Butterfly Gardening Resources

Butterfly Gardening Resources

We hope you were able to join us for Gardening in the Panhandle LIVE! Butterfly Gardening on July 9th to learn about attracting butterflies to your Florida gardens. As promised, we have compiled a list of butterfly resources that we talked about during the webinar and a few extra that we didn’t have time to cover.

If you were not able to join us live, you can still watch the videos on Facebook or YouTube

Click on the topic of interest for links to resources:

Don’t forget to tune in for our next Gardening in the Panhandle LIVE! on July 23rd for Prepping for the Fall Garden. Register for that webinar on Zoom or Follow our Facebook Event for updates.

For a full list of upcoming webinars visit Gardening in the Panhandle: LIVE!
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It’s Almost Never Too Late for Sunflowers

It’s Almost Never Too Late for Sunflowers

Sunflowers, Helianthus spp., are a great choice for gardeners who are looking for some cheerful color in their landscape. Here in Florida, we have the main ingredient for success, lots of sunshine!

‘Skyscraper’ Sunflower bloom. Photo courtesy of Ray Bodrey.

Sunflowers are short-lived annuals. The average time between planting and bloom is roughly 65 days. You can typically plant sunflowers in Florida beginning in late winter until early fall. Only the coldest months cause problems, and for most years that’s only November – January. Sunflowers can be planted almost anywhere there is full sun. The major selling point with sunflowers is, of course, the impressive blooms (figure 1). These yellow to sometimes orange or red-petaled flowers develop a central seed disc, with most variety’s flowers having approximately an 8” diameter.

When planting, you may choose to plant in narrow rows with close seed spacing in order to cull weaker plants later. A final row and seed spacing of 2’-3’ is recommended for full height and development of most varieties. However, you may also choose to plant in a bed, using a close pattern as seen in the photo below. In any event, sunflowers are easy to propagate by seed and are very low maintenance.  Occasionally, powdery mildew and spittle bugs can be a nuisance. A general garden fungicide and insecticide will help if problems occur.

‘Skyscraper’ sunflowers planted on close spacing. Photo courtesy Ray Bodrey.

Sunflowers are available in many varieties, consisting of different color blooms and plant sizes. These sizes range from dwarf (1’-3’) to tall (10’-15’) varieties. You may wish to stake taller varieties at some point, as plants will tend to lean with no wind break in place. Here’s a few garden variety common names to look for: ‘Sunbright’, ‘Sonja’, ‘Sunrich Lemon’, ‘Sunrich Orange’ and ‘Autumn beauty’. Seed companies also have mixes available in packets. For tall plants, ‘Mammoth’ or ‘Skyscraper’ varieties will do the trick.

If you are fond of the sunflower bloom and looking for a groundcover, there are a couple of native perennials that fit this category. Beach sunflower, Helianthus debilis or swamp sunflower, Helianthus angustifolius, are groundcovers/ornamentals for landscapes and thrive in dry, hot climates and in a range of soil types. They also are great pollinator attractors.

For more information on growing sunflowers, contact your local county extension office.

Supporting information for this article and links to other publications on sunflowers can be found at the UF/IFAS Gardening Solutions website: https://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/plants/ornamentals/sunflowers.html

UF/IFAS Extension is an Equal Opportunity Institution.

Celebrate our Pollinators This Week (and Every Week!)

Celebrate our Pollinators This Week (and Every Week!)

For the 13th year we celebrate National Pollinator Week June 22-28 to bring awareness to the importance of our pollinators and the challenges they face. This is an opportunity to learn about ways to protect pollinators in our own landscapes. Every one of us can make a difference.

When we hear the word ‘pollinator’ most of us immediately think of honeybees. They are very important but there are so many other creatures that are important pollinators:

  • Native bees – Florida alone has over 300 species of bees
  • Hummingbirds – their long beaks can reach into long, tubular blooms
  • Bats – they pollinate over 500 plants including banana, mango, and agave (used to make tequila)
  • Beetles – considered to be a messy and minor pollinator; they pollinate the native paw paw
  • Butterflies – a minor pollinator as most have long legs that keep them perched above the pollen
  • Flies – pollinators of a variety of native plants

According to the USDA, 75% of flowering plants and about 35% of food crops around the globe rely on these animals for pollination. Without pollination, these plants would not reproduce or provide us food.

So, what can the average person do to make a difference?

  • Plant what bees and butterflies love!
  • Avoid using any insecticide unless it is absolutely necessary. Predators like assassin bugs, dragonflies and birds help to keep pests in check. Our songbirds rely on protein-rich insects (especially caterpillars) to feed their growing babies.
  • Don’t treat areas where pollinators are visiting the flowers, whether in the lawn or the landscape beds.
  • If you need to apply an insecticide to the lawn, mow first to remove the blooms from any weeds. Always follow the label instructions carefully.
  • Avoid using a systemic insecticide on plants that bloom and attract pollinators. The insecticide can remain in plants for a long time.

Happy gardening during National Pollinator Week!

For more information:

Pollinator Partnership: Pollinator Week Activities

US Fish & Wildlife Pollinator Site

Native Insect Pollinators of the Southeastern United States brochure

Purdue University: Protecting Pollinators in Home Lawns and Landscapes

Minimizing Honey Bee Exposure to Pesticides

Gardening in the Panhandle: LIVE !

Gardening in the Panhandle: LIVE !

During these unusual times, the Gardening in the Panhandle Team has been working to bring you quality remote content through this online newsletter. In that vein, we have developed some new educational programming for our loyal readers.

Our next Gardening in the Panhandle Live is on July 23th and will continue every two weeks throughout the months of  July and August.  We are providing one hour “Gardening in the Panhandle LIVE!” sessions on Zoom. These will occur during lunch hour, from 12:00 to 1:00 CDT. They will also be hosted on the Gardening in the Panhandle Facebook page and recorded if you can’t participate live. So, whether you are at home or work, bring your lunch up to your desk (or smart device) and enjoy Gardening in the Panhandle Live!

Click on the topic below to pre-register and submit your questions one week in advance.

Archived videos with closed captioning are linked to topics about one week after event airs.

The schedule follows below:

Date Topic Panelists 12-1pm CDT
May 28 Vegetables Gardening Matt Lollar, Evan Anderson, Matt Orwat  
June 11 Lawn and Turfgrass Larry Williams, Daniel Leonard, Beth Bolles, Daniel Leonard  
June 25 Ornamental & Landscape Sheila Dunning, Matt Lollar, Stephen Greer, Matt Orwat  
July 9 Butterfly Gardening Mary Salinas, Julie McConnell, Beth Bolles  
July 23 Prepping for the Fall Garden Matt Lollar, Danielle Sprague, Molly Jameson  
August 6 Open Ended Q&A Mary Salinas, Evan Anderson, Beth Bolles, Matt Orwat  
August 20 Gardening for Pollinators Dr. Gary Knox, Mark Tancig, Mary Salinas  
September 10 Fruiting Trees and Shrubs Dr. Xavier Martini, Danielle Sprague, Trevor Hylton  
September 24 Gardening in Florida Soils Ray Bodrey, Matt Lollar, Pat Williams  
October 1 Planting Trees and Shrubs Larry Williams, Ray Bodrey, Beth Bolles, Stephen Greer  
October 15 Cool Season Gardening/Cold Protection Mary Salinas, Matt Lollar, Larry Williams  
October 29 Landscape Pests (insect & disease) Matt Orwat, Evan Anderson, Dr. Adam Dale  
November 12 Selection and Care of Holiday Plants Matt Orwat, Larry Williams, Sheila Dunning, Stephen Greer  

A Native Groundcover with a Springtime Surprise

A Native Groundcover with a Springtime Surprise

Powderpuff mimosa (Mimosa strigillosa), also called Sunshine Mimosa or Sensitive Plant, is an increasingly popular native plant for home and commercial landscape applications that offers a very show display of puffy pink flowers this time of year!

Powderpuff Mimosa, (Mimosa strigillosa). Photo courtesy of Ray Bodrey.

This Florida native, low-growing groundcover grows no more than eight inches in height, and that would be classified as an extremely vigorous stand. Powderpuff Mimosa is technically a perennial legume, meaning it doesn’t need any nitrogen fertilizer from gardeners.

The groundcover is appealing to the eye with its dark green fern-like leaves.  Not an evergreen, the plants fall into a semi-dormant to dormant state during the fall and winter seasons. Powderpuff Mimosa is a very resilient groundcover as well, needing little irrigation, spreading quickly, and co-existing well with turfgrass. Just a few pots of this species transplanted should cover up to 300 square feet in a season. Although it spreads quickly, it can easily be pruned or mowed if it moves into unwanted areas.

Powderpuff mimosa is a great plant for erosion control due to its deep roots. These deep roots also allow for good levels of drought tolerance. There are very few insect or disease problems with this plant, other than the occasional caterpillar. It is a very wildlife and pollinator friendly plant, with honeybees, butterflies, deer, and more all finding it appealing. It’s even considered a livestock forage, as cattle find it palatable.

Looking to plant powderpuff mimosa in your landscape? Any area that gets mostly full sun is just fine. This plant is adapted to a wide range of soils, but particularly flourishes in well-drained, sandy loam soils.  Be sure to water regularly, especially to ensure successful establishment in your landscape. Find this wonderful little plant at Florida native plant nurseries!

For more information contact the Gulf County Extension Office at 639-3200 or email at rbodrey@ufl.edu.

Supporting information for this article can be found in the UF/IFAS Extension website: https://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/plants/ornamentals/powderpuff-mimosa.html & USDA website: https://plants.usda.gov/plantguide/pdf/pg_mist2.pdf

UF/IFAS Extension is an Equal Opportunity Institution.

Build a Mini Butterfly House

Build a Mini Butterfly House

Eastern black swallowtail caterpillar on fennel

Eastern black swallowtail caterpillar on fennel. Photo: J_McConnell, UFIFAS

Working from home has given me the opportunity to take more notice of my landscape and allow more time for insect scouting. While looking for turfgrass pests a few weeks ago, I noticed a caterpillar I didn’t recognize feeding on a broadleaf weed in my lawn. Since it didn’t appear to be a typical turfgrass pest, I decided to collect a few and try to figure out what they were. I’m glad I did because it turned out they were Buckeye Butterfly larvae! This random find has led me to some experimentation with raising butterflies and I thought I’d share some tips in case others might like to try it.

**Before collecting be sure to consult the U.S. Fish and Wildlife list of endangered and threatened species in Florida and never collect from Florida State Parks or other dedicated conservation areas. Never release species not native to our ecosystem. **

Floor of butterfly enclosure showing caterpillar frass.

Lining the bottom of your enclosure with paper makes cleanup easier. Photo: J_McConnell, UFIFAS

You will need an adequate enclosure to keep caterpillars, chrysalises, and newly emerged butterflies/moths. I am fortunate to have a beautiful handmade cage constructed by a Master Gardener Volunteer at my disposal. It has a wooden frame and floor, screened walls, and the door latches. There are many options available for online purchase, but I would recommend getting one listed as “tall” or having a minimum height of 24 inches. Also, be sure you will be able to clean it easily – growing caterpillars create a lot of frass (excrement) that needs to be cleaned daily. I line the bottom of my enclosure with paper for quick cleanup.

Be sure you can offer fresh food for caterpillars and butterflies. Caterpillars usually have a limited menu of what they can eat depending on species. If you find them actively feeding on a plant, that is a pretty good sign that it is a good larval food source. Once you identify the caterpillar you can look up alternate larval host plants that the species eats.

Common Buckeye Butterfly in cage with fresh flowers

Provide a variety of fresh flowers when butterfly emerge

Collecting foliage and keeping it hydrated can be a challenge. I use small floral water tubes. They have rubber lids that pop on and off with slits where I can insert small stems, but the insects do not get in and drown. I usually set these in another container to keep them upright. I can easily add fresh flowers when I expect a butterfly to emerge so that nectar is available. If your enclosure is large enough you may be able to keep small potted plants inside, just remember to keep them watered.

Where do the caterpillars come from? I intentionally plant several plants that are larval butterfly (caterpillar) hosts such as parsley, fennel, and passionflower vine. I check these plants for caterpillars that I can collect along with foliage. After the butterflies emerge, I release them into my yard so they can find a mate and keep the cycle going.

For more information on attracting butterflies to your landscape see Butterfly Gardening in Florida.