Yard critters

A green treefrog (Hyla cinerea) jumped out of the beggar ticks (Bidens alba) that I had pulled from the front garden.
A bagworm (Oiketicus abbotii) is overwintering on a beautyberry bush.

Managing exuberance carefully

I allow some beggar ticks (Bidens alba) and snow squarestem (Melanthera nivea) to grow in restricted areas to attract all those pollinators. But in the fall, I harvest those that have escaped to other places in the landscape to reduce the population and weeding the next year, at least to some degree. So last week I started pulling and a cute green treefrog that was using these stems for shelter jumped out of the cart. And the frog is just the wildlife that is evident. There could be hundreds of bugs snuggled inside these stems for the winter. Instead of leaving these stalks out with the yard waste, I add them to various brush piles, so those insects will have a chance to make it through the winter. The songbirds also use the brush piles for shelter, so they may appreciate the seeds, and maybe even some of those hidden bugs. 

Nearby, I spotted this bagworm (probably Oiketicus abbotii) hanging from a beautyberry branch. This moth is different than most, in that it gathers plant parts to stick to itself as a caterpillar to build protection. When its ready to pupate, it glues its portable shelter to a secure location and seals itself inside. When the female reaches the adult phase, she will be flightless and will emit pheromones to attract males. When a male arrives, they mate inside her sack where she lays her eggs and dies. The new larvae feed on her remains and other food that she's stored there. When ready, the new larvae head out on their own, often on a long strings of silk that balloon in the wind so the larvae swing away from each other. Isn't Mother Nature amazing?

Fall goldenrods! 

I planted seaside goldenrod (Solidago sempervirens)  this spring thinking it would be similar to the sweet goldenrod  (S. ordora), which volunteers in my yard, but no. It bloomed later in the season and it attracted a different set of bees. Normally I see carpenter bees with their shiny abdomens, but these are real bumble bees (probably Bombus impatiens).
An insect wove an overwintering shelter within the flattop goldenrod (Euthamia caroliniana) inflorescence, so I'll leave this stalk standing, and if I'm lucky, I'll find out what's inside this cocoon.

The spiny orbweaver!

Spiny orbweaver (Gasteracatha cancriformis): I found this beautiful spider doing her work in a gap on the far side of our driveway. 
We loved seeing this beautiful little spider and the hand lens came in handy to see her up close. It's been a couple of weeks since I took these photos, but she occupies this same gap in the trees in our mostly wild area on the far side of the driveway. We've had some high wind events and a frost, but she's still out there. She has had to reweave her orb at least 4 or 5 times since we've been aware of her, but she may have been there for months before that.

The markings on her back look sorta like a smiley face and those 6 red spines look fierce. Isn't this a cool find? Of course, the reason we have all of the critters is that we have used no landscape-wide pesticides since 2004. If you'd like to improve habitat for birds in your yard, you must invite the bugs. It's time to break that poison cycle. Read my post: A poison is a poison is a poison for details on the whys and hows.

I called my husband out to see her. She's small, so this hand lens is useful.Suspended above my garden glove, you can see how small she is.

The sun makes the seeds of this bluestem grass (Andropogon sp.)
shimmer. How beautiful.

The Disney Wildlife Preserve

Last Saturday I headed down to Kissimmee to the Nature Conservancy's Disney Wildlife Preserve for a Florida Native Plant Society board meeting. It was great to see old friends and meet new ones. The morning presentation was really interesting, the pot luck lunch was an eclectic collection of yummy stuff, and then in the afternoon I met with Marjorie Shropshire to talk through the plans for the next book. Marjorie illustrated both "Organic Methods for Vegetable Gardening in Florida" and "The Art of Maintaining a Florida Native Landscape," which will be released in August 2015. Now we are working on the proposal for book #4. Stay tuned for more details.

Our discussion was delayed while we took photos of this wonderful Florida praying mantid. It was near my shoulder, so I felt like Jiminy Cricket was there to give me advice. "Don't poison your landscape," she whispered in my ear.
A Florida praying mantid (Stagmomantis floridensis) behind my shoulder at the Disney Wildlife Preserve.
Marjorie took this photo because I did not want to disturb this magnificent insect.

Seasonal colors

Here in north Florida, we don't get the rich fall colors that you see farther north, but the Virginia creeper (Pathenocissus quinquefolia) lights up the landscape. And its blue berries feed the winter birds.
Even in Florida, there is some color as we move into winter. Virginia creeper provides reliable color and the way it is festooned across the vegetation, it make everything look festive. And speaking of that, I wish you and yours a bountiful Thanksgiving. I hope you'll be able to provide at least some of your family's meal from your edible garden.

Green gardening matters,
Ginny Stibolt

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