the aphids and knock them to the ground. They will not be able to climb back up to the tender tip of a stem. Or try an insecticidal soap on appropriate plants and insects. To get rid of caterpillars, pick them off and try to control their numbers by attracting birds to your garden. Slugs and snails can be discouraged with crushed eggshells, cut hair, sharp grit and oatmeal sprinkled on the soil.

And most important of all, spend time in your garden every day to monitor the insect life and the health of your plants. No one can get rid of every bad insect so learn to live with an insect population that is kept in check by the good guys

Eastern Grey Squirrels

I'm sure that the squirrels at our house in East Berlin, Pa. are no more inventive than other squirrels, but because they perform daily and I have a front row seat, I am constantly amazed at their antics. At one time, long ago, when I thought that I could control the squirrels, we put ears of corn at a distance from the house in an effort to keep them away from the bird feeders - however, they ate their corn and the birdseed too!

A few years ago in an effort to deter the squirrels, we placed our lantern-shaped bird feeder on a post made of smooth PVC pipe. The squirrels couldn't climb up but they could jump down on the feeder from treetops I thought were far enough away to keep the feeder safe. At that point I decided, "if you can't beat them, join them", and have come to realize that there is plenty of feed to go around for birds and squirrels alike.

As the weather grew colder this autumn, the squirrels began a building project in the woods adjacent to our deck, within sight of the bird feeders they frequent. For several days they carried dried leaves and sticks up 20 feet in a nearby tree, fashioning a nest for winter. On bitter cold days when the squirrels are often scarce, we sometimes see one squirrel venture out of the nest to assess the situation before going back in where it is warm and cozy. While squirrels do not hibernate, I have noticed that our squirrels are certainly more active on clear, cold days when there is little or no precipitation. Prime time for activity is early morning and late afternoon, with naps filling their midday.

Squirrel nests are called dreys - there are summer and winter dreys, with those built for summer much simpler in construction. Winter dreys are often lined with bark, bits of moss, fur, feathers or other similar material to make the nest soft and warm. Squirrels have 2 mating seasons and can have a litter in the spring and another in the fall. A litter usually contains 2-3 babies, with each one weighing an ounce and measuring about an inch at birth. Baby squirrels are cared for in the nest until about 10 weeks of age, when they are weaned from their mother's milk.

Tree dens are also often used as a nest by squirrels in this area. These are holes or cavities in the main trunk of hardwood trees which are also lined with soft material as described above. They may use dens in winter months and dreys in summer months.

Most squirrels in our area are Eastern Grey Squirrels. A very similar squirrel prevalent in the Western United States is the Western Grey Squirrel. Both of these squirrels weigh up to 2 pounds and generally live to be 7 or 8 years of age. They have exceptional eyesight and a well-developed sense of smell and hearing. They are grey with white to light grey tails and stomachs.

A cousin to the Eastern and Western Grey Squirrel is the Fox Squirrel, which is about 20% larger - weighing up to 3 pounds and measuring 2 feet in length. This squirrel is grey with a tawny orange color where the Eastern and Western Grey Squirrels are white. The Fox Squirrel is active when the Grey Squirrels are napping. There are also white (albino) squirrels and black (melanistic) grey squirrels..

The squirrel is the fastest rodent, with speeds up to 17 mph. Flying squirrels can make soaring leaps of up to 150 feet, gliding at 5 mph. The flying squirrel flattens out in flight, extending wing-like membranes - loose flaps of skin that stretch from front to hind limbs. North American Flying Squirrels are tiny, weighing only 3 ounces and measuring 10 inches in length. They are nocturnal and said to make good pets!

The average squirrel consumes about 2 pounds of food a week - not only nuts, but fruits, vegetables and grains. They also eat twigs, flower bulbs, mushrooms, and the sweet sap of sugar maple and birch trees. Eastern Grey Squirrels that inhabit our woodlands are classic "scatter hoarders" - they carry nuts in their jaws and bury them in various locations within their home ranges.

Nuts are usually buried in a little cup-shaped hole about 3 inches deep. It is estimated that each grey squirrel buries at least 1,000 nuts every autumn, possibly as many as 10,000 nuts in one season. The squirrel locates its stored nuts by its keen sense of smell, able to locate a nut buried under a foot or more of show. The imperfection of nut-retrieval is why the squirrel is called the "Forest Planter" - many new trees develop!

Critters in the Garden

In an article that appeared in this column in April, I talked about the beneficial creatures that gardeners are wise to welcome into their gardens. Unfortunately, welcoming gardens attract other visitors as well, namely, four-legged furry ones that were never intended as invited guests. Learning to identify them and taking actions to evict these destructive tenants will keep gardens flourishing.

Beginning with the smallest, mice like to make homes in the mulch around trees. If mulching is done in the fall, wait until the ground surface freezes over to apply it. At all times, keep mulch back from tree trunks and don’t pile it more than a few inches high. Also to keep bark nibblers at bay, wrap hard cloth around trees but remember to check it occasionally and replace it as the trunk size increases.

Rabbits also will nibble the bark of trees and shrubs in winter and spring. To discourage them, use quarter-inch mesh hardware cloth at least a foot and a half high or place one-inch mesh wire two inches away from the trunk.

If you feel inclined to fence an entire area, stretch wire mesh two feet high and extend the fence about three inches below the ground. A similar solution to save bulbs from being eaten is to plant them in homemade wire mesh cases. Another device that may frighten rabbits and smaller rodents are soda bottles set with their necks protruding from the ground. These make a whistling noise when the wind blows which may keep these nibblers at bay.

If you’d rather use repellants, ground hot peppers, human hair, and dog hair have proven very effective, but these are "home remedies" with no real guarantees. You may try interspersing garlic, onion, Mexican marigolds and Dusty Miller among their favorite munchables as well.

Except for eating conifer stems and nibbling on trunks, squirrels and chipmunks cause little damage to the garden, but their hoard of nuts may lead to an abundance of unwanted trees. Of course, they love to steal the bird feed, too.

If you have a pond or a low area that collects water in your yard, you may find raccoons drawn to it. While they do prey on mice, the crafty critters are often more harmful than helpful. Some repellants include clothing (with human scent), dog droppings, and blood meal. Baby powder has been found effective by some.

Should you find that woodchucks or ground hogs are a problem, floating row covers may protect young plants or a fence may prove to be the best solution. Chicken wire spread a foot deep and a foot wide along the outside and held in place at the bottom of vertical posts will form a barrier to prevent digging in the garden.

Ground hogs will wander into box-type traps baited with peanut butter and/or apples. Just be prepared to transport the captured animal at least a mile into a wild uncultivated location. Set the trap in early morning so as not to draw in nocturnal skunks which will most likely retaliate before being released.

Skunks usually are not a problem in the home garden because what they generally eat are grubs and insects that inhabit lawns and turf. By chance, they may get into a trap intended for another animal. If that happens, cover the box with an old fabric (rug, drapery, etc.) and gently move it to a release site.

One of the biggest garden pests is the whitetail deer. Some claim they are repulsed by hanging bars of soap or human hair in mesh bags. Others claim a mix of water with eggs, garlic, or hot pepper will do the trick. However, if the deer are really determined and normal food supply is low, a fence may be the only solution.

Excluding deer from a particular area requires an eight-foot high open fence. You may try something different like elevating the fence on concrete blocks or other supports. A solid fence five to six feet high works well because deer will jump over only what they can see through. Even hanging dark plastic sheets has been known to keep them out. For climbers like raccoons, a strand of electric at the top of a fence adds extra protection.

Most of the time the songs and company of birds make them worthy of the name "feathered friends," but just in case they have acquired a taste for the fruits and vegetables growing in your garden, balloons or plastic bags that flap in the breeze or pie pans that rattle when the wind blows can be attached to poles as deterrents. Floating row covers or plastic netting may suffice over low crops. Gentle movement over the top tends to keep birds from hopping underneath along the rows of plants.

Finally, we must remember that a common household pet, the cat, can be a great defense against mice, moles, voles, etc. Especially if your garden is located near a field where they make trails and can easily invade your territory, a cat will serve you well. Dogs, depending on size and type, keep a watchful eye toward ground hogs and rabbits and may not give them a chance to move into your garden.

The same loveable household pets, however, can tackle birds, also. Another disadvantage is that both cats and dogs may dig holes and scratch in the garden. Once again a fenced area can prevent such intrusions on plants.

Creating Garden Spaces for Cats

Why do some gardeners consider cats a pain in the neck in their gardens?

Cats sometimes dig up newly planted bulbs, eat prize plants, and attack birds and butterflies that you want in your garden. But the positives far outweigh the negatives.

What are the positives?

Cats help keep the population of voles, mice, rats, and chipmunks down. Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania actually has cats on their payroll, as part of their Integrated Pest Management team! And never underestimate the value of cat urine, which is extremely high in nitrogen and perfect for leaves about to be composted.

Why create a special garden space for cats?

Giving cats their own garden space-complete with catnip, a bowl of water, and a comfortable place to sleep-helps keep the cats out of flower beds and vegetable plots. They'd rather hang out in the catnip, roll in the dirt, and sleep in the sun. They're happy in their own little space.

Where should the cats' garden space be planted?

Location, location, location! Cats love sun, so plant their garden spaces in full sun, and add a bowl of water and something comfortable for them to sleep on, such as a bench or patio swing. Also, try to locate it in a corner of the yard away from your favorite plants and flowers.

What plants should be included in the cats' garden?

There are many plants to choose from. Some popular and easy choices are catnip (Nepeta cataria), catmint (Nepeta mussinii), valerian, and, of course, some cat grasses.

Are catnip and catmint easy to grow in Frederick?

Yes. They both like full or partial sun and well-drained soil. Both are deer resistant, and neither is considered invasive in Maryland. Catnip grows about a foot high, and produces tiny lavender flowers in the summer. Catmint can grow up to 3 feet tall and has small white or lilac flowers in summer. Both are beautifully fragrant in the summer garden, and attract lovely butterflies. And catnip is a rat deterrent.

Do all cats respond to catnip?

Eighty-five percent of domestic cats respond biochemically to catnip, specifically to nepetalactone, the essential oil in catnip and catmint. Nepetalactone induces harmless physiological reactions, including psychosexual responses in both male and female cats, which is why it is considered an aphrodisiac. The other fifteen percent do not respond at all to nepetalactone, because they didn't receive the catnip response gene from their mother. Young kittens almost never respond to catnip, regardless of their genes.

Are domestic felines the only ones who respond to catnip?

No. Some of the large cats, including cougars, bobcats, lions and lynx, respond to nepetalactone as well.

Is it true that cats love having their own salad bars?

Yes, cats naturally crave grasses. Grasses provide roughage and lots of vitamins, especially folic acid. Grasses aid a cat's digestion and assist in removing fur balls.

So you may want to grow some special cat grasses in their garden space, or just leave a patch of about 3 square feet of unmowed grass for them to munch on. They will love eating it and hiding in it.

How can indoor cats benefit from any of this?

For indoor cats, be sure to grow some special cat grasses for them, which will keep them from devouring your house plants, some of which may be poisonous. And grow catnip for them outdoors and present them with a fresh stem every few days. It will have the same euphoric effect as if they were rolling around in it outdoors.

Are there certain plants that should not be planted in the cats' garden space?

Yes. Plants that can be poisonous to cats should be avoided. They include azaleas, chrysanthemums, daffodils, hydrangeas, iris, ivy, lantana, marigolds, and wisteria. Tiger lilies are particularly poisonous to cats, and can cause death.

Sometimes gardeners want to keep cats out of their yards. What can they do to keep them away?

There are several natural cat repellents that are safe and easy to use. For example, spraying a vinegar-and-water solution around the base of your acid-loving plants or putting lemon and orange peels around your plants will keep cats away. Putting pebbles, gravel, or small, upright twigs among your plants will also keep their sensitive paws away. Some plants such as the scented geranium, the mosquito plant, and citronella, will also deter cats.

The best choice is a coleus nicknamed "Scaredy Cat" (Coleus canina). It's a bit pricey but its strong aroma, which is triggered by touch or the sun, keeps cats-and dogs-away. You can plant it in a container and then move it around the garden, protecting different areas of the garden from animals. It has clusters of blue flowers that also give off the strong aroma.

Starting a butterfly garden

Starting is easy, especially if you already have a flowerbed. Just remember for a butterfly garden you have two goals: the first is to attract adult butterflies to come into your garden and the second is to ensure further generations of butterflies by providing a place for eggs and caterpillars.

Look for a sunny site. Avoid very windy areas like hilltops. Flight is less work in sun and calm air. Don't forget, they're looking for food. Location is everything. You want to be able to grow the nectar-producing flowers butterflies need. You also want the butterflies to be able to spot your garden; so don't hide it from them.

Plant bold masses of bright flowers. That will bring then in. To keep them feeding take a look at how they feed. Butterflies have a proboscis they use for eating - it's pretty much a curled up straw they can extend into flowers to drink nectar. They'll stay and feed longer where there are lots of flowers with accessible nectar.

Joe-Pye Weed
Eupatorium Fistulosum

The kinds of flowers you'll want to plant will provide the butterfly a place to land and be able to reach the nectar with his proboscis. There are many possibilities. Ask at your garden center. Many plants are being labeled "for butterflies". As a rule of thumb, think of the butterfly bush (Buddleia sp.). The blooms are actually small bunches of tiny flowers. Butterflies can land on the bloom and spend a long time drinking without spending a lot of energy flying around. Some others that meet this standard are the native Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium maculatum), the golden rods (Solidago spp.), butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa), and Verbena bonariensis.

Accessibility to the nectar is key. Some flowers just don't suit. Take the trumpet vine. The flowers are perfect for hummingbirds to stick their beak into and eat, but would prove too deep for butterfly feeding. Flowers that have been cultivated for eye-catching beauty might have been bred out of the food-providing category, too. Some just no longer produce nutritious nectar, and some just don't allow butterflies to feed. Marigolds have been cultivated for flowers with double and triple blooms, which, while lovely to see, won't let a butterfly proboscis enter. In choosing the plants for your butterfly garden, you may find it helpful to think like a hungry butterfly.

Once fed, butterflies will leave your garden to look for suitable egg-laying sites. Your butterfly garden can provide these sites and keep them near by.

Butterflies lay eggs on plants that the caterpillars (larvae) will eat. This sounds simple enough until you ask the caterpillars what they want and you find out everybody wants something different! Each butterfly will lay eggs on a specific host plant. When the caterpillars hatch they immediately start eating so it's important to be on the right food plant.

What kind of butterflies do you have at your blooms? And what host plants are they looking for? There are lots of good resources to find out which caterpillars eat what. Check the library or the Internet for help.

Of course, that means you'll be planting your butterfly garden with greens meant for bugs to eat. Not what most people think of when planting a garden! Some easy garden plants you'll want to include in your butterfly garden to feed larvae are dill and parsley for black swallowtails, pearly everlasting and pussytoes for American ladies, violets for fritillaries and milkweeds for monarchs.

Milkweed is the only plant monarch caterpillars will eat. It may be the most important plant for your garden this summer. Every fall, monarchs migrate to the mountains of central Mexico. They safely spend the winter months in the high altitude forest canopy. This winter a freak cold rainstorm followed by freezing temperatures killed millions of monarchs. They'll be back in our garden this summer and looking for milkweed.

One final word about butterfly gardens: next fall when it's "clean-up time", please don't clear everything out of the bed. Some butterflies overwinter right here as eggs, larvae, adults, or as a chrysalis. They can be wrapped in leaves, under mulch, or inside hollow stems waiting to emerge the next spring for you to enjoy.

For more information look for Peterson's Guide to Caterpillars, A Golden Guide: Butterflies and Moths, Stokes Butterfly Book and many others available at the library or for sale through some of the links provided below.

There are many web sites available for butterfly lovers. Here are a few to get you started:


North American Butterfly Association:

Monarch Watch Univ. of Kansas:

Butterflies of Maryland:

Maryland Native Plants:

Monarchs Are Definitely Back

fter a drop in population last year, monarchs are definitely back and to get a great look at the monarch in different stages of life be sure to stop by The Great Frederick Fair Butterfly House!! Hosted by Master Gardeners and Wildlife Gardening Adventures. There will be caterpillars, chrysalides and live butterflies by the dozens that will be tagged and released all week. Also, lots of educational material will be available for butterfly gardening. The Master Gardeners will also have a booth in the same building (14A) that will have information for the home gardener. Now, back to your question. The monarchs have recovered form their losses of 2002 and are in great numbers this year! The travels of this delicate flyer have fascinated both gardeners and scientists for years.

Monarchs float in to our garden in the Mid-Atlantic around the fourth of July. Butterflies will find the nectar in masses of tall, bright flowers planted in a sunny location an irresistible meal. Adults seek the nectar of the blooms, and in return play a role in pollinating flowering plants. But these butterflies only live a few weeks. Soon they mate and search for a place to deposit their eggs, and it must be the right place. True butterfly gardens are planted with not only the attractive nectar but also the larval host plants, which caterpillars feed on.

Different butterflies utilize different host plants to nurture their young. Watch closely and you'll see Black swallowtail larvae on parsley or dill, and Fritillaries on violets.

As caterpillars, monarchs (Danaus plexippus) will only be found on members of the milkweed family. Yes, those roadside weeds with the silky "parachute" seeds and the latex loaded sap. In your garden you may want to plant another species of Asclepias that you might find more attractive. To see all the stages of a monarch's life, you'll need milkweed. We've grown a lot of monarch caterpillars and the sight of a female finding a milkweed plant is so satisfying! They seem to enjoy butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) for the nectar, but will leave eggs all over common and tropical varieties (A.syriaca, A.curassavica).

When the eggs hatch the tiny caterpillar begins eating the tender milkweed leaves. Eating is a caterpillar's main job and milkweed is the only food the yellow, white and black striped caterpillars eat. By ingesting toxins from milkweed, monarchs give themselves some protection from predators. Birds won't feed on larvae or adults because they taste terrible. A caterpillar will eat and grow for about two weeks, shedding its skin four times as it grows. Then it will find a secure place to hang down and slip out of its skin one last time changing into a beautiful jade green chrysalis trimmed with gold. Inside the chrysalis the transformation takes place. A butterfly emerges in about 10 to 14 days. The monarch has a large abdomen and its wings are crumpled. As it hangs upside down its wings expand and harden.

Somehow, the late summer monarchs know the time is right to migrate. Not wasting any energy on reproduction until spring, the state of diapause will allow them to build up fat reserves for hard times ahead.

They seem to follow the late afternoon September sun from our yard as they orient toward the southwest. Butterflies start collecting together and head south starting in late August in Canada and the northern states. In some places a steady stream of orange and black floats by, at times in large numbers. The flying rivers of monarchs have been studied for years. Researchers have been placing identification tags on orange wings since the 1930's trying to figure out the whys, wheres and hows of the annual trek. It wasn't until the mid 70's that the masses of overwintering butterflies were "discovered" in Mexico. In 2001 we joined in the tagging project with Monarch Watch and sent off dozens of monarchs we had watched grow from eggs deposited in our garden.

Tagging monarchs has led to the mapping of migration routes. We now know that monarchs west of the Rocky Mountains will generally overwinter in awe-inspiring clusters along the California coast, some east coast monarchs sit out the winter months in Florida, but masses more fly to central Mexico. This is the location ours head to each fall.

High in the Transvolcanic Mountains west of Mexico City at and altitude of 10,000 feet grows a straight, tall fir tree known as the oyamel. At about a dozen known sites oyamel trees are covered with monarch butterflies from November through March. The population varies, but 100-200 million have been recorded. Here they collect after traveling as far as 2500 miles. Winter is the dry season and the air is cool at this altitude, but under the canopy of oyamel forest monarchs conserve their strength and roost on the trees as tight as shingles on a roof. Back-lit in the forest, they give the appearance of bunches of grapes hanging in clumps on the trees. They can be so thick on a branch that the limb breaks with their weight. As the sunlight warms the butterflies, movement starts. Some times gently, sometimes in a burst like fireworks, they leave the trees. They look for nectar in flowers and water in mountain springs. They catch the sunlight and sparkle, dancing like fairies. So many in flight at once makes for an otherwise unknown experience: the sound of butterflies on the wing.

As spring approaches the beating of wings begins to leave the mountain retreat. The butterflies mate on their way back to the north and start looking for milkweed. Females must mate and return to the milkweed in the north. This is the breeding ground they depend on and we can all help the plight of this endangered phenomenon by planting milkweed. Again, be sure to stop by the butterfly house during The Great Frederick Fair this year

Monarch Butterflies

Monarch butterflies lead a mysterious life. Generations pass in a summer season like other lepidoptera. Then as autumn approaches, one brood takes to the sky and heads to Mexico. In January I went to see the winter roosts of the millions of monarchs and the experience was inspiring.


From articles in magazines and internet sites such as Monarch Watch and Journey North we had learned about Fred Urquhart, Kenneth Brugger and Lincoln Brower who dedicated years to studying the butterflies finally locating the over-wintering sites in the Neovolcanic Mountains of Mexico in the 1970's. We read about tagging programs to track the migration routes as long as 2500 miles. We knew we'd be visiting sanctuaries, which protect the monarchs and the oyamel trees they roost in. Oyamel trees grow at an altitude of about 10,000 feet where the cool temperatures keep the immature monarchs from rushing through life. Tourists must be prepared for the hike at that height - we would carry lots of water along with our cameras. The people who live in these mountains and own the land are coming to accept ecotourism as a supplement to their income.

Many visitors come to the town of Angangueo as the jumping off point to El Rosario and Chincua sanctuaries to view the butterfly-covered trees. Monarch Watch had asked us to purchase tags that might be available and return the migration data to the University of Kansas. Local schools don't have much, so we took some school supplies with us (you can adopt a classroom through Monarch Watch). So, Jim and I packed our expectations and headed south.

What we weren't prepared for was the wonder and awe that the hikers are stunned by when butterflies fly down the mountain in what looks like a river of orange in the forest sky. The experience of standing in a group of adults all stricken with child-like joy at the sight of "fairies" as the monarchs flit in a sunny spot in the woods isn't in a book. We all waited silently just listening to wings beating and looking at how many more butterflies were still clinging in uncountable numbers in the Oyamel trees.

Why Is Everyone Talking About Butterfly And Container Gardening?

Brightly colored butterflies can be a welcome addition to your Backyard Wildlife Habitat landscape. To attract the greatest number of butterflies and have them as residents in your yard you will need to have plants that serve the needs of all life stages of the butterfly. They need a place to lay eggs, food plants for the larva (caterpillar), a place to form a chrysalis, and nectar sources for the adult.
Most adult butterflies live 10-20 days. Some, however, are believed to live no longer than three or four days, while others, such as overwintering monarchs, may live six months.

Over 700 species of butterflies are found in North America. Very few are agricultural pests. Adult butterflies range in size from the half-inch pigmy blue found in southern California to the giant female Queen Alexandra's birdwing of New Guinea, which measures about 10 inches from wing tip to wing tip. Butterfly tarsi or "feet" possess a sense similar to taste. Contact with sweet liquids such as nectar causes the proboscis to uncoil.

Millions of shingle like, overlapping scales give butterfly wings their color and patterns. Metallic, iridescent hues come from faceted scales that refract light; solid colors are from pigmented scales. During the time from hatching to pupating (forming the pupa or chrysalis), the caterpillar may increase its body size more than 30,000 times. The chrysalises or pupae of many common gossamer wings --a group of butterflies which includes the blues, hairstreaks and elfins -- are capable of producing weak sounds. By flexing and rubbing together body segment membranes, sounds are generated that may frighten off small predators and parasites.

Adults butterflies searching for nectar are attracted to: red, yellow, orange, pink, or purple blossoms flat-topped or clustered flowers and short flower tubes

Short flower tubes allow the butterflies to reach the nectar with their proboscis. Nectar-producing plants should be grown in open, sunny areas, as adults of most species rarely feed on plants in the shade.

Many caterpillars are picky eaters. They rely on only one or two species of plants. The caterpillar of the giant swallowtail butterfly in the northeast and mid-Atlantic states feeds on just two native plant foods --northern prickly ash and hop tree. Others, such as the red-spotted purple, will feed on a variety of deciduous trees.

Necessities for a butterfly garden:

  • Provide flowers to feed adults. Dense "clusters" of small flowers such as zinnias, marigolds, tithonia, buddleia, milkweeds, verbenas, and many mint family plants generally work well.
  • Plant good nectar sources in the sun! Your key butterfly nectar source plants should receive full sun from mid-morning to mid-afternoon. Butterfly adults generally feed only in the sun. If sun is limited in your landscape, try adding butterfly nectar sources to the vegetable garden.
  • No to insecticides! Insecticides such as malathion, Sevin, and diazinon are marketed to kill insects. Don't use these materials in or near the butterfly garden or better, anywhere on your property. Even "benign" insecticides, such as Bacillus thuringiensis, are lethal to butterflies (while caterpillars).
  • Feed butterfly caterpillars. If you don't "grow" caterpillars, there will be no adults. Bringing caterpillar foods into your garden can greatly increase your chances of attracting unusual and uncommon butterflies, while giving you yet another reason to plant an increasing variety of native plants. In many cases, caterpillars of a species feed on only a very limited variety of plants. Most butterfly caterpillars never cause the leaf damage we associate with some moth caterpillars such as bagworms, tent caterpillars, or gypsy moths.

And here's a little information on Container Gardening!

Container gardening is ideal for the urban naturalist trying to maximize blooms per square inch, but is also a welcome addition to a larger yard. Following a few simple guidelines will result in healthy plants cascading over pots and enticing wildlife to visit.

First one must find the appropriate home for a floral occupant. When choosing a container, keep in mind what plant you want to grow in it. The size and shape of the root system and the growth rate are factors determining how big and deep of a pot you want. Large pots stay moist longer, are less subject to temperature fluctuations, and allow for more root growth and multiple plant displays. Hanging pots are the most susceptible to drying out.

Pots can be made out of a number of materials. Depending on your taste and setting, you might try clay, terra-cotta, cast concrete or wood. Wood can be pressure-treated and painted, just do not use creosote, which is toxic to plants. Line pressure-treated wood with plastic if using the pot for edibles. Be creative and recycle a wooden barrel or watering can.

If you're not familiar with your locally native plants, you can experiment with them in containers before setting them loose in your yard. In many cases, local natives will be hardier than non-native plants. Locally native flowering plants will attract hummingbirds, butterflies, and other pollinators. Non-hardy plants will need to have winter protection or be moved to a sheltered location. If plants are combined in one pot, just be sure that their growing conditions and growth forms are compatible.

Drainage is important to prevent roots from being waterlogged, which hinders nutrient uptake and can lead to root rot. With this in mind, outdoor plants should not be left in standing water. If a pot lacks adequate drainage, add extra holes using an electric drill with a masonry bit. Put newspaper over the holes to prevent soil from spilling out. Elevating pots on pottery or wooden feet also helps with drainage and aeration. It is better to opt for a houseplant soil mixture over regular garden soil, which is too dense. To help keep the soil cool and moist, top with a layer of mulch.

Watering the plant itself can inhibit efficient gas exchange in the leaves, so it is better to water the soil directly. The moisture of the soil should be checked frequently, both at the edge and in the center of the pot. Your watering schedule should vary with the seasons. In cooler months, allow the plant to nearly dry out between watering. When the temperature is up, water daily to every other day. If a plant has wilted due to dehydration, immerse the pot in tepid water until no air bubbles appear and place in a shady spot until the cells are again turgid. Watering is best done early in the morning when it is cool.

For more information on Butterflies please visit the (NWF) National Wildlife Federation web site or the North American Butterfly Association