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What a Difference a Year Makes


This time last year we were heading into an awful, hot, drought-ridden summer — one that trounced the tomato plants, sent container plantings wilting if they didn’t get watered twice a day, and left gardeners exhausted and crabby. As we approach the summer solstice on Friday (yes, it’s still spring for a few more days) we’re celebrating a lush spring that’s been filled with cool days and plentiful rain. Many songbirds had a late start nesting and their melodies fill the woods across the road from our garden.

Earlier this spring, a pair of bluebirds began nesting in a box set in our mixed perennial and shrub border, but, sadly, they were chased off by sparrows. I pulled the empty nest, made of dried grasses, from the box in the hopes that they would return. And they did. They’ve rebuilt their nest, and I’ve seen them chase off curious, bullying sparrows.

The hummingbirds have been extremely slow to inhabit the garden this spring, and I was concerned that some might have fallen victim to the lingering spring cold and evening freezes, but I’ve seen a male and a few females flitting about the driveway and several feeders in the past few days.

My greatest surprise was showing my neighbor, photographer Ellen Hodges, a common rue (Ruta graveolens) that was blooming this week when we both spotted two swallowtail butterfly caterpillars that were busy chomping away on the plant. She snapped this photo (below). And today I spotted a black swallowtail sipping nectar from the blossoms as she deposited a few eggs. Black swallowtails and giant swallowtails use common rue as a host plant for their offspring.

I planted the rue for its ability to attract swallowtails, but it also offers healthy silver foliage and butter-yellow flowers. (Watch the sap as it can cause skin irritation.) There are many plants, including trees, shrubs, and perennials, that serve as butterfly host plants — edibles for the larvae and nectar plants for the adults.

What butterflies have you seen in your garden this year? Do you garden for butterflies? Drop us a line.

New to butterfly gardening? Visit The Morton Arboretum’s web site for a list of plants that will bring butterflies to your garden.

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questions

I have two 20-year-old pine trees whose needles are turning brown on the west side of the plants. On the east side I have a compost pile.

I live in the St. Charles region and my soil is mostly clay. What is causing the browning? Should I get rid of the compost? How do I correct the damage?

Would it help to apply a starter fertilizer on a poor green lawn in December? Will it give it a head start for spring? It hasn’t been reseeded.

My split-leaf Japanese maple tree is 15 to 20 years old, about 7 feet high and about 10 feet wide. It is overtaking the corner of the yard. Can I trim it, and at what time of the year?

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