Ask the Expert

Wisconsin State Farmer
This Monarch caterpillar is one of several found on this milkweed plant.

Q: The hummingbirds at my feeders are constantly fighting. Why is this?

A: Hummingbirds showing up at your backyard feeders may be migrants from the north that are now beginning to pass through. Along their journey south, as they discover feeders and feeding areas, hummingbirds will defend them vigorously, often resulting in spectacular aerial displays as they chase away other hummingbirds, other bird species, butterflies and more.

Q: I’m seeing monarch caterpillars finally after not seeing any all summer. What should I do?

A: Enjoy them. There is nothing to do other than provide the milkweed food source they need to continue to grow and eventually transform into adult butterflies. Adults will be migrating through soon, so be sure to have plenty of blooming nectar plants available for them.

Q:I want to try to create my own fall container plantings this month. What plants do you recommend?

A: Any of the colorful ornamental grasses work well, such as purple fountain grass, purple millet, Mexican feather grass and others. Either reuse from summer plantings or you should be able to still find them at most garden centers. Cannas work great in large containers for their fall-like foliage in bronze, copper, orange and red. Mums and ornamental kale are classic fall container plants, as are colorful pansies, violas, marigolds, impatiens, nasturtium, calendula and others. Visit your local garden center to pick out selections in fall colors, or simply reuse annuals and foliage plants from your own garden. And don’t be afraid to incorporate perennials into your containers. Many coral bells, ferns and flowering plants provide fiery bursts of color in fall. These can simply be replanted in the garden later in fall to overwinter.

Q: I’ve heard conflicting information on growing Japanese maples in Wisconsin. Are they hardy here?

A: That’s a loaded question. Many varieties of Japanese maples have successfully overwintered in Zone 4 and Zone 5 gardens in Wisconsin, even during the exceptional cold spell a few years ago. At the same time, others did not fare so well. The chances of success depend on siting in the yard, proper care and watering and the specific variety chosen. It is unlikely most will successfully overwinter below Zone 4, though again, some have had success. Many arboretums, public gardens and private gardeners have had wonderful success with really no special care.