Garden learning curves and letting go of perfection

The birds like our back yard. They should. We provide a very dependable open buffet.

 

On the other hand, I haven’t been successful in creating the same open invitation to the highly endangered Monarch Butterfly. For the last two years I’ve tried to learn about native milkweed versus some varieties potentially disruptive to the monarch’s migratory path.

I didn’t want to contribute to the problem, but native milkweed has been hard for me to source, so I kept waiting.

Once again I was unable to find Asclepias californica (California milkweed), and I’ve learned that some natives are uncommon with very restricted  distribution, but I was able to find “suitable” substitutes for now, with the warning that in the fall I must severely cut them back so the Monarch will continue on her migratory path. In our hospitable climate the plant will not naturally die back and my failure to do so could harm the butterfly. I’ll keep learning and searching for natives, but I won’t forget my pruning shears.

I have been thinking about Einstein’s quote, “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. So is a lot.”  In a way I was paralyzed by too much research.

On the other hand, some people just jump right in and don’t do any research at all. I don’t think that’s necessarily a good idea, as this quote from a confused gardener would indicate.

Posted on Dave’s Garden, a favorite site, this gardener was very concerned about her milkweed plant.

“I’ve been trying to get a specimen established in my yard for several years now, but it never seems to get much of a chance except become an elongated green stick. Every time it gets to the point where it blooms, there is a species of butterfly (or moth?) that comes and lays eggs which hatch into larvae and devour each and every leaf on the plant, drastically reducing its stamina and basically halting all growth for a period of time.

I have tried my best to remain vigilant as to when it’s flowering, because I know that for the next several days afterward I will need to watch for eggs and/or larvae/caterpillars. If I see a batch of eggs laid near the flower, I spray them with a garden-safe insect spray. But often they hatch before I’m aware. Occasionally I manage to get rid of the larvae before they’ve done too much damage, but this is only a temporary reprieve, because as soon as the plant blooms again, the cycle repeats and it’s only a matter of time before the caterpillars get all the leaves before I get all the caterpillars! I occasionally see articles about this plant in the local paper or mentioned as a nice garden plant to attract butterflies, but I don’t understand how anyone would want butterflies to come and have their larvae eat every single last leaf off the plant! Perhaps other gardeners’ plants are more healthy/developed and are more able to withstand the caterpillars–perhaps being only partially devoured.”

EGADS!

I hope someone was able to impress on this milkweed lover that the point of milkweed IS the caterpillars, but if not, just to be sure the Monarch has a chance, won’t you spend some time researching how you might throw in your gardening support for this beautiful, but severely threatened butterfly?

As soon as I see caterpillars, you can be sure I’ll be back bragging blogging all about my success!

Fingers crossed!