Painted Lady butterflies

Painted Lady butterflies, as seen here, are migrating through Colorado just in time for Mothers Day. Some are saying, due to the much-needed moisture we've received in the area, this might be one of the largest migrations in 30 years. 

Most of us gardeners want nothing more than to be out in the garden on a warm, sunny, spring day. This may be especially true on Mothers Day. After all, isn’t this is what we’ve all been waiting for! I know we could still have some cold, sneaky, frosty weather in store, but for the most part, it’s time to turn our focus to some gardening!

The average last frost date of 32 degrees or lower in the Montrose area is around May 12th but the savvy gardener is always cautious about setting out annual plants or planting tender vegetables. I say go ahead and plant and enjoy, just be ready to throw a sheet or cardboard box over your tender plants at a moment’s notice.

I’m sure the garden centers are going to be a flurry of activity this Mothers Day weekend, but don’t be fooled when you’re shopping. Just because a plant is available at a particular store doesn’t necessarily mean it will do well here. For example, I’ve seen blueberry plants being sold at some of the big box stores. As much as we would like to grow them here, they simply can’t tolerate our alkali soils or water. Amur or Ginnala maples also dislike our soil and will not do well here. So my advice is, know what you’re buying or buy from a local greenhouse that carries plants that are suited for our area.

If you’re buying plants from inside a garden center, they may need to be “hardened off” before you plant them. Taking your tender, new, nursery plant home and planting it into the garden on a hot, sunny, windy day can quickly spell doom for your plant. These tender new plants need to become a bit accustomed to being out in the elements, or “hardened off” before you plant them. This can be done by gradually exposing the plant to outside conditions. Every day, move the plants from the house to a shaded, protected area. They should be gradually exposed to sunlight and winds. After a few days you can finally let the tough little plants spend the night outside all by themselves and finally planted. This shouldn’t take more than a few days but trust me, they’ll be a lot happier and healthier because you showed a little patience with them.

With so many great plants to choose from in the garden centers, why not choose the healthiest ones? Look for plants that are shorter and stockier rather than taller thin ones. Check the underside of leaves for any insects. If the plant has a bit of a variegated color, even though it’s not a “variegated” variety, look for a healthier one. This plant could have a virus or insect problems.

I’m wondering if you’ve seen all the Painted Lady butterflies that have made an appearance just in time for Mothers Day! These little orange, black and white butterflies are migrating from areas like southwest Arizona, Southern California, and Baja Mexico. I know we don’t have as many of them as the Front Range or California, but it’s still fun to see a few of them darting by. If you watch closely you may even see some flying in little lines. They move so quickly that you may wonder what just zoomed by you. These guys like fields and open areas, which is why you may see a lot of them when you’re driving down the highway. They’re very fond of thistle, leading some people to refer to them as the “thistle caterpillar”. They’ll also be feeding on nectar from flowers, fruit trees, and lilacs. They may even lay eggs on these plants. Their larvae will be pale brown and notably spiny, so you’ll probably recognize it when you if you see it. Most of these butterflies will keep moving and colonizing throughout many areas of the US and Canada. It’s a little early to tell for certain, but some are saying that the much-needed moisture that we’ve been receiving might make this one of the largest Painted Lady migrations in 30 years.

Hummingbirds have also returned for the season, so if you’re ready for some interest and excitement in the garden, get your feeders up. Just be sure to clean the feeders on a regular basis so the birds don’t get sick or move elsewhere.

If you haven’t pruned your roses yet, this is a great time to do so. I think pruning roses is kind of fun, maybe because it’s so rewarding. Simply begin by removing any weak, crossed, dead, and discolored diseased canes. Hybrid Tea roses should ideally be pruned into a “V” shape with an open center. The canes can be pruned to a height of about eight to ten inches tall. Make your cuts with a slight 45-degree angle to keep moisture from sitting on the cut. This cut should be about a-quarter inch above a healthy, outside-facing bud or clump of leaves. Pruning cuts that are larger than about three-fourths of an inch in diameter should be sealed with a drop of Elmer’s glue or carpenters glue to prevent cane borers (larvae of Sawflies) from entering the stems. Shrub roses, grandiflora roses, miniature roses and climbing roses should not be pruned this severely. Oh, and this is also a good time to fertilize your roses with a fertilizer labeled for roses.

I know no one wants to think about weeds on Mothers Day, but White top (Hoary cress) has shown up everywhere. This is a very aggressive weed and can rapidly take over an area. When my kids were little they use to pick, or sometimes pull up, beautiful little bouquets of white top for me. I was so delighted with them that I didn’t worry about the fact that pulling the weed actually creates more weeds because every time you break off a piece of the root it grows a new plant at that point. Spraying this weed with a product labeled for Hoary cress, such as Escort, while the head resembles a little head of cauliflower is the best way to control it. Mowing before it goes to seed, and again a couple of times during the summer, for a few years, will also help control it. Even though it spreads from the roots, it also produces about 4,800 seeds per plant and can remain viable in the soil for about three years. (I’ll trust them on this. I don’t feel like counting them myself.)

Why not visit a garden center this Mothers Day or take mom for a fun outing? The thrill of seeing waves of colorful annuals, smelling the fragrance of flowering trees, and seeing all the new gardening items and plants available this spring is bound to put a smile on your face.

Happy gardening to all you moms, and have a wonderful Mothers Day.

Linda Corwine McIntosh Licensed Commercial Pesticide Applicator, ISA Certified Arborist, Advanced Master Gardener

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