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BUILD BUTTERFLY OASIS; KEEP IT SWEET, SIMPLE

I've noticed more butterflies in my back yard this summer, which is a good thing. I used to have many more butterfly plants, but the years have taken their toll and their numbers have dwindled. My summer visitors motivated me to once again think about attracting butterflies.

If you're doing any plant additions this fall, think about what the butterflies might like. I notice them around my cigar flowers and sunflowers, and the milkweed, a good food source for the caterpillar, still comes up on its own.

A designated area is not necessary for a butterfly garden. Add a few plants in a small bare area, and you'll attract butterflies. When adding your butterfly invitation to your garden, make sure your soil is prepared by putting in organic matter. This will give the plants a strong start.

When choosing plants, remember you'll need a food source for the caterpillars and a nectar source for the butterflies.

A few simple reminders will get you started in creating your butterfly oasis. Choose simple flowers over double hybrids. They offer an easy-to-reach nectar source.

Provide a broad range of flower colors. Some butterflies like oranges, reds and yellows while others are drawn toward white, purple or blue flowers.

Plant both wildflowers and cultivated plants in clumps to make it easier for butterflies to identify them as a source of nectar. If you just have room for a few plants, don't scatter them throughout your garden. Plant them together. This will also make it easier to watch the winged beauties.

If caterpillars are destroying favorite plants, transfer them by hand to another food source. Or just plant more than the caterpillars will eat so you still have some undamaged plants. Avoid the use of pesticides, which can kill butterflies and other beneficial insects.

Common caterpillar food sources are asters, borage, chickweed, clover, hollyhocks, lupines, mallows, marigold, milkweed or butterfly weed, nasturtium, parsley, ragweed, spicebush, thistle, violets and wisteria. Caterpillars also thrive on trees such as elm and oak.

Annual nectar plants worth a try include: ageratum, alyssum, candy tuft, dill, cosmos, pinks, pin cushion flower, verbena and zinnia.

If you want something more permanent, plant perennial nectar plants. These include chives, onions, chamomile, butterfly weed, milkweeds, daisies, thistles, purple coneflower, blanket flower, lavender, marjoram, mints, moss phlox, sage, stonecrops, goldenrod, dandelion and valerian.

Both nectar and caterpillar food sources are imperative when welcoming butterflies to your garden, but there are other needs also. Remember that butterflies are cold-blooded insects that bask in the sun to warm their wings for flight and to orient themselves. They also need shelter from the wind, a source of water, and partly shady areas provided by trees and shrubs.

If there is a particular butterfly you want to attract to your garden, do some research. You'll need to know the exact nectar and caterpillar food source.

Each type of butterfly has their favorites. Plant near a window so you can enjoy the butterfly dance from the comfort of your home.

Mary Collister can be reached at hillsnews@sptimes.com.

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