DEAR JOAN: I am in a quandary and hoping you can help. Our landscape is
intentionally filled with plants that birds, bees, and butterflies love. However, at this time of year I am always uncertain about how to proceed with pruning and garden clean-up.
I know it is time to prune the perennials but many of them are still blooming and are still being visited by hummingbirds and bees, on warmer days. Specifically, I have several salvia and a cuphea that both the hummers and the bees love.
I hate to take away this nectar source for them, but I know I need to prune them to keep them blooming vigorously. We do have hummingbird feeders but I know natural sources are better.
So what’s the best way for me to proceed? In the past I have waited until late winter, hoping that they’ll stop blooming and I can prune then, but the darn things just keep blooming and blooming. Should I just go ahead, harden my heart, steel my nerves, and whack away?
My second question is a monarch and milkweed mystery. About four years ago in the spring, we planted milkweed (A. fascicularis) for the monarch butterflies. That first spring we had loads of caterpillars and pupae, which was so thrilling. Since that time, however, we have had no caterpillars or pupae, despite the presence of adult butterflies throughout the spring and summer. We don’t use any pesticides at all — strictly organic everything.
The plants always have a lot of aphids (orangish-yellow ones), and so we have ladybugs and their larvae, which I know are voracious. I wonder if the ladybugs are preying on the monarch larvae? Otherwise I can’t figure out why we had so many that first year and now we get nothing. Any ideas?
Valerie Guardia, Benicia
DEAR VALERIE: You should always prune for the health of the plant, because if the plant is not thriving, it can’t support wildlife. So if you’re supposed to prune in the winter, go ahead and do it. There aren’t as many hummers around in the winter, so the bird feeders you’re providing will be fine.
Ladybugs will eat monarch eggs, so to protect those eggs, get rid of the aphids that are attracting the ladybugs. You can let the aphids stay on other plants, just not the milkweed. No need to use chemicals for the control. You can rake the aphids off by hand or use a strong spray of water on them.
DEAR JOAN: My home is surrounded by oak trees. With oak trees come squirrels. They are numerous, healthy and prolific
This year I have noticed that there are no acorns falling from the oaks. Acorns are the squirrels’ primary food. I fear they will starve during the winter. What can I feed them to get them through the winter?
Thank you for any advice that you can give me. My husband and I really enjoy watching the squirrels and their antics.
Claire Yeaton-Risley, Bay Area
DEAR CLAIRE: I’m surprised your trees don’t have acorns. The squirrels may be collecting them before they fall. I doubt the squirrels will be hurting for food, and it’s not a great idea to feed wildlife — it makes them dependent on humans. But if you feel you must, choose other nuts such as pecans or walnuts.
Keeping the hummingbirds, bees and butterflies happy and well fed