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Garden Guru

Heat and Bugs

Jim Boxberger
Posted 8/12/22

  Finally some relief from the heat, but there is still a lot of summer left, so the heat will be back. While your’re watering your plants everyday, don’t forget to check your …

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Garden Guru

Heat and Bugs


  Finally some relief from the heat, but there is still a lot of summer left, so the heat will be back. While your’re watering your plants everyday, don’t forget to check your vegetables. With the heat, vegetables ripen faster and if not picked, spoil faster as well. Don’t lose your hard earned bounty, just because it is so hot you don’t want to check the garden today.

  Insects too develop faster in the heat. Flies and Japanese beetles have been the big nuisances this summer. It seems the extended heat has greatly increased their numbers this year. But another insect that many people would like to see more of seems to be on the decline, the Monarch butterfly. Like all butterflies, monarchs undergo a complete metamorphosis from start to finish. Their life cycle has four phases: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. Monarchs transition from eggs to adults in as little as 25 days during hot summer weather, but can take up to as long as seven weeks during cooler spring conditions.

During their development, both the monarch larvae and their milkweed hosts are vulnerable to weather extremes, predators, parasites, and diseases. Right now even though the hot weather is beneficial to the monarchs, it is not so good for the swamp milkweed that the monarchs need to survive. Typically fewer than ten percent of monarch eggs and caterpillars survive. There has been a gardening movement over the past twenty years or so to provide more habitat for monarchs and other pollinators. This has been an important step in helping our valued pollinators, but their natural habitat is still under attack. Large tracts of farmland and fields once prized for their abundant wildflowers, have now been cleared off, subdivided and turned into housing developments.

So even if you have a pollinator garden in your backyard, it is far smaller than the acres of wildflowers that once grew there. Compounding the problem for the monarchs is having to deal with a summer like the one we are having right now, where it has been very hot and dry. Parts of New York and the northeast are under drought restrictions right now. This is not good for the monarchs plant of choice the swamp milkweed, Asclepias incarnata. Like its name implies, the swamp milkweed likes wet conditions. You can usually find it growing naturally in ditches around Sullivan County as those ditches would normally have some rain water runoff in them from the roads. But with the dry conditions, whatever rain we do get from a passing thunderstorm gets absorbed quickly into the soil and there is not much if any runoff.

Also now that we are a couple of months into the summer and the roadside weeds have grown substantially, the county DPW has started to mow the county roadsides where the milkweed would be growing. So if there was monarch eggs, larva or pupa’s on the milkweed, they would be destroyed when they are left to just lay on the ground. So even though monarchs can mature faster in the summer, it is the spring monarchs that seem to prevail. Either way, monarch butterfly numbers are decreasing, mainly due to the fact that they only lay their eggs on swamp milkweed. In our garden center this spring and summer, I have seen more honeybees than both monarch or eastern swallowtail butterflies combined.

 The eastern swallowtail looks like a monarch, only it is yellow and black instead of orange and black. And it has been over two years since I have seen a luna moth, the big green moth that they use in the Lunesta commercial. But the news isn’t all grim, like I stated earlier, there is a major push to provide more habitat for the monarch butterflies as they seem to be the “poster child” of the “save the pollinator” movement.

Just like “No Mow May” that I wrote about earlier this year to help bee populations, garden groups throughout Sullivan County are out planting butterfly gardens to support healthy monarch habitats. If you want to get involved just contact Sullivan Renaissance or the Cornell Cooperative Extension to see how you can help.


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