"For man, autumn is a time of harvest, of gathering together.

For nature it is a time of sowing, of scattering abroad."

— Edwin Way

Caterpillar concern

Since the rapid decline of monarch butterfly populations has come to the attention of the general public, municipalities and homeowners are planting the monarchs’ favorite plants, milkweed (Asclepius species). Apparently, the trend has been to plant milkweed along roadsides.

However, Andy Davis, a conservation physiologist at the University of Georgia, found evidence that monarch caterpillars on roadside milkweed plants shudder as cars zoom by. Aware that noise pollution is known to stress birds, whales and other creatures, he wondered about insects. So he developed a tiny caterpillar heart monitor, with a small sensor fitted into a microscope to precisely measure monarch larvae's heart rates as they heard recordings of traffic sounds in the laboratory. It was confirmed that the caterpillars are stressed. While they eventually do recover from the stress, this experience might affect the endurance of the adult butterflies on their two-month journey to spend winters in Mexico, as they narrowly escape predators and fight wind currents.

So plant milkweed, but put it well into the yard, away from traffic.

Warning labels

As reliable safe pesticide product options became more available in the 1980s and 1990s, the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) required that manufacturers of traditional chemical lawn and garden products re-register them to assure that they met more stringent safety standards. Many of the old, truly dangerous standbys failed the test, and most are gone from store shelves. Others required warning labels.

Check out the labels of the lawn and garden products on your shelves.

DANGER POISON on a product label signals that its contents are highly toxic by any route of entry into your body. If you must use it, exercise extreme care. Cover your exposed skin with gloves and coveralls or the equivalent, and wear face protection for eyes and respiration. Discard contaminated clothing after use.

DANGER on the label means that the product can cause severe eye or skin irritation.

WARNING on the label means the product is moderately toxic by mouth, on skin, through inhalation or in your eyes.

CAUTION means it is slightly toxic in all these ways. Still, always cover your skin, and discard the container as instructed on the label.

Never pour anything into the storm sewer, household plumbing or the soil.

Acorn luck

According to centuries of folklore and research by Jim Cortese, a consulting arborist in Tennessee, having an oak tree drop its acorns in your yard is a very lucky thing:

• Putting an acorn on the windowsill will keep lightning from striking.

• Dreaming about acorns predicts positive things such as a promotion or other gain can be expected.

• Carrying an acorn will assure good luck and a long life.

• Heavy crops of acorns signal a severe winter ahead.

• A dream about an old, wide-spreading oak tree means long life and prosperity.

Birds and trees

We all know about the birds and the bees. But mostly we are unaware of the birds and the trees (and shrubs). If we are, it is likely because we watch birds devour the cherries, blueberries or nuts that we want to eat, and we resent this intrusion.

However, this is exactly the plan. Birds need fruit to eat, and trees need to have their seeds dispersed. The fancy term for this arrangement is “mutualistic coordination,” a mutually beneficial relationship between species. Birds devour the luscious juicy pulp around the seeds and then disperse the seeds throughout their territory by either regurgitation or defecation, assuring survival of both the plants and the birds.

For more than 20 years, local garden writer and lecturer Liz Ball has offered helpful information and advice to homeowners on enjoying and caring for their yards and the plants that grow there in her Yardening column. Direct your Yardening questions to her at lizball@aol.com.

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