A nice drama has been playing out in my front yard for the last month. I never get tired of watching this all play out. The Monarchs came, laid their eggs, caterpillars appeared, the milkweed got eaten to an inch of its life, caterpillars cocooned, the milkweed scattered tons of seeds, and finally, the monarchs hatched. People walk by all day long and have no idea what’s quietly going on in my garden.
I’ve got a lot of milkweed planted in the front yard, specifically to attract Monarch butterflies. I’m not seeing any Monarch action out there yet, but I’ve got a problem escalating out there. Aphids are taking over. I’ve lost milkweed in the past from aphid damage so I wasn’t thrilled to discover this again. I’ve been washing down the plants every couple of days, and have sprayed with Safer Insecticidal Soap, which has helped, but the aphids seemed to be winning.
Today I discovered that ladybugs are trying to taking a stand against the aphids. There is a lot of ladybug larvae wandering around on the plants. Now my dilemma, how do I keep the aphids under control without harming my ladybug population? I’ve decided to let nature takes its course.
Lady bugs only eat aphids and there’s a lot for them to eat. It will be interesting to see who wins, the lady bugs or the aphids. These larvae aren’t very cuddling looking, are they?!
The larvae below is almost completely mature. Still a little rugged looking, but looking more like a lady bug.
Did you know there are over 500 different kinds of lady bugs in the United States? I usually see this kind, orange with the black spots, or solid dark red ones. Look at all those spots!
There are four stages in a lady bug’s life – egg, larva, pupa, and adult. The first three stages vary from 7-21 days each depending on the weather, and food supplies. The adult stage lasts between 3-9 months depending on weather, length of hibernation, food supplies and, of course, predators. I’ve got a little circle-of-life action going on in the front yard!
King Kamehamehas I-V, King Lunalilo, King Kalākaua, and Queen Liliuokalani are the famous Monarchs of Hawaii, but I’m talking about the little, quiet Monarchs I’m used to – the butterflies.
We left Molokai on Wednesday and headed to Lanai to stay with friends at their house for a few days. On the way back from the beach, we took the “Happy Dust” (don’t ask me what that means!) road back to the house that was a bit rugged. Deer ran out in front of us a couple of times, but the road was rough so we were going too slow to hit any, thankfully. It was pretty wild out there, but I was surprised to see one of my favorites plants, Milkweed, growing along the side of the road. Not just any milkweed, but – wait for it – Hairy Balls! Lots of it. I found one plant with a caterpillar munching away. I didn’t know Monarch butterflies were on Hawaii! I guess I assumed they were only on the mainland because they have to make the trek to Mexico, but I guess there’s more to these butterflies than I knew. There isn’t a lot of info out there about Hawaiian monarch butterflies, but there is a project underway to figure out what their migration pattern might be. Obviously, they aren’t flying to Mexico, but maybe they are flying interisland. Interesting. Anyway, everyone patiently waited while I jumped out of the truck to get some pictures.
And just a little of the good life!
I have Hairy Balls…
…in my garden. Actually, more precisely, it’s milkweed – Asclepias Physocarpus to be exact.
I was shopping at the Navy Exchange garden shop and saw this plants but I recognized them for their white flowers. I had one of these in my garden last year, having purchased it at the Master Gardener Spring Seminar,where I was told that it was called “Family Jewels” which I thought was because of the dainty white flowers. Between getting eaten down by the caterpillars, and the aphids that took over, the poor plant finally died. I liked the plant for it’s white flowers but didn’t understand why it was named “Family Jewels.” Mystery solved!
Native to Southeast Africa, Hairy Balls Milkweed grows 48″-60″ high. Plant in full sun and treat as an annual. Asclepias physocarpa, aka Gomphocarpus physocarpus, goes by many common names: Swan Plant, Balloon Plant, Cotton-bush, Oscar, Family Jewels, Devil’s Balls, and of course, Hairy Balls, my personal favorite and soooo unlady-like.
All the milkweed in my garden is looking veeeerrrry bare right now, which is a good thing. That means Monarch butterfly caterpillars ate their fill. And to that I say, Bon Appetit!
Once the caterpillars ate their fill of the milkweed, they dispersed to points all over the garden. Chrysalis’ are hanging off trellises, pots, limbs and the fence.
Some of the chrysalis’ are turning brown and dying. This one is in the beginning stages: still beautiful but not the usual brilliant green.
Here are two in different stages. Eventually, they both died.
After doing some research I think I have decided that the culprit is the tachinid fly. The fly lays its eggs on the caterpillar or on the eggs the butterflies lay on the milkweed. You really don’t know you have a problem until it’s too late. I hate to lose a beautiful chrysalis, but nature has its own plans. This one’s a goner.
Even with my monarch losses, there are still Monarch butterflies hatching in the garden.
Another miracle of nature right outside my front door.
Finally, the Citron tree is planted. I hadn’t figured out where I was going to plant it when I bought it, but after thinking about it for a month or so, I decided that out in front by the sidewalk was the best place. Previously, I had my pink lemonade lemon planted there for two years, but dug it up about six months ago and planted that in a wine barrel. After I dug up the Pink Lemonade Lemon, I planted a milkweed in its place, but with the latest shuffle, that got moved, too.
Milkweed dominated the planting space.
Mi Esposo was a good sport, moving the milkweed and digging a nice hole for me.
Mi Esposo digs the holes
The hole was only as high as the root ball to prevent sinking, but twice as wide as the root ball to allow new roots to spread easily.
Dig the hole as deep as the root ball and twice as wide
The whole area is coming together. The tree is surrounded by four milkweed plants.
The Citron's new home
I can’t wait until these fruit are full-size and ready to pick. Very exciting!
Baby Buddha's Hand
In my garden observations, I have discovered that my milkweed plant is, again, home to tiny caterpillars that will eventually turn into monarch butterflies. Normally, raggedy, chewed leaves are cause for frustration, but in this case, it’s a good thing! I want happy butterflies in my yard.
I was at Walter Andersen Nursery yesterday and found two more milkweed plants to add to my collection in front. Now, I have three colors: white, red, and yellow. With three plants out there instead of one, maybe the garden won’t look quite so ratty during caterpillar feasting time, but if not, so be it.
Here are a few sites about butterflies:
Monarch Joint Ventures