Ms. LadybugMany years ago (actually it was 1992, the first months of being in business), I had my first proud shipment of antique roses in place ready to sell. I walked out one March morning a month after they had arrived and noticed that they were covered in aphids! My first instinct was to spray them with the recommended pesticides I still had in stock – malathion and orthene. They were not doing the job and in the meanwhile, I was getting sick each time they were applied. I resorted to having the young man working for me do the applications. No success. It was then suggested to me to release the beneficial insects, ladybugs and green lacewings to take care of them. I did so. Three days later, all of the aphids were gone!

I learned quickly that certain plants attracted aphids–roses, daylilies and butterfly weed being the most common culprits. Very early on Monday mornings you can find me ordering plants for the week. Quite often, I would notice that the daylilies were covered in aphids. I would fetch a bag or two of ladybugs from the refrigerator, sprinkle them amongst the daylilies, return a couple of days later, and see no aphids. How much easier can it be!

When our grandchildren were much younger, we would always have an Easter egg hunt amongst the plants at our Arlington store. One April morning, the picnic table that our employees use at lunchtime was covered with thousands of ladybug larvae. These little “gators” eat more aphids that the adult ladybug. I was quite amazed.

So to those who say that the ladybugs fly away…these larvae, the accumulation of many years of releasing ladybugs to take care of those pesky aphids in the retail store, are proof positive that they will stay to help take care of your garden for generations to come!

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For those of you in north Texas…

There are parts of Texas that are now considered to be in a severe drought situation.  You may not realize that Texas is the number two agricultural state. We may have had soaking rains from hurricanes in 2008, but now there are large parts of the state that are experiencing severe drought. The situation is particularly bad in central Texas and the Hill Country. There are many implications from this. One of them is the fact that the dry conditions have severely curtailed the growth of the milkweed plant – the primary source of food for migrating monarch butterflies from Mexico to Canada. The monarchs not only feed on the nectar of the Asclepias, they lay their eggs on milkweed and the larvae vigorously feed on them.

There are many varieties of milkweed, but the one that is most available to us to grow here is Asclepias currasavica, commonly known as Mexican milkweed. As a favor to the monarchs, please take the time to plant one or two in your garden. Once established it is quite drought tolerant, though does need moisture for best performance.  It reseeds readily in a garden that is not heavily mulched.   

Plant some now – the monarch butterflies are on their way!

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I have found that organic gardeners are so much more aware of what is going on in their gardens. Moreover, learning something new never stops. Since we are fortunate enough to be able to watch the migration of the monarch butterflies both in spring and fall, we make sure we have some milkweed plants (Asclepias curassavica) blooming in our gardens at those times. The monarchs lay their eggs on this plant. The larvae, or caterpillars that result, feed off the plant leaves. As the flowers mature, they form long pods. When dry, they break open, releasing little flat seeds.

Last week, as Alec, one of our grandsons, and I were watching a large monarch feeding, I pointed out to him the large, yellow aphids that were all over the plant. This is not unusual; aphids love asclepias, and usually do little harm to the plant. Yesterday, we went back to look at the aphids. They were mostly gone. We did see one ladybug larvae scooting around the plant. What surprised us even more were the several clusters of milkweed bug nymphs. Our research taught us that these bugs feed on the seeds of the milkweed plant. We both had just learned something new.

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