Creating a wildlife haven one plant at a time

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Lessons Learned: Summer 2013

It has been a very interesting summer and there are so many new lessons to take away from the unusual conditions this year.

Summers are typically hot, humid and dry in the Southeast and for the past three years we have been experiencing extreme drought. This summer however it rained, and rained, and rained some more.


And we didn't just have showers. There were many times that we experienced monsoon like conditions. We took to checking and emptying the rain gauge daily. Our summer rainfall broke down like this:

June = 9.57 inches
July = 8.48 inches
August = 5.24 inches

Our total annual rainfall as of the end of August was 51.04 inches compared to 2012 which had 37.03 inches for the entire year. It is crazy how the weather can change from one year to the next!

So how did all this rain impact our garden? Well, all those drought tolerant plants that I have been incorporating into our garden didn't like all the rain and several perished. As a result of the lack of sunshine many plants did not bloom until much later in the season and I was concerned about the lack of nectar plant available for the insects and hummingbirds.

The cooler and wetter weather had a devastating effects on some of the butterfly populations that frequent our garden.


I didn't have any black swallowtail caterpillar on any host plants the entire summer.

While numbers were down for certain butterfly species, the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail numbers appeared higher this summer


as did the silvery checkerspot.


So who liked all the rain? Honestly, I enjoyed the refreshing change. It meant that I didn't have to spend my days hand watering the garden. The down side was that all the rain days did limit the time spent in the garden.

We had a few first time visitors to our garden due to wetter conditions.


Slugs and Snails are NOT typical in our garden. Why do they always go for the blooms?


Other first timers included the dogwood sawfly. They devoured our red twig dogwoods until there wasn't a leaf still standing. I was hoping some of them would become bird food (especially since there were so many!) but the birds didn't seem very interested in them. According to all the research I did, the plants shouldn't be at risk from their ferocious appetites.


The weeds grew, well, like weeds! They loved all the rain. But, don't dismiss all those weeds so easily. What I found is that when you give your weeds a chance to grow you discover that some of them are not "weeds" at all but native plants volunteering in your garden.

I have found passion vine volunteers all over the garden. This is the largest patch which is growing amongst the roses that have become a trellis for them.


If you take a step in for a closer look you find...

lots of Variegated Fritillary caterpillars in various instar stages.

Even more Gulf Fritillary caterpillars.

And beautiful Gulf Fritillary butterflies preparing to lay eggs.

Common Boneset showed up in a few places around the garden. This member of the aster family likes sunny, wet to moist conditions.  The bees and butterflies love it.


I have found a lot of Virginia Creeper volunteers around the garden too. I know a lot of people mistake this for poison ivy. Remember "Leaves of three let it be, leaves of five let it thrive". This vine will make a nice ground cover and beautiful color in the fall.


The important lesson here is to get to know your "weeds". You may find that they are valuable native plants that support the wildlife in your garden. They may not necessarily be growing where you would put them in your landscape plan but they have planted themselves where they know they will grow best. And often, they are a better judge of that than I am. I look at these volunteers as an element of surprise in my wildlife friendly garden and I will work the garden design around them.

This summer, under the advice of our hummingbird experts at Georgia Hummers and Bird Watcher's Supply, we added more hummingbird feeders in the hopes of attracting more hummingbirds to our garden. Since hummingbirds are very territorial over feeding sources, grouping several feeders together allows more hummers to feed at them at the same time. A hummer can't possible defend four feeders at once. Brilliant advice!


We counted 10 hummers around a single feeder in July and 18 in August. Who knows we could have more. We are filling some of the feeders twice a day. The feeders are busiest in the mornings and evenings and the hummers seem to have a feeding order and favorite station from which to drink. Hummingbird migration is underway so keep your feeders up and filled (more info on their migrations here). Who knows, you may end up with an overwintering hummer as we did last year. See my post on our Rufous visitors here.

What did you experience in your garden this summer? I am joining Plant Postings for Lessons Learned meme.

Next up, I will be talking Seasonal Celebrations for the upcoming Autumn season.

12 comments:

  1. I love this post! I miss passionvine - although if I can find a source, I think the native may be able to grow here.... Whether gulf fritillaries will venture this far north, though, is another question altogether. I've not heard the 2nd half of "Leaves of 3, let it be...." - and it's perfect! I, too, like Virginia creeper and let it thrive wherever I possibly can. These major weather swings are certainly making gardening a challenge - I think I'm just glad I'm not a plant and trying to cope with them while rooted in the ground!

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  2. We've had a wet June/July but August has been really dry. I lost a few xeric plants, as well, but others have thrived. I also have a bit of Virginia creeper in my garden but I'm sure within a few years, I'll have a lot more. I think what I learned this summer was to listen to my garden. I thought I had been all along, but I think I was only hearing every other word. this year, I cleaned the cotton out of my ears and tried again. :o)

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  3. Karin I love your lessons to know those weeds and let some volunteer as they may be natives...and I had not heard about more feeders for hummers. As ours are territorial as well we will have to add more next year. And what a bonus from those so called weeds...lovely butterflies. Not more than 5 were seen all summer here.

    Can't wait for your SC post!!!

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  4. Reading your post, I almost feel like I am the one speaking - very similar! Glad you are learning to recognize those native plants. Your "common boneset" looks very similar to my Pluchea camphorata which indeed loves the wet very much. Break off a leaf and see if it has a strong odor. I had a gazillion seedlings this and I let about 10 of them get big enough to bloom. The bees love it.

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  5. This is such a refreshing post, Karin. Thanks for joining in! It is strange, isn't it, how the weather can change so much when you least expect it. Sometimes it's really hard to plan for the changes. I'm planning to plant Boneset next season--I'm thinking it will be a great companion for my Swamp Milkweed. Slugs are a common problem in my garden. Small saucers (or margarine tubs) filled with beer is effective for trapping them (as well as earwigs). Great post!

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  6. You were lucky to get the Butterflies you did. You caught some amazing shots of them. Love the Hummers but did not see any of them this year either. Of course I don't set up feeders but would see them at different times on my plants.
    Cher Sunray Gardens

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  7. Very interesting and instructive post. Here in Cary, NC we experienced similar conditions to yours, and I drew similar conclusions. It's been a banner year for bugs for me - both good and bad - something that I also suspect may be related to all the rain.

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  8. Weather seems to be the main topic this year again. I think your southern weather moved up here. We have been having a dry, very hot and humid summer again. The slugs are absent and that is unusual here. Some areas around us are getting the rains, but not us. PA had an usually wet year too. It makes it hard to design for these conditions, because as you noticed, the next year can be right back to what is normal or even the opposite extreme. I too have many drought resistant plants, yet one wet winter and they will all be toast. I love your butterflies. The ones we get are all raggedy looking.

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  9. Once again the weather has shifted around and confused everyone. Here up north where we should have some rain, we spent most of July and August dry as a bone. I had to quit gardening because it was impossible to get a shovel in the ground. Ironically, it wasn't that hot. Lots of cloudy days but no accompanying rain.

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  10. I'm thrilled for you... to have figured out... those weeds are the good plants!
    One of my biggest grievances... people pulling out plants that they don't recognize...
    If you can't name it... NOT a weed!

    With all the rain... in my garden... came an increase of rodents... I'm baiting the rat trap with carrots...

    Being in the sandhills.... means that I'm not losing plants from the weather...

    the zebra longwing also uses the passiflora...

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  11. What stunning butterflies you had in all their stages! Gorgeous. I had to laugh at the picture of the slug though....we are so familiar with them in western Oregon (I garden in Portland) and when you noted that they came with the rain, it was just funny. Yes, they do go for the blooms....and the best of the veggie leaves too. They are a pain in the neck and just a part of gardening in the Northwest.

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  12. I really enjoyed your information and photos on both butterfly's and hummingbirds. I have seen an increase in both populations and have a really hard time counting hummingbirds.

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"Don't wait for someone to bring you flowers. Plant your own garden and decorate your soul"

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