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Bring back the magic of the butterflies

Gardening

My butterflies were magical this year, there were so many! What did I do right so I can do it again?

Butterflies, especially the yellow-and-black Eastern tiger swallowtail, thrilled many Marylanders with their extremely high numbers this year. Population spikes mainly trace to food availability and pressure from predators (birds, insects and disease). Our lush spring and summer provided a plentiful and extra- nutritious diet for caterpillars (from which butterflies develop). Birds, the caterpillars' main enemy, may have been preoccupied by a plethora of other tasty insects, or some predator insect population may have crashed for some reason. Of course, avoiding pesticides and providing a variety of plants for caterpillars to feast on and good nectar-producing flowers to draw the butterflies all contributed to your butterfly extravaganza.

My community garden plot of many years has gotten more and more weeds and disease problems. Would moving to another plot in the garden be an improvement?

A newly created plot on soil not previously used should be helpful, but it really depends. Moving within the garden may help with persistent root rots and wilt disease but proably won't help with foliar disease or insects. It may help with weeds, depending on the type of weed and the gardening practices of your neighbor gardeners. Rotating crops to a new area in the garden is a common practice. Be sure you don't take any weed seeds or disease spores to a new plot on tools or garden pots, etc. Find out what is causing your current problems so you can try to avoid repeating them.

University of Maryland Extension's Home and Garden Information Center offers free gardening and pest information. Call 800-342-2507 or send a question to the website at extension.umd.edu/hgic.

Plant of the week

Wood spurge

Euphorbia amygdaloides var. robbiae

Wood spurge makes a low-maintenance evergreen perennial groundcover for a wide range of conditions. Dark green, glossy, leathery leaves grow in tight rosettes on the stems. In early spring, lime-green bracts appear on stalks 12 inches above the foliage and almost glow in shady spots. It grows best in well-drained soils, shade to part-sun. Once established, the leaves form a weed-smothering carpet, spreading by underground runners. It can spread rapidly in moist rich soils and may require thinning. Like all spurges, milky sap in its stem may irritate skin, but this factor makes the plant pest-free and deer-resistant. It's worth seeking out for problem areas such as dry shade. — Marian Hengemihle

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