Suddenly it feels like winter. Well, not really, but the mornings are definitely brisk now and the days have cooled off. We've had a smidgen of rain. Plants have stopped blooming. What are the butterflies and bees to do?
Any poor bees and butterflies still in my garden will have to look elsewhere for nectar. But I want to fix this problem so that, next fall, I will still have some blooms for my pollen-loving friends.
I fear the drought is not behind us, so I have been looking at seeds for drought-tolerant native plants that continue blooming into fall. Native plants and our native bees, butterflies and other fauna evolved together and have adapted to our winter rains and dry summers. My water comes from a well, and because I can't see what is going on down there, I am very frugal with it.
Bees and butterflies like flowers with flat heads that make it easy to gather nectar. Sunflowers are a good example. My plan is to scatter their seeds in different areas of my garden after a rain and stomp them into the ground. Then, I hope, they will not blow away and the birds will not find them before they have a chance to sprout. However, I have noticed that those cute little quail that I have invited to live in my yard are eating the tops off of some tender plants, so I will have to use floating row cover to protect the seedlings.
After reading about the nectar plants that bees and butterflies favor, I have gathered seeds for tansy, wild senna, meadow rue, yarrow, bee balm, prairie blazing star and sea holly. Some of these are annuals and may reseed if I just let the seeds drop.
I also plan to increase the amount and varieties of milkweed (Asclepias)I have in the garden. Their flower heads are the shape that most small bees and all butterflies appreciate. And the different types bloom at different times during spring and summer. The native Asclepias speciosa grows tall and blooms in early summer. As its flowers fade and its leaves get tougher, the butterflies move to later-blooming varieties for nectar and egg laying. Asclepias fascicularis (narrow-leaf milkweed) blooms in late July and August. The bees love those flowers, too.
Hot Lips sage (Salvia microphylla ‘Hot Lips') is a favorite of bumblebees. I started with a single one-gallon plant when this variety first debuted and now I have four huge plants in my garden. It needs little water and blooms almost all summer. When I visited the arboretum in Dublin, Ireland, last June, I was surprised to see it growing there. I have other salvias, too, but they do not bloom as long as ‘Hot Lips'.
Others have told me that Asclepias curvassiva, a tropical milkweed, has naturalized in some Napa Valley gardens. It has also played host to many Monarch butterflies. The plants die down in winter and renew in the spring from self-seeding. Most bees and butterflies like its nectar. Another popular milkweed isAsclepias fruticosa, sometimes called swan milkweed because of the shape of the seed pods.
Free Tree Walk: Join U. C. Master Gardeners of Napa County on Saturday, October 22, from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m., for a guided tree walk through the lovely Alameda of Trees at the Yountville Veterans Home. Established in 1884, the Veterans Home has a unique and diverse tree collection. These majestic mature specimen trees are a focal point in the lives of the men and women who live there. Come learn more about these wonderful trees. Meet at the parking lot of the Napa Valley Museum on the Veterans Home grounds, 260 California Drive, Yountville.
Master Gardeners are volunteers who help the University of California reach the gardening public with home gardening information. U. C. Master Gardeners of Napa County ( http://ucanr.edu/ucmgnapa/) are available to answer gardening questions in person or by phone, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 9 a.m. to Noon, at the U. C. Cooperative Extension office, 1710 Soscol Avenue, Suite 4, Napa, 707-253-4143, or from outside City of Napa toll-free at 877-279-3065. Or e-mail your garden questions by following the guidelines on our web site. Click on Napa, then on Have Garden Questions? Find us on Facebook under UC Master Gardeners of Napa County.