Beverly Shaw
Master Gardener
Purdue University







Question and Answer

Q.  I'm planning ahead for next spring and would like to attract more butterflies to my garden. What can I plant? I have a fairly sunny yard. -- Vikki Stiles, Muncie, Ind.

A.  You need to provide food for both the adult and larval stage, water and cover. A butterfly garden should be protected from the wind and receive at least six hours of direct sun each day. Include a puddle or create a small bath from an inverted shallow bucket or lid. Be sure to include some rocks for the butterflies to stand on while they drink.

A wide variety of plants will attract many types of butterflies over a long season. Some of my favorites include coreopsis, asters, bluemist spirea, iron weed, goldenrod, liatris, butterfly weed, purple coneflower, yarrow, black-eyed Susan and phlox.

Milkweed is easy to find along railroads and roadways. Gather some seed from the split seed capsules in the fall, and sow them in your garden. These are the only food source of the larval stage of the monarch butterfly. (Adults feed on lots of nectar plants.) In autumn, when you see the larvae feeding on the stems, you can bring them inside and put them in an empty fish tank or large glass container with a screen over the top. Provide plenty of fresh milkweed leaves every day or two. They are voracious eaters. Eventually, they'll spin their cocoon, which will go through a series of color changes. At first, you can see the green of the caterpillar inside. At the end, it will turn black, and the butterfly will emerge. It's an exciting process to watch. When the wings dry, take the butterflies outdoors and set them free. They'll sit on your hand for a bit before they take off. My children loved this experiment. I only wished I had milkweed in my garden, instead of taking daily trips in search of food for our caterpillars!

Q.  My white pine trees drop great quantities of needles each fall. They're pretty, but I wonder if I need to rake them up? -- Betty May, Terre Haute, Ind.

A.  Many people are alarmed when their white pines drop inner needles, although this is a common occurrence for this species. Pine needles live for 2 years and have a noticeable leaf drop in autumn. The inner needles fall off, and new growth is formed at the tip of each branch.

If the needles fall under the tree, they provide a nice mulch for the tree, reducing weed growth, increasing soil acidity and retaining soil moisture. The rust-colored needles are quite attractive and can be left in place unless they're landing on your lawn. If a pine is allowed to grow in its normal habit, there is no turf under the tree. If the branches are limbed up, then enough sunlight penetrates to allow grass to grow. The needles that land on turf should be raked up but can be used somewhere else in your garden as mulch or a soil amendment.

Q.  When my mom passed away a year ago, my fellow employees gave me a ficus tree. Not long after I got it home and in the house, it started dripping a syrupy substance on my carpet. Then, it got these little, black, bug-like things on the stems--up and down--and some on the backside of the leaves. My daughter looked on the Internet and said they were scales ore something like that and that I should get an insecticidal soap. I did. It's not dripping any more, but the bug-like things are still on there, and the leaves are turning yellow and falling off! What do I do? I hate to lose it. -- Esther Dick, Rensselaer, Ind.

A.  There are a number of scale insects that infest house plants. Repeated applications of insecticidal soap are usually necessary to control scale. Once you have controlled the outbreak, the scaly shells of the scale will still be in place. If the soap is not effective, try a 2 percent horticultural ultrafine oil. Read and follow all label directions when using insecticides.

Figs drop their leaves whenever they experience a change. A scale infestation could certainly make your tree drop its leaves. So could relocating the fig from one window to another. These trees are popular gifts, but giving the tree means moving it to a new location. Figs will then drop their leaves and put out new leaves that are better suited to the light level of the new surroundings. Check the health of the tree by looking for new buds or leaves.

Finally, consider that figs are deciduous trees. They drop their leaves, although not necessarily in autumn, with seasonal changes. This could be a normal leaf drop. Remain on the lookout for sticky substances and new scale insects.


Contact: B. Rosie Lerner
Editor: Olivia Maddox,