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Fun feature: Ask-a-Gardener

By Melody Rose (melodyJune 25, 2011
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Gardening is both art and science, with some luck and skill thrown in for good measure. A big part of what attracts people to Dave's Garden has always been our forums, where gardeners ask and answer questions for one another. Occasionally we come across a question that we find particularly interesting or intriguing. We hope you find these questions (and answers, penned by our admins and writers) helpful as you grow your gardening knowledge!

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Question #1

Imagewendymadre asks: I want to plant a sidewalk strip garden for my sister in Saint Paul, Minnesota, Zone 5A. She used to have a garden there that attracted butterflies. She'd like that again, but has concerns about bees, as her husband is allergic to them. Are there flowers with long enough "throats" that the butterflies can steal the nectar, but the bees don't bother with them?

sallyg answers: That's a deceptively tough question. Bees visit flowers to gather pollen and sip nectar; butterflies visit flowers to drink nectar. Butterflies also visit certain plants and trees to lay eggs. A number of books and websites list good butterfly plants according to the larval food or adult food quality of the plant. Bees will surely use some of the same flowers for the nectar.
Here is one site listing of butterfly plants
http://butterflywebsite.com/butterflygardening.cfm
http://extension.usu.edu/files/publications/factsheet/pub__6431167.htm

And here is a lengthy list of species used by North American bees:
http://www.bumblebee.org/FlowerlistUS.htm
http://nature.berkeley.edu/urbanbeegardens/general_guidelines.html

I suppose you could cross check the two lists and see if you can come up with butterfly plants NOT on the bee list. However, there seems no way to guarantee that bees won't visit the flowers in your butterfly garden.

Here are a few suggestions based on what I've read:

Grow plants as butterfly larval food sources and hope to see butterflies as they search for egg-laying sites. Cut off the flowers of those plants before bees find them. Enjoy watching caterpillars as they grow and change.
Mulch the garden so bees do not visit looking for bare dirt to use in nest building.
Avoid large patches of one kind of flower.
Add a shallow water dish, or muddy spot in the garden, as a place for butterflies to drink.
Keep your flowers away from walking areas but in a spot you can view from a distance using binoculars.

I know there are valid worries for some people about the presence of bees. My personal observation is that bees are so busy when visiting flowers that they don't notice people nearby.

melody adds: Nearly all bees will ignore humans when nectar flowers are around. Most stings are the result of inadvertantly trapping the bee where it can't escape. Still, it is a concern and a real danger for people who are allergic. The theory of using deep throated flowers is a good one, but some bees simply chew a little hole in the base of a tubular flower and never miss a beat. They bite the base off of my coral honeysuckle blooms all the time. I rarely see bees at my marigolds, and you can always use annual plants with interesting foliage such as coleus or caladiums. Sprinkle some of them through the bed for a cheerful border and include a few butterfly magnets such as zinnias to round things out.

Question #2

Imagemichigan420 asks: A purple and white garden is my goal. Light, deep, medium purple but not blue! As I order most of my Iris and clematis from catalogs, I am puzzled by purples being lumped into the "blue" category! And what color is orchid? I recently planted "True Blue" dwarf iris and was delighted to see it definitely was a very pale lavender, and not blue. Photos don't always differentiate a blue from a purple...so is there a buzz word I need to look for to distinguish blue from purple? And then there is the problem with changing color...by season 2, Crystal Falls clematis turned to sort of a dull pale magenta. Can soil additives help keep the desired color as with hydrangeas? Many thanks to anyone who can help me with this!

carrielamont answers: Fortunately and unfortunately, color is subjective, and only defined in the eye of the beholder. For instance, we were planning some indoor painting projects, and one was to choose a more neutral color for our ORANGE bedroom. My husband said, "Oh, can we FINALLY paint the bedroom something besides PINK?"

But back to purple and blue ... I desire a blue garden, myself, and would be irritated if an iris named "true blue" turned out to be lavender! I have yet to find a magic code word -- I would have thought "true blue" would be the bluest of blues. I order blue plants that grow purple! So my recommendation is to plant new plants in containers or in a separate trial area until you find out if the color suits you. Or maybe find a friend who likes blue but not purple. Color is such a subtly finicky thing with some of us, myself included. Good luck with your purple and white garden.

melody adds: Color is affected by soil composition, but each plant responds differently to the trace elements available. The good news is, there are far more purple flowers than blue ones. The color blue is the 'Holy Grail' in some families of plants. There are no blue tulips, roses, clematis or daylilies, despite the wishful thinking of many breeders. Many gardeners seeking blue are snagged by the optimistic naming of their favorite type of plant. Carrie's suggestion of a trial bed is a good one and selecting your plants when they are in bloom is also foolproof if you are lucky to stumble across something in your travels.

Question #3

Imageogon asks: The I live in Paradise, California, and in 2008 the area was ravaged by a massive wildland fire, the Humboldt Fire. Plants have been slowly growing back in the burned areas since then, and this year I have found something interesting. Driving up the Skyway into town, the south-east side of the road above Lookout Point, that was completed obliterated by the fire in 2008, is now almost completely covered in small plants and shrubs, including a huge amount of California Pitcher Sage, Lepechinia calycina. I don't even remember ever seeing any Lepechinia calycina in the area before the fire, let alone how much is now present. Literally more than half of the plants in that area are now Lepechinia calycina. I am wondering if this plant, like so many other native plants, needs fire for propogation? I've tried to find out through Google searches on the subject, but haven't found much. area in question was foothill chaparrel before the fire, and what has come back so far, that is visible from the road since there are no trails, is mostly Pitcher Sage, Calfornia Bay Laurel, Toyon, Ceanothus, Wild Grape, and smaller plants. Just something that has peaked my interest recently :).

Kelli answers: Many California native plants become especially abundant after fires, as you know. Also, you know that some plants need the fire in order to germinate. The heat or sometimes the chemicals in the smoke, weaken the seed coat and allow water to enter and germination to begin. However, not all plants need the fire itself. They are responding to the increased sunlight and space of the newly opened area. Though I am not certain, I think that Lepechinia calycina would fall into the second group. We do not have that species in my area, but we have the similar Lepechinia fragrans. This past winter I saw many seedlings coming up in an area that had not burned since circa 1994. They were coming up in a cut along a trail, where there were few other plants to compete with them.

It is fascinating to watch the recovery of the chaparral after a fire. In the first year or two after the fire, there were probably a lot of lupines and various poppies and mariposa lilies in the area. Now perennial shrubs are taking over. If they are native to the area, you will probably see a lot of bush poppy (Dendromecon rigida) and bush mallow (Malacothamnus fasciculatus). As time goes by, the ceanothus will crowd out these and a lot of the pitcher sage. Within roughly ten years, things will look pretty much as they did before the fire.

Question #4

ImageLester43 asks: Why Are My Burgundy Cotton Crepe Myrtle Flowers Pink? I thought they where supposed to be white. Could the company have shipped me the wrong plants?

sallyg answers: According to other Burgundy Cotton owners who have commented in PlantFiles, these have flowers with a light pink tinge. The pictures they've posted show, to my eye, white flowers with only the faintest pink tinge, though the closed buds are pink. If your flowers look definitely pink though, then a mistake may well have been made. There would be a number of chances for human error to occur in the labeling during the propagation and packing of a nursery plant. I hope the source showed you a realistic picture of what your plant was to look like when blooming. If your crepe flowers are distinctly different, then you would seem to have a valid complaint. Best take a picture of the offending blooms so you can support your complaint even if it takes some time to resolve. Good luck!

Remember, if you have a gardening question that you would like to suggest for this feature, post it here. Our writers and admins will handpick a few of your questions and answer them in an upcoming Ask-a-Gardener, one of our Saturday morning features. Other questions may be moved to one of our other forums so your fellow members can help you.

A special thanks to member 'bishopofbattle' for the image of the Burgundy Cotton crape myrtle.


  About Melody Rose  
Melody RoseI come from a long line of Kentuckians who love the Good Earth. I love to learn about every living thing, and love to share what I've learned. Photography is one of my passions, and all of the images in my articles are my own, except where credited.

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Discussion about this article:
SubjectTopic StarterRepliesViewsLast Post
Thank you! ogon 1 13 Jun 28, 2011 9:22 AM
Crepe Myrtle MaMaKat4 1 16 Jun 27, 2011 7:08 AM
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