Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Coastal and Tropical South
October, 2008
Regional Report

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Mother Nature's laboratory can be a wild, disturbing place.

Plants for Wild Life

Put down that cellphone! Stop texting 24/7! Take a break to walk in the garden everyday -- you might be surprised how much natural excitement there is out here. Sheer beauty, yes, but also surprising -- and sometimes shocking -- realities.

Predatory Behaviors
The popular cliche calls this a "dog eat dog" world. In the garden, however, it's stinkbug eat stinkbug, but also mantis eat butterfly and lizard eat aphid. Many of these natural predators can be encouraged to take up residence, but others are introduced directly when prized plants are threatened. For example, the classic control for stinging and other caterpillars is Bt (Bacillus thuriengensis), commonly sold as Dipel dust and Thuricide spray. It is formulated from a bacterium that naturally eats the caterpillars for lunch. The products work slowly so are best used in conjunction with an aggressive "stomp and squish" physical control routine. Since they are effective against all larvae of the Lepidoptera (butterfly and moth) family, it's crucial to target the pests that are actually devouring your plants and not the caterpillar population in general.

Not all of us are lucky enough to have both good and bad stinkbugs in residence. Since they look alike, it's best to observe their behavior before starting to stomp them. If there's stinkbug cannibalism happening on your tomato leaf, be glad.

Drawing Bees
A nectar-filled garden bed or border gets crazier than a freeway at rush hour when bees get busy. It's not unusual for several scores to gather, feasting on chaste tree flowers in summer as they did on ligustrum blooms in spring. Whether it's honeybees or bumblebees, they move pollen. Both will be more attracted to your garden if you plan for such areas of mass blooms in every season. Get the bees on your side and you'll enjoy their acrobatics as much as the flowers themselves. Do the same to encourage other pollinators and the clean-up crew of ladybugs and birds that eat insects. When you envision perennials in bloom, see them by the calendar and plant for long bloom times, plus big shows in each season and at different heights. The more attractive the setting, the more pollinators will find it.

Hiding Toads
Places for wildlife to rest and nest are essential to healthy backyard habitat, otherwise known as cool, safe shade. The toad that lives under a huge, seldom-pruned spirea like mine has those needs met, as well as damp soil to burrow in for much of the year. In neater gardens, choose a thicket-forming plant to leave mostly to its own devices to create such a haven. Cast iron plant, perennial fern, and even a tree like possum haw will soon make a dark, dank oasis for toads, lizards, and a host of other wildlife.

At the other end of the spectrum, butterflies and dragonflies need places to bask. A flat rock at the edge of a bed and tall flowering plants in full sun can be community centers for them, especially after a rainstorm. Set up a small platform on top of a fence post or keep an area clear of vegetation on a low cinder block wall. However you do that, give dragonflies and butterflies a warm spot out in the open where they can relax and still keep an eye out for the inevitable threats lurking in the garden. You keep an eye out, too, for wild days and nights in your own backyard.

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