Butterflies & Ladybugs in the Garden

After we went to the butterfly exhibit at the Museum of Natural History, I decided I need to up the ante in E’s garden to get him even more butterflies coming by. The butterflies already like the current selection of red valerian and red geraniums, but I wanted to attract more with some more options for flowers. When I started creating E’s garden, I removed all of the plants in the area that were poisonous (planted by previous owners). Some of the plants that butterflies enjoy are also poisonous, so I wanted to make sure that I only added non-poisonous additions to his garden.

I also recently went through and had our garden certified as a Certified Wildlife Habitat from the National Wildlife Federation (more info here). Our little changes to E’s garden helped improve our score. Soon the NWF is going to have an additional advanced certification as a butterfly habitat, which I am hoping to get as well. I can’t wait until our garden signs arrive!
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The first thing that I tracked down was a butterfly bush, also known as buddleia. I found this one at Sunflower Farms in Torrance, CA. I also put down some sunflower seeds.
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Next, I found a dune buckwheat, native to the Palos Verdes Penninsula. I purchased this from the South Coast Botanic Garden.
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I also added in some nice yellow yarrow, which can be found many places.
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Butterflies love oregano, so I added in some organic oregano.
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At the butterfly exhibit, I noticed that the water trays were filled with pebbles. I started doing some reading and discovered that butterflies like to have a little rock to perch on while drinking their water. I set up this little terracotta saucer of water with some rocks, and put it on a plant stand in the back of E’s garden.
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I also read that some butterflies like to drink out of slightly muddy sand, so I made another water dish with sand.
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We added some more flowers that butterflies and caterpillars love, all of which have edible flowers for humans. I love the seeds from Botanical Interests because they will actually tell you on the packet if the flowers are edible (always a great safety precaution if you have young children or pets).
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E is always a good helper when planting seeds.
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He had started running after the cats earlier that week and had to get glue stitches on a nasty cut on his forehead. He tripped and fell and cut his forehead open on the floor…he can’t quite keep up with the cats yet.
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After we finished working on his garden, my garden needed some assistance from some additional ladybugs. My neem oil treatment had gotten rid of most of my aphid infestation, but I wanted to bring in some additional ladybugs as a preventative measure. I purchase my ladybugs from Armstrong Garden Center (I mention this since sometimes they can be difficult to find). Ladybugs are best released at dawn or dusk, and E is never awake at dawn, so we released them at dusk that night.
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He had a lot of fun with the ladybugs crawling all over him. 🙂
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Once they started getting all in his hair, he had enough and got a bit upset. Other than that, he had a lot of fun releasing the ladybugs into the garden. 🙂aliciainwonderlandblog

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Bug Off!

I have been having the worst time with pests in the garden lately! Any organic gardener will occasionally have to deal with a pest infestation, but things have been crazy lately. It all started with something as simple and seemingly harmless as a hummingbird feeder, and let to a very frustrating domino effect.

I started out hanging up a pretty blown glass hummingbird feeder on a shepherd’s hook, near some of my roses. We already get tons of hummingbirds and butterflies in our garden because of the flowers I have planted, but I wanted to try to lure them a bit closer to E’s play house so he could see the hummingbirds a bit closer. After filling the feeder up and letting it hang for half a day, I came out later that evening and realized the feeder had an awful design and had slowly leaked the sticky syrup all over my roses. I tried to rinse the syrup off the roses, but it was a pretty impossible task.

Sure enough, by the next day, the area was swarming with wasps, coming in for the easy snack of that sweet syrup that was now all over my roses. We cannot seem to find a wasp nest anywhere on our property, so I have no idea where they were coming from. I used a store-bought wasp trap in the past (when we didn’t realize we had a wasp nest at our old house), and that thing caught zero wasps. I looked online and read that you can use savory lures to trap wasps, such as tuna or meat, which won’t interest honey bees (I definitely don’t want to kill off all of the beneficial, non-violent pollinators that are so essential to a successful garden!). I put together a trap with some tuna and water. You can make a trap by cutting open a plastic bottle, and turning the top inside the bottom like a funnel, taping the two pieces together. A lot of those things that you read on Pinterest are flat-out lies. Tuna DID NOT LURE ANY WASPS! It did however give us a temporary fly infestation and a horrible stench, both of which were really fun to deal with.

Next, I tried another bottle lure with some fermented honey. I read from a more reliable source that you can take one part honey and one part water, mix them and let it sit for 24 hours to create fermented honey. The mixture will attract wasps but honey bees will have no interest in it. That trapped four wasps, but did not really make a dent in the overall numbers.

By now, the stupid syrup on my roses had trapped a bunch of moisture on the rose leaves, bringing on a bad case of white powdery mildew. I always water my roses just at the root base, early in the morning to prevent getting powdery mildew, so it was pretty disappointing. I have started treating the mildew with neem oil (great for so many uses in organic gardening). If you are unfamiliar with neem oil, it is an organic oil made from a tree nut, and is used for pest control and disease treatment. It is available diluted or in the pure, concentrated formula. I use the pure neem oil, dilute it down, and put it in one of those big sprayers that you carry over your shoulder. Never use it undiluted since it will be too harsh for your plants undiluted.

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I started getting frustrated with the lack of results from my wasp trapping experiments, and went on Amazon and ordered a couple of Waspinators (found here). They are designed to look like a wasp nest and scare off wasps since most types of wasps are territorial and won’t hang out where they think another nest is already located. The first few days, I was pretty angry. I didn’t see a bit of difference. The wasps were happily flying all around the Waspinators. However, the past few days, I haven’t seen any wasps suddenly. I am not sure if the neem oil has countered the syrup enough so now the wasps are no longer interested, or if they eventually got scared off by the Waspinators. I am going to be keeping a close eye on things, but I think we may be in the clear! I am very relieved since I am highly allergic to wasp stings! I don’t know for sure that the Waspinators did the trick, but if you have a wasp problem and no nest in sight, it may be worth a try!

Below, this is where the hummingbird feeder originally hung. Now the Waspinator is hanging there.

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Another frustrating discover that I found yesterday morning was an infestation of black aphids on one area of my nasturtium flowers. 😦 I treated them with a heavy spray of neem oil as well. E and I are crazy about these edible flowers, so I may have gone a bit overboard in planting them. They are starting to take over the back garden, and I may need to thin them out a bit anyway. They never got this large where I planted them in our front garden or at our old house! The difference in the micro-climate from our front yard and our back yard is pretty remarkable…the front yard has shade from the pine trees, the ocean breeze, and the backyard has no shade (yet) and gets extra hot from the way the cement retaining walls trap the heat.

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The most frustrating pest experience of the week was with my little tomato seedlings in my greenhouse. I saw a bunch of grasshoppers one day, and the next day, all 30 of my seedlings were completely gone. I have had the greenhouse partially open so it doesn’t get too hot in there. Those things are voracious eaters, especially with veggies! 😦