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How to plant a butterfly garden with milkweed varieties that attract and support pollinators

A Monarch butterfly feeding on a common swamp milkweed blossom, eating its nectar before laying its eggs under the leaves so the emergent caterpillars will have food after they hatch, there is no benefit to the milkweed from this relationship.
Joesboy/Getty Images/iStockphoto
Monarchs and other butterflies are attracted to certain plant types as food sources and also as places to lay their eggs. You can plant milkweed and other plants to create a butterfly and pollinator garden.

If you’d like to create a butterfly garden, including milkweed in the space is often a common choice. This prolific plant helps feed butterflies and pollinators, especially monarchs, whose larvae feed exclusively on milkweed. However, certain types of milkweed plant can be aggressive and take over your garden very quickly.

Learning some key details about which milkweed plants work best in your garden conditions will ensure you'll be enjoying butterflies in your new pollinator garden in no time!

Monarch butterflies have an exclusive relationship with the milkweed plant; they eat the plant's nectar, then lay their eggs on them so the larvae feed can feed on the plant, too.

Common milkweed is abundant all over the state, in fields and abandoned areas along the roadside.

The common milkweed is very aggressive and can take over your butterfly garden very quickly.

Luckily, there are several less aggressive alternatives that serve butterflies and pollinators. The key is to match the milkweed plant to your garden's conditions. There are types that grow best in shade, sun, dry and wetter areas. Some milkweed plants to try include butterfly weed, purple milkweed, swamp milkweed and white-flowered milkweed.

If you're planning your butterfly garden in a sunny, dry area, seek out purple milkweed. The swamp milkweed obviously likes the opposite: a wet and shaded area.

And for some color, you can find butterfly weed or asclepias tuberosa in your local garden center or nursery. This plant grows orange or yellow-colored flowers and is a beautiful perennial to grow in your butterfly garden. And the whorled milkweed is actually a white-flowered milkweed that likes dry shade.

If you have the space, grow several milkweed plants in groups. This ensures monarchs and pollinators can feed and lay their eggs there. Then their larvae can hatch and grow into caterpillars which in turn, grow into more butterflies! You'll be able to enjoy them throughout the summer.

Q: I have two peach trees and they have brown rot. What can I do to protect them against this disease? — Mihai, in South Jersey

The timing to prevent brown rot on your peach trees is actually early on in the growing season, right before they begin to flower.

That’s when you can use a fungicide product likeSerenade.

It isn't too late, though. At this time of year, you can do some preventative maintenance on your trees. Being diligent about sanitation, especially with “mummy fruits" - those are the peaches that look shriveled up - can go a long way toward a better crop next season.

To get your trees ready for a better crop, start by picking up those mummy fruits and discarding them. Clean up any fruits that have dropped on the ground, too. The fungus can overwinter and then re-infect the tree later on.

And weather conditions play a part in your fruit tree's health. Humid weather in New Jersey can cause a lot of brown rot on fruit trees.

Some people have had success spraying milk as a preventive fungicide. If you want to try this method, mix one half cup of a low-fat milk and a quart of water with a little dash of liquid soap. Spray this mixture every week on your trees up until harvest time. The belief is that this mix changes the pH so you don't get as much brown rot.

Q: We have an ash tree just off of Lake Champlain that has been invaded by some kind of leaf-eating bugs. What are our next steps? Who do you recommend we contact to consult on this? — Ty, in Burlington

Leaf-eating bugs will most definitely go after ash trees. Insects like the emerald ash borer are not leaf-eaters, so you can rest assured it isn’t them.

Instead, it is the invasive species that is causing trouble all over Vermont and New England this summer: lymantria dispar dispar or LDD.

The LDD will go after ash trees and eat the leaves. If it isn't these invasive caterpillars, then another bug might be causing the damage: the spring or fall cankerworm.

For both of those types of caterpillars, if you are still seeing a lot of them, place a sticky substance around the trunk of the tree. Try wrapping duct tape around the trunk or put some Vaseline or something sticky on it.

When the caterpillars are climbing up the tree trunk to get up into the tree canopy, they'll get stuck there.

As we're getting towards the middle of the summer, a lot of these caterpillars are pupating and turning into their adult forms. You will start seeing the egg masses they have lain. Those are the ones you want to somehow destroy when you see them.

The LDD egg masses are brown egg masses and they will lay them all over the place, in trees, on roofs, siding, garages, etc. If you can, find them and get rid of them to decrease the population.

Next week, we’ll talk about larger animals, like deer and rabbits that can also turn your garden into a salad bar!

If you’ve got issues with larger animals, write to us so we can answer those questions on an upcoming episode.

All Things Gardening is powered by you, the listener! Send your gardening questions and conundrums and Charlie may answer them in upcoming episodes. You can also leave a voicemail with your gardening question by calling VPR at (802) 655-9451.

Hear All Things Gardening during Weekend Edition Sunday with VPR host Mary Engisch, Sunday mornings at 9:35.

Have questions, comments or tips?Send us a messageor get in touch by tweeting us @vprnet.

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Charlie Nardozzi is a nationally recognized garden writer, radio and TV show host, consultant, and speaker. Charlie is the host of All Things Gardening on Sunday mornings at 9:35 during Weekend Edition on Vermont Public. Charlie is a guest on Vermont Public's Vermont Edition during the growing season. He also offers garden tips on local television and is a frequent guest on national programs.
Mary Williams Engisch is a local host on All Things Considered.