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Sphinx moths turn out to be great pollinators

Tracey FitzgibbonQ. I have a large established datura plant in my landscaping. Lately, in the early evening I’ve been noticing several hummingbirds flitting around the brilliant white blooms as they open. They seem a bit clumsy, so I’m wondering if it’s because it’s nearing dark or are the hummers drunk from the datura nectar? T.W., Westside Albuquerque

A. I’m confident that the “clumsy” fliers you’re noticing in the evening hours aren’t birds at all but are in fact a very large moth called a sphinx moth. They are about the size of a hummingbird at maturity, so I can easily understand the connection you’ve made. If you’ve ever seen one up close, they are a remarkably beautiful creature and in the adult form a useful pollinator. But beware: If you have a vegetable garden, I’d suggest that you be on the lookout for tomato hornworms. If you are growing anything in the Solanaceae family, such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplant or potatoes, to name a few, start to pay close attention to the plants. All of a sudden, your veggie plants might be stripped bare of leaves and you can’t figure out why. Well, somewhere on the plants you should be able to find a green caterpillar, or two or 10, that camouflage on stems and leaf bases perfectly. They are sometimes hard to recognize, because they don’t move around much during the daylight hours, preferring to feed at night. One nifty thing I’ve learned about how the moth gets its name is from watching the caterpillar. When disturbed or just hanging out, the caterpillar tends to hold up its front end sort of perched, resembling the statue of the sphinx. They don’t lie down and cuddle with the stems. The more I learn and observe, the more I’m in favor of having a “sacrificial planting” a bit removed from my main garden, to relocate any interlopers I find on or in my true garden so these marvels can complete their life cycle. Especially with all I was taught by the swallowtail butterfly caterpillar info of a couple of weeks ago. So no, you probably don’t have drunk hummingbirds, just another remarkable creature visiting your garden.

Q. My green beans seem to have finished making beans. I have another spot in the garden where I can grow more but wonder if you think there’s still enough time this growing season left to get another crop? I.C., Los Lunas

A. Because it’s only the beginning of August, there is at least, Mother Nature allowing, if my math is near correct, about 70 days left in this growing season. So I believe you’d have enough time to plant another crop to bring to harvest. The trick will be reading the back of the seed packets of anything you’d choose to grow and see if “days to harvest” will fit in the parameter you have left for this year! If the packet says 55 to 60 days for days to harvest, I’d go for it. Any time longer than 70 days, you just might be pushing the season’s envelope. Remember also that the first couple of frosts we experience in these parts aren’t “killing frosts” and they can be negated by covering a crop that is near harvest with frost blankets so the season can be extended a bit longer. But if you plant now, or at least very soon, and again have a variety of seed that fits in the “days to harvest” calculation, then go for it and enjoy a continued harvest this growing season! Happy Diggin’ In!

Tracey Fitzgibbon is a certified nurseryman. Send your garden-related questions to Digging In, Albuquerque Journal, P.O. Drawer J, Albuquerque, NM 87103, or to