PRAIRIEFORM

Everyday excursions in the urban landscape

Plants as magnets for the good and bad

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Observing the Joppa Avenue Landscape in Minneapolis, Minnesota, for bees, butterflies, and bunnies
Lounging and observing the laboratory

The occasional sad reality of doing landscape design is that not all landscapes you create will survive long-term. Ownership can change, and maintenance can be spotty. At the very least, you can expect that some plants will die or be less successful than planned due to circumstances outside of your control, and the result will be a landscape different than what you had envisioned. In our case we never could have anticipated the bumper crop of rabbits that seemed to emerge in Minneapolis in the summer of 2009, or how that bumper crop would subside by 2014. Nor could we have anticipated how much the monarch and honeybee populations would dwindle during that same period. Fortunately, we’ve had a living laboratory of sorts in which to observe all of these phenomena long-term and to see what plants are bunny magnets, and which are monarch and bee magnets.

Here is our run-down:

BEE/POLLINATOR MAGNETS
Nepeta x faassenii ‘Walker’s Low’ / Walker’s Low catmint: Blooms for at least a month (reblooms after a mid-summer haircut), with the bees (bumble, honey, and solitary, not to mention hoverflies, hummingbird moths, butterflies, and hummingbirds) on it from sunrise to sunset
Aster oolentangiensis / sky-blue aster: Very good late-summer nectar/pollen source
Solidago speciosa / showy goldenrod: Also an ideal late-summer nectar/pollen source
Diervilla sessilifolia ‘Butterfly’ / Butterfly bush honeysuckle: Bumblebees love the little yellow flowers; lightly cut back after blooming for a second bloom
Perovskia atriplicifolia ‘Longin’ / ‘Longin’ Russian sage: Bees of all varieties love this plant, and it blooms from July virtually til the end of summer
Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ / Autumn Joy stonecrop: Amazing late-summer nectar/pollen source

MONARCH MAGNETS
Liatris ligulistylis / meadow blazing star: They bloom, and the monarchs come. . . in droves; it’s as simple as that
Eutrochium purpurea / Joe Pye weed: Huge, tall, and full of monarchs once they bloom in July
Verbena bonariensis / Brazilian verbena: An annual that blooms from June (depending on when you plant it) until the end of summer and thus provides a very consistent nectar source for monarchs, which flock to it

RABBIT MAGNETS
Echinacea purpurea / purple coneflower: Numbers dwindled down to almost none by 2013, have replanted new ones and caged them
Panicum virgatum / switchgrass: Ultimately disappeared after two years and space taken over by other plants
Sporobolus heterolepis / prairie dropseed: Initially took a huge hit from the rabbits but now seems to be doing better now that it’s been in the ground longer (maybe rabbits don’t like crusty old grasses?)
Koeleria macrantha / June grass: Suffers some damage by rabbits each year in the spring, becomes less attractive to them by July
Rudbeckia hirta / gloriosa daisy: Numbers dwindled down to almost none by 2012; some that had self-sown in cages around other plants managed to survive, and now the landscape is full of them again (but there are also fewer rabbits now)
Liatris spicata / dense blazing star: Caged them and the rabbits have since kept away; landscape now dense enough that the plant has self-sown here and there, and the seedlings seem to be protected by other plants (that is a very loose hypothesis based on casual observation)
Aster oolentangiensis / sky-blue aster: Some were gnawed down to the ground and died; remaining ones caged and are now thriving and self-sowing with a bit too much aplomb
Liatris ligulistylis / prairie blazing star: A choice meal of rabbits of all shapes and sizes; the plants need cages around them if they are to survive a rabbit’s dinnertime whims

Just to be clear and in layman’s terms: bee and monarch magnets will bring you happiness; rabbit magnets, without the proper protection, will bring you sadness.

John Kamp

Monarch zoo

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Monarch on meadow blazing star

We can’t help but modestly gloat a bit right now, as the monarch loop we had written about a few weeks back is starting to pay off. There are now almost 15 monarchs living in the Joppa Avenue Landscape, hanging out mainly on the Liatris ligulistylis / meadow blazing star, but equally enjoying the Verbena bonariensis / Brazilian verbena, and the Eupatorium purpureum / Joe Pye weed. It’s a veritable monarch zoo, and it flittingly rocks the house.

Creating a monarch loop

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Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa), impossibly orange, in a PRAIRIEFORM landscape

Early July signals the blooming of butterfly weed, and, simultaneously, the opportunity to attract monarchs to the landscape. Monarchs lay their eggs on many kinds of milkweed, but we like butterfly milkweed/weed best, as its form is relatively tidy, it requires little to no supplemental water, and the impossible orange of its flowers is almost unreal. In order to attract butterflies to the plant in the first place, they need a source of nectar. Several plants fit the bill for this. Our preferred ones are meadow blazing star (Liatris ligulistylis), Brazilian verbena (Verbena bonariensis), and Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium purpureum). With these plants in place, and a milkweed too, you have created a sort of monarch loop whereby habitat and food are provided for the monarch during each of the stages of its life. As the recommended plants lean to the tidier side form-wise, this kind of butterfly loop would not be out of place within a more formal front yard landscape. For more photos of butterfly weed in the landscape, check out our Facebook page. While you are at us, “Like” us!

Inviting monarchs to the city

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Monarchs flock to the Liatris ligulistylis in the Pine Hill Road landscape

The number of monarchs migrating from Mexico to Canada this past year has increased, after several years of somewhat alarming decline. Theories have abounded as to why their numbers were dwindling – climate change and habitat loss being primary suspects – but the verdict is still out as to why the increase. In any case, we wanted to take the opportunity to give a plug for one of the simplest, sure-fire ways to attract monarchs to your urban or suburban landscape (no matter how big the size), and as a way to improve the likelihood of monarch populations persisting into the future: plant Liatris ligulistylis (aka Meadow Blazing Star). Without fail, the electric-purple flowers of this prairie perennial open up and the monarchs do not skip a beat, and they will visit your landscape every day until all the flowers have faded. The flowers actually emit a pheromone to attract monarchs in particular. Additionally, the form of the plant is cultivated-looking enough that it does not look out of place in a front-yard planting tucked within and between some sturdier shrubs or grasses. In other words, it won’t give your landscape that weedy-hot-mess aesthetic that plagues many a front-yard perennial garden these days. So, go forth and plant your Liatris ligulistylis; it’s one of the easiest, feel-good things you can do this spring to help give the monarch population the boost it needs.

For more on the decline and rise of the North American monarch population, click here.

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