Lazy Gardener & Friends for November 15, 2019

By: Nature's Way Resources | Published 11/15/2019




"We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit
the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty."
-- Maya Angelou

Love it when a young person asks a question I've never heard an adult ask. Chloe B. learned in school some monarchs stay here year round. Others migrate through in spring and fall. How, she asked, can you tell the difference between "our" monarchs and those just passing through?
Cockrell Butterfly Center Director Erin Mills says although it’s very difficult to spot physical differences between migrating and local monarchs, IF you could “mark” a monarch and repeatedly watch it closely, some studies do detect differences in size, robustness and coloration.

If you can identify a specific monarch repeatedly returning to your flowers, it's possible it's wintering over here. Migrating monarchs move on very quickly.
An easier way to tell, says Erin, is if it lays eggs on milkweed here: "Migratory monarchs go into a reproductive diapause, so they will only stop to drink water and nectar, never to lay eggs.”

Our recent freezes bring up two now-perennial winter questions:

  • What do I do about monarch chrysalis on my butterflyweed now? Ironically, the National Butterfly Center (NBC) says folks every fall/winter want to send these to its Mission, TX, headquarters. The answer is NO!

Instead, “Do like the great Beatles song suggests: Let it be,” said Anurag Agrawal, author of Milkweed and Monarchs. "Late caterpillars are the ‘living dead,”’ writes Agrawal on NBC's Facebook page. “They don’t have a chance and there is no sense in us tinkering with nature.” More on "Let them be!"

  • Do I have to cut back tropical butterflyweed to protect monarchs from the dreaded Oe parasite?

Tropical butterflyweed has the beautiful multi-colored red/orange/yellow flowers (right). With our changing climate, tropical butterflyweed is now wintering over instead of dying back as our native milkweeds do.

Although Ophryocystis elektroscirrha (Oe) is ever-present, this parasite now is able grow to destructive proportions over winter IF it has a continuous nutrition source. Native milkweeds die back naturally, depriving Oe of winter nutrition. Tropical milkweeds don't die back, so are helping Oe thrive. Monarchs arrive in spring, feed on now-mature-Oe-infected tropical butterflyweed and produce a mutated (or at least infected) next generation. (Symptoms of Oe mutations)
Our Spotlight Article below is written by Texas Master Naturalists/Coastal Chapter Past President Diane Russell, Ph.D. A butterfly enthusiast and retired Professor of Anatomy, Diane used to let her milkweeds bloom year-round, even enjoying butterflies at Christmastime. Not anymore: 
"I've seen too many Oe-damaged butterflies emerge as the year goes by. I have friends who actually look for spores on apparently healthy butterflies, and there are many, many more of those that are infected but not overtly damaged. Now I cut it back and let myself rest from garden chores in winter.”
Diane does closely maintain a few tropical plants strictly for her lectures, such as her upcoming “A TRIP TO THE MONARCH OVERWINTERING SITES IN MICHOACAN” talk Tues, Nov. 19, 10am, St. Basil’s Hall, 702 Burney Rd., in Sugar Land. The free Sugar Land Garden Club event is open to the public. (

As you’ll learn in Diane's Spotlight Article below, milkweed actually isn’t necessary at all in fall for monarchs. We have many fall nectar plants migrating monarch can and do use for feeding.
If you choose to cut tropical butterflyweed back, Diane recommends reducing the stalks to 6” high in late October (now’s not too late). In a warm winter, it may grow back so quickly a second cutting might be in order.
Around January/February, start letting tropical butterflyweed fill out again. Don’t worry, it will! Our native milkweeds will die back and return on their own.
To help migrating monarchs seeking nectar in fall, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center recommends these for fall gardens:

  • GREAT FALL MONARCH NECTAR PLANTS (l to r above): Gregg’s mistflower (Conoclinium greggii), shrubby bonset (Ageratina havanensis), Maximilian sunflower (Helianthus maximiliani), fall aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium) and frostweed (Verbesina virginica)

  • AND IN SPRING, broaden your buffet for egg-laying monarchs with (l to r above): prairie verbena (Glandularia bipinnatifida), black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta); purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), Texas lantana (Lantana urticoides),and mealy blue sage (Salvia farinacea)

NOTE: GIVEN OUR RECENT ABNORMAL FREEZING TEMPERATURES, folks at Nature's Way Resources recommend NOT planting any of these this late in the ground now. Wait until spring. No telling what's ahead this winter.

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SPEAKING OF ENDANGERED . . . Lollie F. has heard bumblebees are now endangered and wants to plant for them. Suggestions? Actually, the only officially endangered one, the Rusty Patched Bumblebee (Bombus affinis), is found only in northern states. But the same triggers (loss of habitat, changing climate, etc.) threaten our bumblebees as well, so planting for them will help local ones adjust.

In my old yard, bumblebees loved my coral vine (left above). John Ferguson says in his yard, they love ". . .salvia's in general but especially the cultivar 'Indigo Spires' (center) and (at right) Hibiscus syriacus -- althaea or Rose of Sharon. This is true for the old althaea passalong varieties. Bumblebees do not seem to like the modern cultivars as much."

The word "bumblebee" is a funny compound —"bumble" meaning to hum, buzz, drone, or move ineptly. They do make honey but mostly for themselves, not practical for gathering. Which got me to thinking . . .

. . . Is bumblebee one word? Or two? I like one. Shorter. Official sources are annoyingly divided. Merriam-Webster says one word. Even though they don't agree, Texas A&M -- a two-word advocate -- is an excellent source for facts and pictures (including this one at left!)
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"CLIMATE CHANGE" CHANGING OUR GARDENING GUIDELINES — I hope all of you saw and read Lisa Gray’s excellent Nov. 9 Houston Chronicle article:"Bob Randall’s gardening book explains how to cope with Houston’s hotter temperatures." (click to read)

Bob reflects on what many gardeners have been experiencing for some time now: edibles and other plants aren’t behaving as in the past (like our now- winter-hardy tropical butterflyweed and the problems triggered for monarchs). It’s sad to think we can no longer always rely on “time-honored handed-down gardening advice" -- as our grandparents did.
But Lisa Gray's article and Bob's new book, are at least good guides for meeting new challenges head-on.

‘Year-Round Food Gardening for Houston and Southeast Texas’ by Bob Randall (Urban Harvest, $68) is available only from Urban Harvest and locally-owned sources, including Nature’s Way Resources, Wabash Feed Store, Buchanan’s Native Plants and Sweet Organic Solutions. Mail order: Brazos Bookstore, 713-523-0701. (If you carry it & aren't listed, email I'll let readers know.)

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Now -- below -- Dr. Diane Russell report on her Mexico Monarch Winter Trip. . .

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are free — Just email
Brenda's column in the LAZY GARDENER & FRIENDS HOUSTON GARDEN NEWSLETTER is based on her 40+ years as the Houston Chronicle's Lazy Gardener

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Mexico Monarch Wintering Site (DIANE RUSSELL PHOTO)


Past President
Texas Master Naturalists/Coastal Prairie Chapter

In February 2017 I joined a conservation tour group, led by the late Dr. Tom Emmel of the University of Florida, to videotape the incredible phenomenon found at the monarch overwintering sites in Michoacan, Mexico.
It is in this tiny area that the vast majority of our 300 million monarch butterflies east of the Rocky Mountains “disappear” annually to overwinter in a state of diapause — the insect equivalent of hibernation.

Although the monarchs are physiologically dormant in many ways, they also take to the skies in flight on warm afternoons, creating one of the most magical scenes one can possibly imagine, and one which I had promised myself I would experience some day, videotape, and bring home to share.

Below, Jennifer Haley and Bill Russell, Diane Russell’s daughter and husband, at one of the Mexican Monarch wintering sites.

After 3 nights of lectures by Dr. Emmel I realized that learning the mechanisms used by these tiny, deceptively simple insects to make a 3000-mile pilgrimage, was the real highlight of this experience. This information has real-world applications for us gardeners here at home.
There has been an ongoing debate, sometimes contentious, about providing Mexican milkweed, their non-native host plant, on a year-round basis. Understanding the physiologic differences between the fall migratory “super generation” of monarchs, and their non-migratory offspring is essential to meeting their needs in the garden.
The migratory generation’s purpose in life is to load up on sugar in nectar, convert it to lipid, and use these lipid stores for up to 5 months while in Mexico. In the spring they return to this country where they lay eggs and die, as do subsequent short-lived generations that slowly make their way northward across the country.
This is the time when their host plant, milkweed, is essential in order to increase their population size.
Having this information can help us plan to have in our yards and gardens:
A diversity of nectar-producing flowering plants in the fall, and
Milkweed in the spring in order to boost their numbers
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  • You can hear the “rest of the story” TUES., NOV 19: A TRIP TO THE MONARCH OVERWINTERING SITES IN MICHOACAN by DR. DIANE RUSSELL, 10am; St. Basil’s Hall, 702 Burney Road, Sugar Land. Free. Sugar Land Garden Club event.
  • Dr. Diane Russell can be contacted at

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A study published in the Journal of The American Society of Agronomy (2019) has found that overuse of artificial fertilizers can damage plant roots. They used special boxes that would allow them to see and monitor root growth on Canola since it has a long tap root. They used 3 types of artificial fertilizers applied in bands and found that they can cause damage to the roots. When the roots were damaged, the plants could not take up nutrients and water. Another reason to only use organic fertilizers.

We all know that Enzymes are essential for us to digest our food and obtain maximum nutrition. A study published in the Journal of the Soil Science Society of America (2019) has found the same thing in soils. They found that enzyme activity was highest when a good compost was used in conjunction with plants (in this case cover crops). Enzyme activity was lowest when compost was not used.

Most folks consider Dandelions a weed, however it has many benefits from indicating soil health issues to being very nutritious and has a long history of being used as a medicinal herb. The botanical name is Taraxacun officinale and is an herbaceous perennial originally from Europe. It was brought to America due to its health and nutrition benefits. The root is best harvested before it goes to seed in early spring or late fall.

According to the journal Society for Biomedical Diabetes Research the root contains many nutrients and bioactive compounds. It is found to be: Anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, anti-rheumatic, anti-hyperglycemic, hepatoprotective, and anti-cancer.
The root can be roasted ground up and used as a coffee substitute and it can be used to make dandelion tea. In soils it grows best when there is compaction and low available calcium (Ca) in the topsoil as its role in nature is to correct these problems. Hence, it is a good indicator plants when our soils are not as healthy as they should be. A few studies have shown that the seed will not germinate in real healthy soils with lots of available calcium.

Have you ever wondered why in a group of plants one will get a disease and others nearby will not? A paper in the journal Scientific Advances (2019) by researchers form York University and colleagues form China and the Netherlands have discovered one reason why. A bacterial wilt pathogen (Ralstonia solanacearum) found all over tomato fields sometimes will not infect all the plants. They found the plants that were unaffected had pathogen suppressing Pseudomonas and Bacillus bacteria in their root’s microbiome. They also found that this disease resistance could be transferred to the next plant generation with soil transplants. This is similar to fecal transplants in humans that is used in medicine.

We have often talked about the importance of trace and micro-nutrients for our health (and the health of our soils, in particular the microbes that protect plants and help them grow). A study from James Cook University mentioned that two billion people worldwide suffer from micronutrient deficiencies. Eating more seafood would help folks in coastal communities. For the rest of us the best way is to grow our own food and Re-mineralize the soil.

Plants manufacture sugars from photosynthesis, where these sugars are transferred to the growing shoots, the growing roots, fruit and seeds, and for root exudates. When plants are grown on healthy soil the sugar content of the sap goes up. If the sugar content is high enough insects will not eat them as high sugar content will make the insects sick or even kill them. One way to increase the sugar content in the sap is to use foliar sprays as plants can absorb nutrients through their leaves. 

I love to grow lantanas in my butterfly garden and in hot summers they would sometimes get spider mites. I have found that using products like Super Seaweed from MicrolifeTM, will work as a curative and a preventative. I often use Ocean Harvest from MicrolifeTM to also help feed the plant both as a foliar spray and as a root drench.

For the best results I use both the Super Seaweed and Ocean Harvest and maybe a little humic acid added to a good compost tea. The combination really helps plants green up and grow without any problems.

A new trend in gardening is getting with neighbors, garden club members, and others to create habitat corridors. The University of Wisconsin-Madison did an almost 20-year study published in the Journal Science (2019) that found by connecting small patches of savannas (prairies or wildflower meadows) to each other via habitat corridors showed an annual increase in the number of species.

Habitat restoration is a key priority across the planet. The United Nations declared 2021 through 2030 the UN decade of Ecosystem Restoration. Ecosystem restoration is critical to stopping greenhouse gasses, improving food quality, preventing erosion of our soils and protecting fresh water supplies. Gardeners can be part of the solution rather than be part of the problem.

Ever wonder why some plants grow faster than others? One reason is the plant growth hormone called auxin that regulates plant growth. A paper in the journal PLOS Biology (July 2019) has found that a calcium binding protein is responsible for working with auxin. This protein regulates both auxin responses and calcium levels in the plant.

Several species of fungi collect calcium in the soil and store it on their hyphae to trade with the plant for root exudates. At the same time, earthworms produce auxins in their castings and in the mucus, they line their burrows with.
When we use a fungicide, we kill the good fungus and when we use artificial fertilizers or pesticides, we kill the earthworms. As a result, plants do not grow as well and have more problems. More reasons to use the modern methods based on soil biology that are often called “organic”.

The fallout from the dangers of using glyphosate-based herbicides like Roundup continue to be exposed. In the USA there are now over 42,700 lawsuits for causing one’s cancer (July 2019).

With Thanksgiving around the corner this leads me to think; What happens to animals fed grain with glyphosate on it? The vast majority of turkeys come from industrial factory farms where they are fed GMO corn loaded with glyphosate and then injected with massive amounts of antibiotics to prevent disease from the filthy conditions they are raised in. Animal studies have shown that when eaten over many months the animals develop tumors (see slide below). These toxic chemicals get passed onto us when we eat the turkey. To protect one’s family, look for organic, pasture raised turkeys. As a bonus they taste better.


I remember in college we used microwaves to sterilize samples since they can kill life. We know that microwaves can heat up and cook objects (e.g. microwave ovens). So, what is going to happen to our plants when they constantly get exposed to large amounts of microwave radiation from the 5G cell phone technology when it is mounted on a telephone pole outside your home? The Dr. Mercola newsletter has an article that is a good summary of the problems for those whom are interested.

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Have You Tried . . .

Exotic, orchid-like flowers bloom profusely in late summer/fall. Ideal for shady, moist, woody spots. Foliage dies back in winter, wakes up late in spring, To freshen foliage, cut back by half in early June. When dies back in winter, cut foliage off. One source says it was so named because it attracts frogs and tadpoles!


Toad lilies are carried by Nature’s Way Resources (Map).
Or . . . contact our sponsor, Montgomery Pines Nursery in Willis, our other
sponsors below or your neighborhood nurseryman for possible sources.

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