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posted: 8/6/2013 1:00 AM

Gardeners can help monarch butterflies

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By Mary Boldan and Mary Moisand

Q. Recently I read about the plight of monarch butterflies (severe weather, illegal logging in Mexico, etc.). What can I do in my garden to attract and help these beautiful winged creatures?

A. The future of the Monarch looks a bit shaky with continued use of herbicides and habitat destruction. Since the Monarch's life cycle revolves around the milkweed, gardeners can help Monarchs by growing this plant. Monarchs will only lay eggs on milkweed, and their caterpillars will only feed on milkweed. While consuming milkweed, the caterpillars and butterflies ingest cardenolides, a substance that renders them toxic to predators.

While the Common milkweed (Asclepiassyriaca) may be a rambunctious grower, many butterfly gardeners wouldn't be without it since it's the plant of choice for Monarch caterpillars. However, there are other milkweeds, native to our area that will also help the beleaguered Monarch. These include the Prairie milkweed (Asclepias sullivantii), and the Sullivant's milkweed (Asclepias sullivantii) which is similar to the Common milkweed, but is not a rambunctious grower. It creeps slowly by rhizomes, The Butterfly milkweed (Asclepiastuberose) grows to 3 feet with showy orange, red, or yellow flowers.

For moist areas in your garden, try planting Red milkweed (Asclepias incarnate) and Swamp milkweed (Asclepiasincarnate), which is deer resistant.

During the fall, as Monarchs begin their migration to their overwintering site in Mexico, they need plenty of nectar for energy. Good sources of nectar-rich flowers that bloom in fall include Goldenrod (Solidago spp.), New England Aster (Aster novae-angliae), black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta), Blazing Star (Liatris spp.), Cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis), Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), Sedum (Sedum spp.), Joe-Pye Weed (Eupatorium spp.), Lantana (Lantana spp.), Phlox (Phlox spp.), Salvia (Salvia spp.), and Zinnia (Zinnia spp.).

To complete your Monarch buffet, remember butterflies do get thirsty. Provide water in a shallow pan. And, when they are not feeding, they like to lounge on flat, sun-warmed stones positioned in the sun. Finally, do not use pesticides or herbicides in your garden. Butterflies are extremely sensitive to such poisons.

Q. What is the difference between a pole bean and a bush bean?

A. There are two main types of beans: pole beans and bush beans. Pole Beans grow up tall and need a pole for support. Bush beans usually grow about 2-3 feet tall in a bush form and don't require support. When planning your garden, realize that bush beans are going to take up more room to produce the same yield as pole beans -- so if you don't have a lot of space, pole beans may be the way to go for you.

The next difference is how quickly they mature, bush beans tend to mature a little more quickly (50--60 days) than pole beans (65--75 days). However pole beans keep producing continuously during the growing season, whereas bush beans produce most of their beans at the same time and then they are done.

Q. Is it OK to reuse potting soil that is left over from last year?

A. When it comes to growing lush, thriving plants, healthy soil is essential. It is OK to use container soil for two or three years as long as it has remained nutritious and healthy. However, if last year's plants showed signs of disease, do not reuse the soil. One exception is starting seeds; always use fresh soil. There are benefits to using fresh soil; better soil drainage, ability to retain water, less disease and pest invasion and less weed growth.

• Master Gardener Answer Desk, located at Friendship Park Conservatory, 395 Algonquin, Des Plaines, is open 9 a.m. to noon on Wednesdays. Call (847) 298-3502 or email

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