Make us your home page

Ask Dr. Hort: Butterfly milkweed nourishes both adults and larvae

Butterfly milkweed can nourish adults and larvae

Q: A few months ago I was visiting a state park with a butterfly garden. The caretaker told me he had some flowers growing in pots called butterfly weed that I could take home. It had gorgeous orange and yellow flowers on it. Big butterflies hung around it, until it was obliterated by yellow caterpillars. Will it come back to its former beauty?

Nancy G., New Port Richey

A: To have a successful butterfly garden you must have nectar plants for the adult butterflies to drink from, as well as food source plants for the (larvae) caterpillars to feed on. Butterfly milkweed, Asclepias currasavica, your orange and yellow flowering plant, is unique in that it serves as both nectar and food source plant for the monarch butterfly. After siphoning the nectar, she lays her eggs, which later hatch into the white, yellow and black caterpillars that chewed all of the leaves off of your plant. Prune your milkweed back halfway; it will re-leaf and new shoots will arise from the plant base and bloom again, starting the cycle anew.

Palms typically survive lightning strikes

Q: During a severe thunderstorm, one of my tall Washington palms was apparently struck by lightning. When the storm was over, we found large amounts of bark from the upper part of the palm all over the yard and garage roof. Some appeared to be charred. The fronds and lower trunk look fine. The areas of the trunk missing bark look orangish-red, not black. Should we try to find a palm specialist to check it to see if it's safe? Linda McConnell

A: It would be best to have it evaluated by a certified arborist. Palms take lightning strikes much better than woody plants like oak trees and it probably won't die. However, the damage will weaken the tree and make is susceptible to some pretty nasty fungal diseases.

Variegated ginger has specific requirements

Q: I am very disappointed in the look of my ginger plants. After two winter freezes, I cut out many of the bad-looking stems, but even new growth starts to brown out once the leaves open. I was advised to cut them down and let them grow back. I tried that in a small section, but they still continue to brown. Perhaps it's too much sun? I have no way to shade them other than an umbrella. Could it be a deficiency of sorts? We use reclaimed water, but I water sparingly and haven't since the rains have come. My big section surrounds the palms and I use Epsom salts for them occasionally, if that matters. I really liked them as an accent in the garden, but now not so much. I like my garden to look young and green and these aren't doing that.

Harry and Barbara Garrabrant

A: There are several factors at play here causing the leaf scorch. Variegated gingers prefer some shade and are not drought tolerant. Cupping of leaves is a sign of not enough water. Gingers in full sun have to get ample water. Reclaimed water, a wonderful resource, carries with it some high soluble salts from time to time, primarily chlorides, especially during our driest time of year, May and June. If your application of Epsom salts, magnesium sulfate for your palms, occurs during this time, there is another soluble salt source added to the scenario. A biological principle is at play here called osmosis. Water always moves from low concentration of salt to high concentration of salt. When salts are too high in the soil, water moves out of the plant to neutralize the excess salt causing dehydration, browning, or as many people say, "burn." If you swim in a chlorine pool or the Gulf of Mexico your skin gets all wrinkly; the same principle is at play — higher salts in the water draws water out of your body. During the height of the rainy season, see if the new shoots that arise are free from scorch. If so, the problem is identified but not solved. You have the wrong plant in the wrong place, too much light, not enough water, salts too high. Try dwarf variegated schefflera, Schefflera arboricola, or Trinette, for the same color effect.

Need help? Dr. Hort (Greg Charles) answers questions about garden problems. E-mail him at or mail questions to HomeLink, Features Department, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731. Describe the problem in full, and include your name, city of residence and contact information. If possible, include a good-quality photo. Fuzzy ones won't do. Photos cannot be returned.

Ask Dr. Hort: Butterfly milkweed nourishes both adults and larvae 09/17/11 [Last modified: Friday, September 16, 2011 2:17pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours