The Thump Of A Monarch Butterfly

We have weirdly friendly wildlife here in the middle of the suburban sprawl that is South Florida.

I regularly see opossums on my back porch, well technically a Lanai, but I’m not that posh.  I don’t think they know what to think of me, but I do my Steve Irwin act and tell them that I mean them no harm and they should go about their business.

Bad Aussie sometimes included.

Besides they eat ticks and neither me nor Rack the McNab SuperDog (TM) like ticks.

There are flocks of white birds that land from time to time and pick through the yard eating grubs.

Flocks of Feral Parrots making a racket in the trees. just after dawn and just before sunset.  That’s the call to flock and it mirrors when Oscar the ornery Orange Wing Parrot that shares the house gets loud.

I give him a quarter of an orange and he’s quiet.

But the thing is that I really rarely know what I am going to come across.

One morning I was out back for the yard inspection.  Every day, skim the pool, check the irrigation, and consider whether I can take more cuttings for propagation to build up the hedges or some such.

I stepped away from the house and felt something thump on my head.

Strange.  The birds out there are not quite that bold.  They yell at me, I imitate them and they get more annoyed, but they almost never get closer than ten feet.

 

It could not have been a bird.

Going by the bougainvillea and the spa, my head got thumped again.

Ok, something is decidedly too friendly here.

Turns out that it was one of the Monarch Butterflies that are around the place.  I see one, at least, every day.  This one must have thought that yesterday’s Apple Shampoo meant something in its little insect brain but couldn’t find anything to eat.

Try my brains.  Brains good.  I’m not using them right now anyway!

It fluttered around the yard and ended up on the Bougainvillea behind my bedroom window.   He came to a landing and began to drink up his fill.   I say he because he had the spot on each of the back wings that denote that.

“Hey you little bugger, go have your fill!  That’s why I keep that plant there!”

I went back to inspecting the Rosemary that is starting to take root under the Bougainvillea.  Pizza Spice for Ground Cover.  At least it will smell good.

I have a constant churn of butterfly friendly plants in the yard.   The milkweed regularly gets eaten down to wee sticks, and the butterflies lay their eggs there.

I’ve got Poinsettia there, but the butterflies seem to ignore that.

As well as other oddball plants, it’s an overfull garden.

Just the way I like it.  I have never lived in an empty property where there is a question of how do I want to put in the hedges.  I simply maintain it.  Filling in where necessary.

The scent of Jasmine on the breezes, the flowers of the red Hibiscus, the Podocarpus all fight it out to determine where We begin and They end.

But plenty there for a wandering Monarch to land and eat.

And to thump me in the back of the head from time to time.

Planting A Lemon Tree In A Stump – Video

(WordPress at my level does not provide inline video links.  If you want to see the time lapse, the link below has it.  My Blogger link has it as well here.)

Youtube has an amazing amount of videos on it.

Some of them are amazing.  I don’t really think this one is amazing, but it did give me an excuse to use the time lapse feature on the camera.

Then hacked a bunch of titles on to it.

So the slightly longer story is that I had a rather beautiful palm tree in the backyard.  It was about 30 plus feet tall and you could see it easily a block away.

I did say “had”.

It got sick, infected with some sort of fungus, and started to die off.

We removed the tree, and it produced a trash can lid sized stump in the grass that was begging to have something done to it.

In the meantime, I was growing a lemon tree from seed because we couldn’t find just the kind of lemon tree that someone wanted.

You know “Regular” Lemons.  Not Meyer Lemons or Stripey ones or giant ones.  Regular.

Since the yard is over planted, and I have zero room for anything else, I got the bright idea to grind the stump in the yard and create a planter.

Believe it or not, what gave me the idea was a Grizzly Bear.

Actually the Bear was a statue created by an Artist in Solebury Township, PA.

See, if you are heading to New Hope, PA from my old house in Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia, PA, you drive North on US 202 past Doylestown, PA.  Once you are getting close to New Hope, you reach a curve.  On the curve is an artist who makes things with chainsaws.  Believe it or not they’re quite nice, although I can’t see having a ten foot tall wooden Grizzly Bear on my little property up there, so I never got one.

The yard is way too small for a Grizzly Bear here, but if he can cut away a stump to make a bear, I certainly could hack my way through to make a hole to put a Lemon Tree Seedling.

Or it will be “A Tree” in five years or more.  Maybe we will get lemons from it, I don’t know.

To paraphrase the old parable, If you want to drink Lemonade today, You should have planted the lemon tree five years ago.

After all, someone here wanted one, and I figured I owed him something.  More than that little seedling tree at any rate and it is the right type of tree.

Besides, his birthday is coming up so while I won’t call this a birthday present, I will call it a “gesture”.

Happy Gesture, enjoy your little tree.

Oh, and there are two more that I have to find homes for, so unless you want me getting “creative” planting things, you may want to make a “sug-gesture” of your own.

Propagating Bougainvillea – Two Months Later

It may sound strange to you if you live in an area where the temperatures are closer to freezing, or below, instead of being a Beach Day in the middle of December, but I did manage to catch the season right for planting.

In October.

When I went to propagate the Bougainvillea, it was because the vines were being eaten away by Subterranean Termites.

We get those termites here in South Florida, and protecting things here requires creating a toxic soup barrier around your house.

I expect that the Bougainvillea arbor that is the “mother plant” is just outside of the Toxic Soup Zone.

These vines are as thick as my thighs in some places, and I have very large thighs as I am an inline skater who considers a 2200 calorie workout “light”.  But these vines were also eaten to the point where I may lose the plant in a year or so.

They wobble freely on their roots.

I trimmed off random sections of the older growth to start new plants.

Half of them began putting out tiny leaves, the others sat there looking like dead sticks.

Since this is my life, weirdness ensued.

The ones with the tiny leaves either died or went dormant.   I will leave these alone in my highly watered propagation pots.

However the ones with no growth on them began to sprout leaves and some are already blooming.  On a two month old cutting.  In a pot.

I find it strange too.

My expected date of planting is the first day of Spring, March 21.  It is currently (looks at my watch) December 10th.

So I have more time to grow.

The Sticks not withstanding, are fine.  The ones that have gone “dormant” or have died will have until March to make up their flowery mind whether to live or to be turned into mulch.

In the interim I have high hopes for some cuttings that I made from the mother plants that were new growth.   Yes, in December, these things are putting out new shoots.

They are in the “nursery pots” and are not drying up like some of the other cuttings have been, so who knows.

I’m also nursing 55 Rosemary cuttings and none of them have decided to curl up and die yet.  We will be using them for ground cover.  Ground cover you can use to make a pizza or spaghetti sauce.

March, being three months away, gives me time to obsess and wait to see what survives.

 

All that Rosemary came from what a good friend of mine in Atlanta described as “One of those sad little xmas trees that they try to guilt you into buying at the supermarket”.

 

I’ve been told that I truly need to stop doing this though.  I’m seriously running out of space.  Just this morning, I snipped what I thought was a twig.  Finger thickness branch was cut off the salmon bougainvillea.

 

By the time I got that “twig” to the ground, it had pulled off two other “twigs” with it and was over six feet long.  Two meters of nasty bitey thorn filled branches.

If I get any spare bougainvillea I’ll let people know.  FOB My Front Porch.  I never have any luck giving anything away but I will make the offers.

That Gardening Bug.  I guess really it is “Landscaping” because I’m rapidly approaching an industrial scale.  It gets under your skin and makes you feel like you’re doing something productive.

Guess what?  You are.

 

Poinsettias Sparking in the Early Sun

If you ever caught the old, I mean 50 year old, TV show called Green Acres, you have an idea of my back yard.

Mind you I’m not creating a farm on a Park Avenue NYC penthouse with a ditzy blond, I am just doing my planting in my own backyard.

Unlike Oliver Douglas, my own container farm eventually does go into the ground.

All those pots do give me something wholesome to obsess over, and I have been planting things all my life.   The flowers are pleasant to look at, and once in a while I get something to eat out of them.

This particular pot has Poinsettias.   I actually got the plant from a backdoor of a shopping center as they were set by a dumpster so someone else could enjoy them after the holiday season.  This was at least nine years ago that I found them.  Periodically I would take cuttings and stick them in the soil.  They grow well in South Florida and make a showy display of red leaves in Early November for the holidays.

My godmother tells a story how she did something like that after the holidays were done and eventually got a Poinsettia growing into a shrub until some random pests got to it.

That pot also has ended up being a scaled down nursery because it has some of Betty’s Vincas and some of the latest obsession, Propagating Bougainvillea.

The Bougainvillea inspection was what drew me to it.

And for the record, after four weeks, I have a couple of viable Bougainvillea plants that are in pots and in the ground already.  Go for it, if you have them, I’m getting better than 2 in 3 cuttings survive.

It was after sunrise but before the sun comes up over the tree line to hit the plants in the yard.  I noticed everything was dusted like it was a coating of sanding sugar on them.  The indirect light was reflecting and sparking at me more than I had expected.

It made me come back out again about an hour later when the sun did hit them directly and the result was a rather fascinating show.   As you move around I was treated to a series of rainbows, sparkles, and other things that flash in the light.

I guess it’s those “other things” you need to watch out for in life!

A cross between some of those reflective coatings they use in road striping and that sanding sugared surface greeted me.  Luckily that display lasted just long enough to record it.

Once done, I realized that Rack the McNab SuperDog (TM) was hovering to go back inside.

There’s only so much you can do when you have a wet nose staring back at you to move along.

Butterfly At The Pool

The thing about gardening is that you have a lot of visitors.

Through the years, I’ve been visited by various reptiles, more lizards than I can count, insects, and other neighbors.

Both two and four legged.

This morning, going out to inspect my nursery pots and see how my bougainvillea cuttings are doing, I noticed that there were literally dozens of monarch butterfly caterpillars happily eating my milkweed down to pegs.

As a gardener it is at once frustrating and pleasurable.  I would love some seeds from those milkweeds, but courtesy of a neighbor and friend here, I have a cage that I could put the plants inside so they would go to seed.

As one who enjoys nature, that is why I plant the milkweed.  It’s there so the butterflies come to my yard.   It is a rare day that I don’t see a number of those Monarchs on the wing, floating around, coming to a landing somewhere.

To paraphrase:  If I build it, they will come.

Home (plate) I guess is in my backyard.

I don’t wander around aimlessly back there, there’s a purpose.  Usually I’m being herded back to the back door by my boy Rack the McNab SuperDog(TM) after only a few minutes, so standing at the back door and taking one last look means I am trying to think if there is anything that needs to be cared for.

I let him back inside because I realized I needed to deal with a visitor.   This Butterfly was perched, resting, on my sad little Hibiscus that so often is ravaged by Iguanas.

Yes, we have herds of those beasts running around.  The Iguanas turn the neighborhood into something reminiscent of Jurassic Park, and usually result in my thinking “I hope there will be a solid cold snap this winter”.

Their muscles can’t function below 45F, and if it gets into the 30s it will kill them.

Good.

But this Butterfly seemed to be enjoying the rest and watching me go about my own stupidity.

Good.   They’re welcome here.    One of at least five different daily visitor species here.

If you’re seeing Butterflies in the yard and want more, the next step is to leave a little fruit out there for them to find.  The Fairchild Gardens in South Miami does exactly that in their butterfly house.  A little banana or orange goes a long way to help these beautiful creatures survive.

As for the Iguanas?  I hear they’re good in a Curry Sauce.  Chicken of the Trees!

Lowering the Mango Tree

Some of us can’t get near the fruit, or they hate it.

I’m over the moon with it. I can’t really get enough mangoes.

I even have a tree in the backyard.  Therein lies the problem.  You see, Mango Trees can get insanely big.  In South Florida they can get to 40 or 50 feet tall.

Lets call that 17 meters for the imperially impaired.

 

There is one that big just a short walk from my front door.

So unless you want fruit that is upwards of two pounds or a Kilo falling from 50 feet onto your head, or breaking glass in your car, you want to lower the things.

I’ve been telling people this for years.  Don’t let it grow up, make it grow out.

Yes, I am turning my mango into a bonsai.  Not one of those little trees in a pot, but a tree that could be huge is going to be cut back to about six feet.

It’s a manageable height for these things.

I know it is something that works because I did a test cut a month back and I am trying hard not to allow myself to finish the job.

I had gone out there and found that my tree was almost 20 feet tall and growing out of control.   About the time I took cuttings from the Bougainvillea, I walked to the Mango with saw in hand and lowered the tree on one side by about a person in height.  It also got narrowed to about 10 feet.

How do I know it worked?  Simply because the plant told me.

I didn’t do a simple beheading of the tree, I cut back long arms to the core.

One month later, everywhere I cut, the tree put out lots of little branches like fingers.   I stopped where I did with the tree because I was afraid it would pout and not put out more fruit for next year.  Since flowering and fruiting happens in spring here, I have to wait.

My Theory is that I can gently reduce the height in stages and not shock the plant.

At least it’s not a skyscraper any longer.

Motto of this exercise is that if you have a truly tall tree that is getting out of control, take a measured approach and trim it back.  But do so gently, after all you do still want the tree.

I will say mine is vigorously putting out new growth and should be in perfect form for blooming in early spring.

Propagating Bougainvillea is Easy

The first time I propagated bougainvillea, i used what my family “on the farm” would call “Involuntary Propagation”.

There was a pot with a little pine bark mulch in the bottom, and a little soil.  It sat under the bougainvillea arbor that I have behind the house.  I came through one day and trimmed it back and a small bit fell in the pot.

I didn’t see or ignored the clipping instead of throwing it out.

Months later when I went to use the pot, I pulled the clipping out and it had begun to grow roots.

Bougainvillea is an amazing looking plant but it has thorns all over it.  Whenever I work with it, I end up having arms that look like I was trying to give a pill to a cat.  Shredded.

But it is one of the reasons why I bought the house.  Standing at the front window, you can see through the house to the arbor in the back, and when it is in bloom, it is a wall of flowers.

It also has a very thin bark that scratches off with a thumbnail to show a little green underneath.

Many plants down here are like that, and it is pretty easy to find a plant that I can propagate easily with better than 50% success.

With the bougainvillea, you will want to find a piece with green growth at the end and some leaf buds on it.

Cut the stem, and trim it to a 45 degree angle to make it easier to stick in the soil.

Treat the cut end generously with rooting hormone.

Push the stem into wet soil deep enough to allow the cutting to stand more or less upright.  Larger stems will need more support and will need to go deeper.

Once in soil, water generously until it is obvious that you have new growth and roots developing.  It can be as long as 3 to 6 months before the new plant can go into the ground, so be patient.

In one case I have seen new growth in about two weeks once all the old leaves had fallen to the ground.

Finally, the plant does not seem to care whether it is getting started in a pot or directly in the ground.  I have cuttings starting in both the soil and in pots on my irrigation lines.