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Butterfly gardening in your backyard: fill your yard with living colors with garden educator Patricia Collins.

At the mention of gardening for butterflies, images of brightly colored "winged jewels" wafting gently among a dazzling array of flowers probably come to mind. In the butterfly world, planting brightly-colored flowers is like hanging out a neon "Diner" sign. They seem especially attracted to lavenders and purples, as well as reds, oranges, and yellows. Grouping colorful flowers together is helpful-just to make sure the butterflies find the right spot!

After they locate the flowers, butterflies have to search out the nectar. Many flowers that seem very plain to humans actually have ornate "nectar guides" that are invisible to our eyes. Just like runway lights at the airport, flower patterns guide the butterfly to the nectar source. A butterfly probes the blossoms with its tubular tongue, or proboscis, much like we would use a drinking straw. It is important to select flowers whose nectar is easily accessible. Choosing single-petaled varieties rather than multiple-petaled double varieties increases the chances of readily available nectar for your winged friends.

Since a butterfly's proboscis is not as long as a hummingbird's tongue, short, tubular flowers are more appropriate for attracting butterflies. Having some variety in the length of flower tubes helps accommodate various sizes of butterflies. Skippers and smaller butterflies can nectar on the smaller flowers, while a larger butterfly with a longer proboscis is right at home with longer flower tubes.

Butterflies are active, especially in the Southeast, on any warm, sunny day. As gardeners, we should be prepared for them. Providing good nectar flowers as early and as late in the season as possible will increase the opportunity to enjoy these winged wonders. Planting early, mid-season, and fall-blooming flowers is certainly important. Good early bloomers include flowering fruit trees and both native deciduous and cultivated azaleas. Keeping summer-blooming plants deadheaded increases flowering through the fall until a killing frost. Buddleias, marigolds, zinnias, annual salvias, and verbenas are a few plants that are especially receptive to deadheading and will continue blooming late in the season. Replant marigolds and zinnias in midsummer to insure good flower production throughout the fall. Nectar flowers in the fall garden are a must, since we see a plethora September and October.

We must remember that butterflies are insects. This me cold-blooded creatures have a body temperature that is influenced by their environment. Providing some basking spots-rock walls, stepping stones, or pathways-that catch the early morning sun in spring and fall is helpful.

We can't forget the larval stage of butterflies-caterpillars! In order to encourage more of these marvels of nature to inhabit our garden, we supply host plants on which the females can lay eggs and which later furnish food for the caterpillars. Each species seeks out a specific kind of host plant. Most people seem to be familiar with Monarchs and the fact that they lay eggs only on plants in the milkweed family. A brilliant orange-flowering native milkweed, Butterfly Weed, acts as a Monarch host plant and is also a prime nectar plant, especially for Hair Streak butterflies. Bloodfower, a taller, bicolor milkweed, is a wonderful addition to the butterfly garden and is often chosen over the Butterfly Weed as a host plant by Monarchs.

The "parsley worm" is another familiar garden inhabitant, eating parsley, dill. and fennel. This green and black caterpillar with yellow spots becomes a beautiful Black Swallowtail upon maturity. Planting host plants among the nectar flowers encourages more butterflies and increases chances of observing the entire process of metamorphosis. Putting in several of each species of host plant, such as a border of parsley, helps eliminate the problem of one plant being completely defoliated by hungry larvae. It is fascinating to observe a female Gulf Fritillary depositing eggs on the tendrils of Passion Vine and then, after a couple of days, to discover the orange, spiny caterpillars munching away on the leaves. A number of host plants are native weeds or trees. As long as the appropriate weeds and trees are in the vicinity, the butterflies seem to find them!

Creating damp areas or shallow puddles in the garden is really providing something special for butterflies. Rather than taking a long, thirsty drink, butterflies actually extract minerals and salts from the moist soil. Saucers filled with moist sand are great. An occasional splash of liquid fertilizer increases the chances of butterflies visiting the "puddle." Lepidopterists who have studied this phenomenon of "puddling" butterflies have found that certain species tend to congregate near muddy stream banks and that the puddlers are mostly males of the species. Sulphurs, Azures, Red Admirals, and Swallowtails are some of the butterflies observed at such "watering holes."

A butterfly garden can take many avenues, from a formal flower border to a natural wildflower meadow. In short, gardening with the needs of butterflies in mind can be incorporated into almost any type of garden.

Try these flowers for a wonderland of butterflies!

Whites and Pastels: 'White Lightning' Lantana (Lantana montevidensis),'White Profusion Butterfly Bush (Buddleia davidii), and 'Mt. Fuji' Phlox (P. paniculata).

Single Petal varieties: Creeping Zinnia (Zinnia linearis),'Red Sun' Zinnia (Z . elegans), and 'Disco Yellow' Marigold (Tagetes patula).

Short Tubular flowers: Glossy Abelia (Abeliax Grandiflora), Porter Weed (Stachytarpheta purpurea), Pineapple Sage (Salvia elegans), and Blue Anise Sage (S. guarantica), Globe Amaranth [Gomphrena globosa)

Good Nectar Flowers: Butterfly Weed (Asdepias tuberosa), Bloodflower (Asdepias curassavica), Honeysuckles (Lonicera spp.)

Host Plants for Hungry Caterpillars Butterfly Weed (Asdepias tuberosa), Bloodflower (Asclepias curassavica), Passion Vine (Passiflora incarnata), Parsley (many varieties)

Native trees tulip poplar, wild cherry, elm, willow, and hackberry

Patricia Collins serves as the Director of Education for Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, Georgia. She can be reached at education@callawaygardens. com or 1-800-CALLAWAY(225-5292).
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Title Annotation:digging in
Author:Collins, Patricia
Publication:New Life Journal
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2005
Previous Article:Healthy home Q&A.
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