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Gardening: Garden Party

Turn your garden into a funky lounge for butterflies, hummingbirds and ladybugs alike.


Your garden is mad unfriendly to insects, buddy. You've dropped enough Bacillus thuringiensis (that's Bt) and pesticides to clear out everything that moves in there, just so all those exotic flowers don't get messed with. Meanwhile, the ladybugs have been crashing on your couch all winter. What I'm saying is that you need to make a place for all my colorful buddies. You need to make your garden the hot spot for butterflies and hummingbirds alike.

Luckily, they dig a lot of the same stuff. I'll break it down.

Choose plants that will appeal to both larval and adult butterflies as well as hummingbirds.

Provide space with lots of sun to keep the butterflies warm while they're mingling, but also with some shade for them to hide from predators and to lay eggs.

Put out a flat rock for butterflies to rest on and don't forget a laid-back drinking spot. A bowl of wet sand or mud always gets them to belly up to the bar for some good old "puddling."

Surround the garden on three sides with shrubs or trees. The little critters need protection from the wind. If your garden is beside a fence, growing some trumpet honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) along it will attract hummingbirds and butterflies like a neon sign.

And don't use pesticides or weed killers! Use local treatments if you have to, but avoid chemicals! More later.

As for plantings, your two best pals are going to be the butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii) and the butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa). They appeal to birds and bugs alike, and the second one is pretty, even for a weed. Butterflies go after them as both caterpillars and adults. Hummingbirds can't get enough of them either. But with butterflies, you have to keep the kids happy.

Caterpillars are very particular about what they eat. Monarchs, everybody's favorite party pals, eat milkweed as a larva. Your brushfoot butterfly larvae (gulf fritillary, longwings) enjoy passion vine (Passiflora incarnata), which has a lovely bloom but dies out every year. The red admiral larva likes nettles; the garden tiger prefers dandelions, and the popular painted lady goes for thistle. And most every little caterpillar digs on flowering dogwood.

When the larva comes out of the chrysalis, it's ready to party. You've gotta have stuff for the adults; otherwise they'll move over to that happening garden next door. Butterflies, like hummingbirds, like nectar, so go crazy with the wildflowers: marigold, primrose, goldenrod and aster. Throw in some herbs: dill, fennel, mint and rue (along with the butterfly bushes, these repel deer). Late-blooming verbena appeals to birds and bugs well into the fall.

There are tons of options, buddy. Try to stagger the blooming period so you'll have a nice lounge from May to October. And when you arrange them, remember that your critters like color (butterflies are really partial to purple) and clump similar flowers, because butterflies are a bit nearsighted. Choose natives because they grow without supervision. (Some of these plants are invasive, so you'll have to keep everything cut back if you have limited space.) And if the flower has a trumpet, chances are there's a hummingbird for it.

And remember, chemicals will clear out any party. But don't worry: I will invite spiders, lace-wings, lizards and ladybugs to deal with the troublemakers, so take care of the rest, and not only will you have a kicking party, you'll have an ecosystem.

Seriously, dude.




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