Thursday, October 17, 2013

Butterflies, Herbs and Wildflowers - 'Tis the Season

Sweetbush, Bebbia juncea
Fall is the season for planting in the desert. Warm soils encourage roots to develop before the cold of winter settles in stalling growth. University of Arizona Extension studies have shown Fall planting helps new seedlings handle our hot summers as well with a solid understory foundation more readily adapting to our limited water. Several milkweeds (Desert Milkweed (Asclepias subulata), Arizona Milkweed (Asclepias angustifolia) and Pineleaf Milkweed (Asclepias linaria) are featured at many seasonal plant sales as are rich nectar sources like Desert Ageratum (Ageratum corymbosum), Sweetbush (Bebbia juncea) or Lantana (Lantana camara). But don't forget herbs and wildflowers that attract our earliest butterflies during the cooler season as well.

Fernleaf Lavender
Every winter a few monarchs spend the winter in the greater Phoenix and Yuma areas. These are likely monarchs that eclosed late in the season. Some may be breeding monarchs but many are in reproductive diapause and will delay mating until spring. Whether breeding or not, monarchs will need strong nectar to help sustain them during the cooler months.Winter blooming Fernleaf lavender is a monarch favorite. Calendulas are as well, so keep a few around in pots for monarchs that survive our light freezes in the area.

Wildflowers are easy to grow and many reseed for future seasons. Premier planting time in the lower deserts is from October through the end of November. Simply sprinkle seeds thinly and rake in. You can spread seeds over granite or soil. Small seeds may be easier to distribute mixed with sand. You can let nature take its course with our winter rains, or you can help secure a spring floral display by watering lightly until new growth is up. Only an occasional drink of water is needed if our rains are late.  On warm winter days you may spot a few local butterflies visiting your patch before anything else is in bloom, a regal thank you for your effort.

Bakers Nursery in Phoenix has large vats of wildflower seeds you can purchase by the ounce that grow well in our Sonoran Desert. The Desert Botanical Garden Desert Botanical Garden Wildflower Sources is a handy resource to order seeds in time for planting as well. So think wildlife with wildflowers this winter and keep your eye out for out of season visitors to your yard.

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