Discovering Host Plants

My phone is chock full of caterpillar photos. It seems I am constantly stooping down to examine another caterpillar, and to document what it is eating. I am a big fan of all insects, but especially these charismatic transformers. With their plump bodies and endless colors, it is not hard to see why people are becoming more interested in attracting them to the garden.

Viceroy caterpillars can be hard to spot. They disguise themselves as bird poo to appear less appetizing, and it works!
This one was spotted just off the sidewalk at the Arb eating willow leaves.

Host plants are a key part of that process. Caterpillars of all kinds often have a specific food plant or plant family that they need to survive. While I am familiar with monarchs on milkweed and swallowtails on parsley, there is a whole world of interesting host plants out there to utilize in the landscape.

Potluck

My house cats can be picky eaters, but caterpillars are even worse. Many of these little creatures can only feed on a handful of plant species. Their mothers may have to fly miles and miles to find the right plant to lay her eggs on. That is why it is so important to support the native insects of your area by gardening with the native plants they have evolved with for millennia.

Recently I added a few new host plants to my mental list of must-haves for caterpillar habitat.

  • Aspens and willows for viceroy butterflies
  • Primrose and lythrum for sphinx moths
  • Baptisia for broom moths
  • Sumac for spotted datanas
A group of white-lined sphinx moths devoured a primrose patch. They also like to chow down on winged lythrum (Lythrum alatum), a great native plant for wet areas.
Genista broom moth caterpillars (Uresiphita reversalis) are a cheery shade of yellow. They love Baptisia and can make the plants look quite ragged. But, by the time these caterpillars are feeding heavily in midsummer, the Baptisia has already bloomed and is done for the season anyway.
These spotted datana (Datana perspicua) caterpillars are gregarious feeders, meaning you usually find them in groups with their siblings. They munched away on this aromatic sumac (Rhus aromatica) for a few days, and tripled in size!

Appreciate, Don’t Hate

As my knowledge of host plants grows, so does my appreciation for native plants and the intricate ecosystem they support. I am so encouraged to hear more people calling them friends rather than foes, and wanting to identify and observe rather than squish and poison. It is always best practice to pause before sprinkling that pesticide – your garden will thank you, since most caterpillars do more good than harm. Changing our perspective about caterpillars, and all insects, is key to maintaining a functional, healthy food web. If you are interested in finding more caterpillars in your Kansas landscape, reach out to the staff at Dyck Arboretum for consultation, follow our Facebook and Instagram accounts for educational content, and mark your calendars for next spring’s FloraKansas fundraiser!

Last Update on Buffalograss Seeding Experiment

It has been almost a year since our buffalograss seeding experiment began.   In this new approach, we planted the buffalograss seeds along with annual ryegrass in the fall or early winter.  In theory, the annual ryegrass, a cool season grass will germinate and hold the soil through the winter.  The buffalograss seeds will work their way into the soil with the natural freeze/thaw of the soil throughout the winter.  These seeds will then germinate on their own the following spring with annual rainfall and warm 60 degree soil temperature.

Last fall I prepared the soil as if I was planting fescue so the annual ryegrass seed would germinate with daily watering.  This loose seed bed helped the annual ryegrass to germinate in about a week or ten days.  This method flipped the traditional buffalograss seeding upside down.  Typically, I have areas prepared to plant buffalograss in May and June.  Buffalograss it is a native warm season grass that needs to be planted when soil temperatures are above 60 degrees.

Update

I have been pleasantly surprised.  The little buffalograss seedlings have started to spread in amongst the crabgrass and knotweed.  I believe it will begin to overpower these weeds and completely cover the areas next year. 

Buffalograss seedling that have started to spread

I may look at putting a preemergent herbicide down next spring to give the buffalograss less weed competition.  This is primarily to control summer annuals such as crabgrass and foxtail. Barricade (prodiamine), Pendulum Aquacap (pendimethalin), Dimension (dithiopyr), Specticle (indaziflam) are recommended pre-emergent herbicides on established Buffalograss stands. Read and follow the chemical label application instructions for best results.  Pre-emergent herbicides can also be applied in the fall to control that pesky weed, little barley.

When asked if I would do this buffalorass planting method again, I would say yes.  For small areas of 1000 sq. ft or less, it makes sense and saves so much water.  For larger areas, I think it is a toss-up.  I think it will be successful either way.  Of course, summer seeding take at least daily watering for the first 10-14 days to get the seed to germinate.  For large areas, this obviously requires so much water because the soil dries out quickly with wind and heat.  I think you can be successful with either method but I really liked using less water overall. 

We encourage people to use buffalograss in areas that receive at least six hours of sunlight each day throughout the year.  Newer varieties are vigorous growers and require little to no water once established. Compare that to a traditional fescue lawn, which needs one to two inches of moisture per week to keep it alive in the summer. These newer buffalograss forms stay green longer in the fall and green up earlier in the spring.  If kept relatively weed free, they require less frequent mowing. Buffalograss needs little to no fertilizer and will reduce your overall maintenance.

Small buffalograss seedling

Dyck Arboretum is Turning 40!

The Dyck Arboretum of the Plains is turning 40 this Sunday, October 10, 2021. Join us from 4:00- 6:00 p.m. as we celebrate the past, present, and future. Many of our staff, board members, and even some of Harold and Evie’s children and grand children will be there to greet and welcome you!

Evie and Harold Dyck, founders of Dyck Arboretum of the Plains
WHAT TO DO ON 10/10/21:
  • Enjoy a burger/hot dog, beans, chips and water/tea (4:30-5:30 pm) 
  • Celebrate with the traditional Dyck family banana birthday cake, ice cream & pretzels
  • Participate in a scavenger hunt and decorate the path with sidewalk chalk
  • Enjoy a slide show showcasing many historic slides of Dyck Arboretum development
  • Listen to live music from The Flannelbacks
  • Get a family portrait by Amy Sharp Photography
  • Take home an oak tree to plant

WHAT TO BRING: Your mask (for inside), your people, and any picnic items (blanket, lawn chair, extra food) to help you spread out and enjoy the Arboretum.

Scavenger Hunt

Bring a child to our celebration, take a little trip down memory lane, and catch glimpses of how much has changed on our grounds at 177 W. Hickory in Hesston as you observe the past and present. Review the following questions and find the corresponding laminated photos on placards at their respective locations on our grounds where you will find the answers.

What is the location of the first tree planted at the Arboretum? Hint: You’ll see it on the right as you exit the parking lot (watch for cars as you look!).

At 40+ years old now, this bur oak (Quercus macrocarpa) is turning into a stately tree.

Where do kids like to go to feed the turtles?

Kids feeding the turtles

Evie Dyck had a favorite location to gaze out over the Arboretum. Can you find Evie’s overlook?

Evie’s Overlook

Where do you find bald cypress “knees” in the Arboretum? (Hint: you will be standing on a bridge when you see them…and not the bridge to the island)

Cypress knees

Then, see if you can find the nearby two oldest bald cypress trees near the pond.

First two bald cypress trees at the Dyck Arboretum as seen some time in the 1980s. Wait till you see how big they are now!

Where is the tallgrass prairie reconstruction area? Take a picture of yourself in the prairie grass!

As you follow the path, this starred location is likely where you will first encounter our ~10 acres of restored prairie
First seeded prairie planting on the Dyck Arboretum Prairie Window Project in January 2005
That same prairie restoration today…it will make great photo backdrop!

What is the newest building at the Arboretum? (Hint: it is near the greenhouse.)

Our newest building – the Horticulture and Utility Building (HUB)

I won’t physically be at the celebration on Sunday as I will be attending a workshop in Wisconsin entitled Caring for Common Ground. It is being put on by the UW-Madison Arboretum authors of our Earth Partnership for Schools Program and Curriculum that we have been teaching to K-12 teachers and students in Kansas for the last 14 years. While you are celebrating the past and the present of Dyck Arboretum, not only will I be thinking of you, but I will also be dreaming about how future educational programming can continue to carry on Harold and Evie’s legacy for another 40 years to come.