Enjoy nature while in your garden.

Taking time to smell the roses can be extended to enjoying nature too as we go about tending our gardens. Recently, while in my garden, a beautiful black and blue dragonfly came along that I have never seen before. It landed several times on a steel stake, in fact, long enough that I could get my camera from the house and snap a fuzzy picture.

I looked online to see if I could discover its name. I am not sure that I got the right one, but the Widow Skimmer (Libellula luctuosa) seemed to fit. Several days later, a red dragonfly which I identified as a Flame Skimmer (Libellula saturata) came to the same steel stake to perch for my enjoyment. I find dragonflies to be beautiful and delicate with their colorful, lacy wings. Dragonflies are water breeders and since we have a slough about half mile from my home that likely fulfills this need.

I am also enjoying lots of Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillai) in my garden. The next door neighbor has a passion flower bonanza where several passion vines grow rampantly. The Gulf Fritillary lays its eggs exclusively on passion vines as this is the only food source relied on for their young. Many other butterflies also have very specific plants to grow their caterpillar stage and such plants can be included in your pollinator gardens; see: https://arboretum.ucdavis.edu/blog/larval-host-plants-butterflies.

Today, I observed a Western Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio rutulus) butterfly, the first one I have seen this year. The caterpillar hosts may not be as abundant because they are: leaves of cottonwood and aspen (Populus), willows (Salix), wild cherry (Prunus), and ash (Fraxinus), but some of these are likely nearby.

I also have frequent visits of an unwanted cabbage butterfly (Peiris rapae). This species is native to Europe, Asia, and North Africa, It was accidentally introduced to Quebec, Canada around 1860 and thereafter this pest has spread rapidly throughout North America. It is distinctly white with two black dots on the wings of the female. Its caterpillar stage feeds on Brassicas or cole plants—cabbage, broccoli, Brussel sprouts and cauliflower.

Since I always have a cole crop planted in flats in the summer, it is a pest that I kill as frequently as possible using a butterfly net. I cast the net over them as they perch and as they fly up into the net I dispatch them to butterfly nirvana. I have already squished about 40 with no end of them in sight. So far the damage of the caterpillars to my cole crops has been minor.  However, if the infestation is heavy and damaging, control by spraying with Bacillus thurengeinsis, a bacterium that rots the caterpillars from the inside out. It is a good organic control see: http://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/r108301111.html.

One butterfly I have seen in abundance lately is the Funereal Duskywing (Erynnis funeralis). It is similar in appearance to the Mourner Duskywing (Erynnis tristis). I had to resort to buying a Guide card for the Butterflies of Central and Northern California to make identification and I am still not positive I have it right. They are very close in appearance, both having a white fringe on the edge of the back wings and both share rather drab brown colors as well as dreary names.  

I also enjoy hummingbirds, mostly Anna’s (Calypte anna), that have been visiting my black and blue salvia, trumpet vine, hollyhocks and my neighbor’s Persian silk tree. I also enjoy seeing them visit my Salvia ‘Hotlips’ outside my office window along with shiny, black Carpenter Bees (Xylocopa spp­.).  Honeybees and sweat bees are also observed visiting my sunflowers. These bees are all important pollinators and friends to have in your garden. To keep Carpenter Bees from damaging your home follow these suggestions such as painting exposed wood and providing suitable nesting habitat. Please don’t resort to exterminations, see: http://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn7417.html.

Not to be left out of my garden nature scene is the San Joaquin Fence Lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis). They are abundant around my flower and vegetable garden. They can be occasionally seen doing their push-ups on a low, rail garden fence or scurrying out of my way as I walk my garden paths. According to online sources they feed on a variety of insects, and other arthropods, including leaf hoppers, aphids, beetles, wasps, termites, ants, and spiders which makes them good garden companions. Don’t forget to take time to enjoy the nature in your garden and smell the roses too.

If you have a gardening related question you can contact the UC Master Gardeners at 209-953-6112. More information can be found on our website:  http://sjmastergardeners.ucanr.edu/CONTACT_US/  

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