Archive for November, 2013

New Plants

November 21, 2013

Fall is when the rubber hits the road for California native gardeners, especially November. Fall is the time for pruning and planting. We like to plant in the fall because California plants lay down their roots in the winter — our rainy season.

Early in November the Rancho Santa Ana Botanical Garden, the closest source for me for native plants, had their annual fall sale. I attended and bought 32 new plants!

I had several goals for the new plants:

  • I wanted to replace the Royal Penstemons and Yarrows in the northeast corner of the yard, near the White Sage. One of the penstemons had died; the oldest one looked terrible, with a long length of bare stem, and also looked near death. They just don’t seem to do well in that location, which gets a lot of sun and seems to bake. The yarrows, as well, were doing poorly — a ghostly gray instead of lively green, and only about 3-4 inches high (the normal is up to a foot).
  • I didn’t want to give up on penstemons altogether (they are so pretty!), but I did want to get away from the difficult Royal Penstemons, and I wanted to try the penstemons in a different location.
  • I wanted to get some more plants for my mound, as I want to completely cover the mound with vegetation, with no bare spots.
  • I wanted to replace the Mexican Sage (Salvia leucantha) that I realized was just never going to look very good. This is a gorgeous plant if it gets sufficient sun — but it was in a partially shady spot, and was never going to get a full growth of foliage. If this plant does not get sufficient foliage, the white stems stand out and it looks terrible, like a planting of chopsticks!
  • I wanted some perennials to plant in front of the Cleveland Sage so that when the wildflowers die out, there is something there besides just bare mulch.
  • I wanted to try native California milkweeds to replace the Mexican variety I have been using. (I wasn’t sure the milkweeds I had were going to be able to recover sufficiently from the onslaught of the caterpillars.)
  • I wanted to plant something under the Privet tree in my front yard.
  • I wanted to start addressing some of the issues on my back hill, especially the need for ground cover under the fig tree.

Without further ado, then, let’s look at some of my new plants!

I decided to get some new asters for the mound, as well as some Yerba Buena (Satureja douglassii) for ground cover:

1. Aster chilensis 'Purple Haze' 2. Satureja douglassii

1. Aster chilensis ‘Purple Haze’ 2. Satureja douglassii

I also added a Blue-Eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium bellum) and an extra Seaside Daisy (Erigeron glaucus ‘Cape Sebastian’).

1. Sisyrinchium bellum 2. Erigeron glaucus 3. Satureja douglasii

My new Narrow-leafed Milkweeds:

1. Asclepias fascicularis

1. Asclepias fascicularis

I replaced the Mexican Sage with a California Buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum), a hardy plant that keeps its blooms into the summer — which is one of the reasons I got the Mexican Sage in the first place, as it blooms in the summer. I wanted to keep a bit of summer color here. Also, note that I’ve pruned back the Cleveland Sage (Salvia clevelandii) and the Pitcher Sage (Lepichinia fragrans) so that they are not overrunning the birdbath any more!

1. Eriogonum fasciculatum 2. Lepichinia fragrans 3. Salvia clevelandii

1. Eriogonum fasciculatum 2. Lepichinia fragrans 3. Salvia clevelandii

The Bee’s Bliss sage (Salvia ‘Bee’s Bliss’) and Saffron Buckwheat (Eriogonum crocatum) were planted in front of the Cleveland Sage and Douglas Irises in order to provide some foliage when the wildflowers were not present:

1. Eriogonum crocatum 2. Salvia 'Bee's Bliss'

1. Eriogonum crocatum 2. Salvia ‘Bee’s Bliss’

The Saffron Buckwheat is listed as rare, threatened, or endangered by the State of California, and so is a great “find” for the garden. It’s a lovely plant with bright yellow flowers. The Bee’s Bliss sage is a low-growing, spreading kind of sage that I hope will fill in that area nicely.

In the northeast corner, I removed the Royal Penstemons and Yarrows, and planted a Pozo Blue sage (Salvia ‘Pozo Blue’) and a Silver Carpet Beach Aster (Lessingia filaginifolia ‘Silver Carpet’). The Pozo Blue is a gorgeous sage with lovely blue flowers. It grows to around 5 – 6 feet in width, and should fill in that area pretty well. The Silver Carpet is a low-growing plant that can spread to as much as 8 feet, with gorgeous lavender daisy-like blossoms in the summer. The two plants near the wall are Royal Penstemons that seem to be doing OK, though I suspect they will deteriorate like the others over time.

1. Salvia 'Pozo Blue' 2. Lessingia filaginifolia 'Silver Carpet'

1. Salvia ‘Pozo Blue’ 2. Lessingia filaginifolia ‘Silver Carpet’

I added a Desert Spoon (Dasylirion wheeleri) to my succulent area, as well as a Red Buckwheat (Eriogonum grande rubescens) to fill in the gaps between my grasses. It has lovely pink-red flowers that bloom throughout the summer. I also coppiced my Canyon Prince Wild Rye (Leymus condensatus) and Deer Grass (Muhlenbergia rigens) so they will grow back more lushly — both had a large number of dead leaves that detracted from their appearance. We’ll see if they grow back in a more comely fashion.

1. Dasylirion wheeleri 2. Eriogonum grande rubescens 3. Leymus condensatus 4. Muhlenbergia rigens

1. Dasylirion wheeleri 2. Eriogonum grande rubescens 3. Leymus condensatus 4. Muhlenbergia rigens

I added a third Purple Three-Awn grass (Aristida purpurea) because I think these grasses look gorgeous when bunched:

1. Aristida purpurea

1. Aristida purpurea

I added some Penstemons around the succulent bowl, in hopes that I have better luck with them in that location. It’s just an experiment at this point. They are Scarlet Bugler (Penstemon centranthifolius) and Margarita Bop Penstemon (Penstemon heterophyllus ‘Margarita Bop’):

1. Penstemon centranthifolius 2. Penstemen heterophyllus 'Margarita Bop'

1. Penstemon centranthifolius 2. Penstemen heterophyllus ‘Margarita Bop’

You will also notice that I’ve removed the flagstones from the path. They were turning out to be a maintenance headache — various flagstones were always coming loose and needing to be “reseated” — a major pain in the neck. One thing I’m learning is that you have to try to keep maintenance chores within reasonable bounds.

Finally (for the front yard), I decided to try to get something to grow under the Privet tree: I’m trying Douglas Irises (Iris douglasiana), which I think may do better in the partial shade of the tree than they do in the middle of the yard, where I have them now.

1. Iris douglasiana

1. Iris douglasiana

In the back, I’m planting Western Sword Fern (Polystichum munitum) under the fig tree to replace some of the grasses that were not doing well there. I’m also trying out a ground cover, Emerald Carpet Manzanita (Arctostaphylos ‘Emerald Carpet’), to try to cover the bare area under the fig tree, where even mulch won’t stick because it’s so steep. The soil there is very compacted and hard, though, so at this point I am despairing of anything growing there. We’ll see.

1. Polystichum munitum 2. Arctostaphylos 'Emerald Carpet'

1. Polystichum munitum 2. Arctostaphylos ‘Emerald Carpet’

Note, also, that I have completed putting in some edging that I hope will prevent the mulch from falling onto the wall and then onto the gravel. Also, upon the advice of my original muse, Pat Overby, I am in the process of removing quite a bit of the mulch. She thinks that may be one reason the plants are not growing too well. The mulch is as much as 8 inches deep in some places. (I got too much!)


Finally, I bought two Blue Dart Rushes (Juncus tenuis ‘Blue Dart’) that I intend to plant in the long planter behind. Eventually, I hope to have three of these long planters, to form a kind of “fence” to block from view the part of the yard behind them, which my cat tends to use as a litter box! They will all have these native rushes in them.

1. Juncus tenuis 'Blue Dart'

1. Juncus tenuis ‘Blue Dart’

That’s it for now. I have finished the planting and pruning — now we just have to wait for things to grow. Today we had our first major rain, and already the wildflowers are starting to sprout. I will track the growth of these plants throughout the winter. Stay tuned!


Two-month Butterfly Summary

November 20, 2013

Much to my surprise, we have had three more generations of butterflies since the last time I posted. I really thought that the huge 46-caterpillar eruption had exhausted the milkweeds, and that they would not recover in time to be able to support more butterflies … but I was wrong! They “re-leafed” in a matter of a few weeks, quite handsomely.

I’ll go through a fairly brief summary of the new generations.

First generation, late August/early September:

This generation had only 5 or 6 caterpillars, and only 3 of them pupated (that I could find).

The first pupated on the wall:


The second pupated on the wall post:


The third could not seem to find a horizontal surface and settled for hanging off the back of the sign at an angle:


The second butterfly emerged without any problems and flew off routinely:

This is a male.

This is a male.

The first butterfly hatched normally and seemed to also be on its way to a routine maiden flight. I took note of it and went out for coffee.

When I came back, at first I could not see the butterfly, and assumed it had flown off. But then I looked more closely, and discovered it on the ground underneath one of my coffeeberries, entrapped in a spider web! I assume it had fallen off, and run into the spider web while searching for a vertical surface to climb onto. The poor thing was struggling hopelessly. We have had a LOT of spiders this year, for some reason.

My boyfriend Hank and I extracted it from underneath the coffeeberry, and attempted to remove the remnants of the spider web, which were very strong. There was one strand attached to its leg, and I was afraid to try to yank it off, lest the leg come off as well! I ended up cutting it off with nail scissors as close to the leg as possible.

We finally got most of the spider web off, and got the butterfly to cling to a washrag hanging vertically from my bench, where it remained for several hours while its wings dried. However, the wings seemed odd to me — although they appeared normal visually, the hindwing would not stay under the forewing the way it’s supposed to when the butterfly flapped its wings. I was worried that they were damaged.

My fears appeared realized when late in the day it attempted to fly, and did not seem to be able to go more than a few feet, flopping to the ground rather than landing gracefully. It flopped around some on the path:


I considered euthanizing it — but decided to bring it into the house for the evening, in the hope that its wings just needed to mature a bit.

The next morning I took it out into the sun — and to my great relief, it flew off quite normally!

Moral: don’t give up too soon on an apparently wounded butterfly!

The third butterfly, alas, did not survive — it died within the chrysalis, turning black:


My theory is that the hot sun baked the metal of the sign and proved too much for the developing butterfly. We had a major hot spell in September, with temperatures into the 100s for weeks, including uncharacteristic high humidity levels.

Second generation, early October:

This generation, again, had caterpillars in the single digits. Again, only three survived to pupate.

The first one pupated on my Evergreen Currant plant, near the front door:


The second pupated on my Ceanothus on the mound. The chrysalis was so close to the ground that I didn’t think the butterfly would be able to drop down properly, so I raised up the branch and attached it to a stake for the time being:


The third pupated on my Winifred Gilman sage:



When it came time to hatch, this chrysalis went first. Unfortunately, we were having a major windstorm, with sustained winds of 50-60 mph, and gusts of up to 80. They were among the strongest winds I’ve experienced in my 40 years in Southern California! When I came out in the morning to check on the chrysalis, it was open, but the butterfly was nowhere to be seen. I have to assume it was blown away by the wind!

The other two did not hatch until the next day, when the winds had died down (thankfully!). They were fine specimens and flew off normally:

A fine male.

A fine male.

A female.

A female.

Third generation: late October — the “pumpkin” batch:

OK, I really thought that was the last generation, as we’re getting close to the fall rains! Au contraire! The plants revived quickly, and we had a MAJOR caterpillar baby boom:


I counted 24 in this generation, but there were probably more than that.

As you can see in the above picture, these caterpillars decimated the milkweeds — even more, it seemed, than the previous 46. Perhaps the foliage had not come back as strongly. At any rate, at one point there were virtually NO leaves left, and yet very few of the caterpillars had reached maturity. They were leaving the plants, but not to seek pupating spots — instead, they were desperately searching for more milkweeds! I directed some of them to the plants with the most remaining leaves, but eventually there was no place left to move them.

Panicked, I made a quick trip to Armstrong Gardens searching for another milkweed plant, but they were out — as I expected, since they usually don’t carry them except in the spring.

I searched the web to see if there was anything I could do — and found a Monarch forum in (of all places) New Zealand, where Monarchs are apparently very big. I found a thread in which a poster was facing the same problem — he had run out of milkweed leaves. And some respondents were claiming that in a pinch you could feed monarchs chunks of pumpkin, and they would eat it!

They asserted that all the caterpillars would eat the pumpkin, but only the largest would survive to pupate. I decided I had nothing to lose, and since it was October, pumpkin fortunately was not hard to find! Sure enough, they attacked it ravenously:


At one point there must have been 10 -15 caterpillars on the various chunks of pineapple I had laid out.

But although a number seemed big enough to pupate, only three ended up doing so. I’m not sure what happened to the others — some of them died and I found their bodies, but others just seemed to disappear.

Here are where the three ended up:

I had put up two trellises for the caterpillars.

I had put up two trellises for the caterpillars.

I didn’t take pictures of the two other chrysalises, but they were both on the wall, and both butterflies emerged successfully and flew off. One of these, by the way, was a “pumpkin” caterpillar, proving that this is indeed a viable solution:

The pumpkin caterpillar

The pumpkin caterpillar

The one that pupated without pumpkin

The one that pupated without pumpkin

Alas, the chrysalis on the trellis did not make it. It was developing normally, becoming darker and eventually transparent, but for whatever reason it reached the point of emergence in the middle of the night, when we were having a rather cold spell. I think the added moisture in the air at night was what doomed it, probably even more than the temperature. The outside of the chrysalis needs to be brittle and dry in order to break away properly — if it is moist, it seems to become too stretchy. At any rate, the butterfly became “stuck” and did not fall out:


But I was happy that at least I managed to save two of the butterflies.

I don’t think we will have any more butterflies this year!