A New Meaning to Day of the Dead

By Mary Thorne

Monarchs in Mexico

The Day of The Dead is a Mexican tradition that coincides with the annual migration of monarch butterflies to their winter residence in Mexico. Traditionally, the Monarchs were believed to be the souls of the dead returning to earth.

This migration of Monarch butterflies can also teach us about caring for our environment.   School kids are taught at an early age about habitat. Every living thing needs food and water for nourishment, shelter from weather and predators, and space. In order for a species to continue, they must mate and must have an environment where their offspring can mature.

Nature has an amazing capacity to adapt. All butterflies go through four stages of metamorphosis – egg, caterpillar, chrysalis, and butterfly. Each species of butterfly has different needs, or different habitats depending on where they live. Monarch butterflies are unique. During the summer they drink nectar from flowers and lay their eggs on milkweed. The eggs hatch into caterpillars. The caterpillars grow quickly and change into chrysalises. Soon afterwards a butterfly emerges and starts the cycle over again.

Monarch

The Monarch butterflies that emerge in the fall in North America cannot survive the freezing temperatures of winter. Instead, they fly thousands of miles to a completely different habitat in the mountains of Mexico.  Monarchs heading south for the winter get energy by drinking nectar from flowers during the day. At night they seek shelter by roosting in trees. Millions of Monarchs can be seen migrating through Texas in late October.  They look for backyard habitats like Quinta Mazatlan and neighboring homes.

In the spring those same Monarchs that flew all the way to Mexico begin the return trip north.  Somehow they manage to find milkweed and lay their eggs before they die. Within a few weeks the new batch of butterflies will continue migrating north for the summer. The cycle will repeat itself until fall when once again the migration south begins.

I am a little bit like the Monarch; I don’t like winter so I migrate south too. I came to The Rio Grande Valley because of butterflies.  My appreciation for butterflies developed into a new understanding of native plants.  I learned that butterflies need native plants to live.  It is that simple.  So now, I plant mostly native plants in my garden.

Last year the number of Monarchs wintering in Mexico hit an all time low.  Much of the decline is caused by habitat loss.  According to Monarch Watch, a non-profit organization that focuses on monarch butterflies, an estimated 147 million acres of monarch habitat has been lost since 1992.

My return to the valley coincides with the Monarch Migration. Last year I eagerly returned to my garden anticipating the sight of hundreds of butterflies in all shapes and sizes gracefully floating around the plants I had planted. But even my own little butterfly “sanctuary” suffered from habitat loss.  The “weeds” I had carefully nurtured had been pulled out. There were no butterflies in my garden when I returned, just mulch. No habitat. No butterflies.

It seems so simple. Give them water, food, shelter, and a place to raise their young and they will continue as they have for thousands of years.  Honor what we love on this day and care for our little remaining habitat so traditions like the Monarch Migration continue in our culture.

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I Spy a Buff-bellied Hummingbird

Written by Ouina Rutledge

Bird Walk 2013-05-14 Buff-bellied Hummingbird John Brush

As I sit here by my breakfast nook window sipping tea I spy a Buff-bellied Hummingbird swooping in to sip nectar from a Red Sage flower. Hummingbirds love to flit, hover, and zoom around in my garden as I have planted a number of hummingbird attractant plants. I receive many questions from Valley residents wanting to know how they too can attract these colorful birds to their back yards.

Bringing these visitors up close and personal does require a little bit of knowledge of native plants and some gardening space, whether containers, small beds or large. Knowing what kinds of plants will do well in our Valley environment and what kinds of hummingbirds those plants will attract will improve your chances of seeing these beautiful, diminutive birds!

Turk's Cap

Two plants that are the very best natives that will attract hummingbirds and are readily available at local nurseries are the Tropical or Red Sage (Salvia coccinea) and Dwarf Turk’s Cap (Malvaviscus drummondii). Both these plants are attractive additions to any garden. They need at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight to flower, are very drought tolerant, and are low-maintenance. Water to establish and then water only infrequently but deeply to maintain flowering. Both have deep red flowers and will flower nearly continuously all year. Prune back occasionally to maintain shape. But don’t prune all the plants at once as you want some plants to always be in flower so that you can attract the hummers!

Allow both plant species to seed and you will be pleasantly surprised to find other birds coming to your garden as I have seen Chachalacas, Northern Cardinals, Kiskadees, and Painted Buntings among the number of birds that fly in and devour the seeds. These birds are hungry – especially the migratory birds flying through on their way south.

Quinta Mazatlan in McAllen promotes and encourages use of native plants in the urban landscape. If you want to learn more about landscaping with natives – the how-to’s – join us every Wednesday 8:30 a.m. – 11:30 a.m at Quinta Mazatlan for volunteer mornings.  By planting Rio Grande Valley native plants, you not only enjoy seeing nature out your window up close and personal, you are conserving native plants and the birds that need these plants to survive. Hummingbirds are vulnerable to habitat loss and pesticides. Their chances of survival increase every time one zips over to a tasty meal provided by your small container garden or back yard habitat!

The Principles of Xeriscaping

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Xeriscaping is a term used to describe Landscaping for Water Conservation. The term was coined by the Denver Department of Water in 1978 and has since become popular in Texas and other arid states. Xeriscape gardens minimize the need for supplemental watering. Xeriscaping is a great option for landscaping in the Rio Grande Valley because it protects our most valuable resource- water. Xeriscaping can use an average of 40% less water than traditional landscaping.

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There are 7 Principles of Xeriscaping. The first is Planning and Design. Plan in phases and design around already-existing structures. Sketch out your design on paper and start a wish-list of features you’d like to have in your new water-wise garden.

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The second principle is Soil Analysis and Prep. Consider having your soil tested at the Texas Plant and Soil Lab in Edinburg. Prep your soil by adding organic matter in the form of compost. Compost will increase the soil’s ability to absorb and retail water. Consider making your own compost.

The third principle is Plant Selection. Choosing plants that have low water demands is easy in the Valley- go native! Our native plants are adapted to our soils and don’t require as much water as tropical plants. BONUS- native plants support our native wildlife. Buy locally and select a diversity of shrubs, ground covers, and trees.

The fourth principle is Practical Turf Areas. Consider reducing your lawn with gardens beds and native ground-covers. Adding vertical diversity will create an interesting and beautiful yard.

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The fifth principle of Xeriscaping is Efficient Irrigation. This may be the most important principle in the Valley. Watering in the early morning and late afternoon can lower the loss of water by evaporation. Consider alternatives to a traditional sprinkler system, like drip lines, which apply water slowly and improve efficiency.

The sixth principle is Mulching. Adding a layer of mulch to the top of your garden beds will protect the soil from compaction and erosion, reduce weed growth, keep soil temperatures moderate, and slow the loss of water through evaporation.

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The final principle of Xeriscaping is appropriate maintenance. Planting natives and using compost will reduce your need for fertilizers, and pesticides are not recommended as bugs are an important part of many birds’ diets.

Xeriscaping can produce beautiful gardens and landscaping with minimal care and upkeep. Quinta Mazatlan has a new Cactus Garden that uses all the principles of Xeriscaping and requires much less water than a traditional garden. We invite you to visit our gardens to see what a difference you can make in your own backyard!

QM Cactus in Bloom

Quinta Mazatlan is located at 600 Sunset Drive in McAllen, Texas. For more information visit www.quintamazatlan.com.