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Planting Contentment

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Published on: Mar. 2, 1996

Last revision: Oct. 21, 2010

makes adding perennials to a garden a cost-free, if not an effortless endeavor.

Phlox, verbena, daisies, lavender and sedum are good choices for perennials because they produce abundant nectar. Expect skippers (1 inch) - butterflies that fold their wings when feeding - to frequent them and all garden flowers. A large silver patch on the underside of each wing marks the common silver-spotted skipper.

If creating a woody habitat is an option, remember that butterfly caterpillars in North America prefer trees in the rose family (Rosaceae). For example, hawthorn, Missouri's state flower, brings the tiger swallowtail (5-6 inches), a namesake of the feline whose markings it matches. Spirea is another good choice for border plantings.

Willows and poplars feed caterpillars of many species, including the viceroy (2 inch). The viceroy is the monarch mimic, distinguished from its model by more black banding. Compensating for a short flowering time, nectar-rich butterfly bush (Buddleia) is a beacon to many kinds of butterflies.

Sharing

Sharing food plants, particularly garden vegetables, with caterpillars is not an option for everyone. But the willing vegetable gardener might offer some cabbage, cauliflower and radishes to the caterpillars of whites, which are better known as "loopers" when they reach nuisance numbers.

An exceptionally generous gardener - synonymous with a real butterfly lover - can increase the numbers of skippers, clouded sulphurs and hairstreaks by setting aside some leguminous plants for the caterpillars of those butterflies.

Slacking

Finally, consider slacking, taking a break from manicuring part of the lawn. A patch of uncut grass encourages wood nymphs and skippers and others. They come to lay eggs. Their caterpillars stay to eat.

For full-scale slacking, allow some common herbs to flower. That tells butterflies they are genuinely welcome. Flowers of dill, fennel, carrot, celery and parsley bring many kinds of swallowtails. Watch for their caterpillars - three banded (green, black, yellow) and without any projections - on the stems in mid-to-late summer.

Accoutrements

Water, surfaces for sunning and shelter perfect a butterfly garden. In addition to feeding, butterflies "puddle." Adults assemble in wet muddy areas to drink water and imbibe dissolved minerals. Offer butterflies a wet patch in the garden - just a quarter of an inch of water - and expect some takers.

Butterflies often bask. After a cool night, their wing muscles must warm up (some to 30 degrees) before they can fly. Strategically set out a rock or two so butterflies can take advantage of the early morning sun.

Construct natural or artificial windbreaks to protect butterflies from gusty conditions. The more shelter, the more likely it is butterflies will visit and linger, even on the windiest days.

Small Spaces

Apartment dwellers eager to attract butterflies should not despair. If there's a place for a porch or step pot, a window box or a hanging planter, butterflies can be enticed. Fill containers and small spaces with annuals and herbs.

Marigolds get at least a fleeting inquiry from most butterflies. Short stemmed asters and zinnias are also good choices. Dense clumps of parsley, dill and the like invite egg laying swallowtails to stop.

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