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The Welcome Mat


Each year as the Monarchs funnel through Central Texas on their way to Mexico's oyamel forests for the winter, I hope they see my welcome mat.  It's a small multi-colored spot in the midst of the green  suburban lawns and brown pastures surrounding me.  Nectar producing plants are planted in clumps at least 3 feet wide to increase visibility for my anticipated guests, and offered in a variety of colors to appeal to many eyes - both single and compound.

At the beginning of this 2019 fall migration, the mistflowers were the big draw.  They create a long early swath of blue in the front yard that gives way beyond the Turk's cap (Malvaviscus arboreus) to a tall blue mistflower that threatens to climb the six foot tall fence in the back.  The blue in front is Gregg's blue (Conoclinium greggii) and the tall one remains a mystery that was sold to me as "fragrant mistflower".  Just as they fade, the shrubby boneset (Eupatorium havanense) fires up on the opposite side of the garden, drawing small butterflies and bees during the day and clearwing or "hummingbird" moths at dusk.

Cestrum aurantiacum, or yellow cestrum, is considered an invasive in some areas, but in my garden it's a big part of the welcome mat and easily stays where it was planted.  Blooms start in early summer and continue until the temperatures are consistently frosty.  Bees, hummingbirds, and butterflies flock to it.  If the noise from neighbor dogs or children makes the Monarchs too nervous to settle on the mistflower, they just float over to the cestrum and hang there.  After a few hard freezes, the leaves curl up and die but the plant easily returns from a good pruning the following spring.  It also serves as a most welcome privacy screen so it doesn't seem my neighbors to the back are right on top of us.

Serving up lots of nectar to bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds are the almond verbenas (Aloysia virgata) that surround the corner of our patio.  They're reliably in bloom when the Monarchs come through, but also during the summer and early fall.  Follow the link to Pam Penick's blog post on this sweetly scented plant.   It may have been in the heat of a Texas summer that I decided to experiment with five of these as a hedge.  The result of the experiment?  Well, let's just say that we attract A LOT of bees once the blooms start to open.  It was a successful experiment in that the welcome mat is enhanced but the gardener is exhausted by trying to force small trees to bend to my will.  One would've been plenty and I see a design revision in my future.

Rounding all of this out is a sprinkling of low mounding, flowering plants that take turns blooming throughout three seasons - winecups, bulbine, lantana, salvias, and others .   I keep experimenting and adding clumps of those that will be blooming during the fall migration.  With all the push to plant native milkweed, it's easy to focus on that.  Do spread those seeds in the fall so it can be up and available as a host plant for the Monarchs the following spring.   But in the fall, the focus should be on fuel for the long journey south.  A welcome mat signalling food and a place to rest for a while.

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