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In Good Thyme

"September is payoff time in the garden. If you've done your work through spring and summer, now is the time to sit back in your Adirondack chair and survey the fruits of your labor. And many of them are ready for harvest. The Italian plum tree is heavy with sweet purple orbs. Tomatoes are ripening nicely; potatoes are yours for the grubbing. Fresh garlic, plump onions, green beans and voluptuous squash fill the gathering basket. And then there are the flowers! Dahlias in carnival colors adorn the dinner table. Garden phlox and roses perfume the air. Daylilies and monarda bask in late summer sunlight, and mophead hydrangeas are ready to be cut for drying. In back of the border, a butterfly bush arches gracefully, limbs laden with clusters of honey-scented blooms. Butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii) is an old garden favorite. Not only is it an easygoing, long-blooming shrub, but it earns its name by enticing butterflies, moths, hummingbirds and songbirds to its nectar-filled flowers.The sun-loving Buddleia and its many cultivars and hybrids come in pure white, several shades of pink, lavender and most often, purple. Compact varieties are available, but most grow from five to 10 feet tall and wide in a single growing season and bloom from July through frost.Butterfly bush prefers full sun and well-drained soil. It would appreciate a light application of all-purpose fertilizer in the spring, but doesn't need a lot of fussing. Fortunately, most insect pests and disease don't bother it. If your objective is to lure butterflies, you certainly want to avoid using pesticides and herbicides. In cool climates such as the Pacific Northwest, Buddleia's soft wood may die back to the ground in winter, but it grows back each spring, which is why some horticulturists consider it more herbaceous perennial than shrub. It's safe to treat it as a perennial, cutting it back to within six inches in the late fall or very early in spring before new growth appears. Just don't prune branches during the growing season or you'll eliminate flowers. A hard frost will not affect Buddleia's ability to bloom, but a mulch of dry leaves mounded around the base will help protect it from winter damage. Butterfly bush's tapering, willow-like leaves are dark green above and silvery white beneath. The shrub is a good border backdrop, as long as you allow plenty of room for it to grow each season. It is naturally leggy, so if you want to disguise this tendency, consider underplanting it with other butterfly-attracting plants such as purple coneflowers, asters, phlox, asclepias (orange butterfly weed), autumn joy sedum, yarrow, marigolds, zinnias, nasturtiums, joe-pye weed and sunflowers. Select nectar-rich flowers that bloom at different times throughout the growing season to keep the butterflies coming.The aforementioned plants will attract and sustain butterflies in the final, most beautiful stage of their lives. However, if you're a serious butterfly aficionado, you may want to incorporate host plants that provide the butterfly with food, shelter, camouflage, and protection through all stages of its life. Butterflies also appreciate a sip of cool water on a warm day, which they get by puddling in moist soil, often found beneath a fountain, garden sprayer or birdbath. You don't have to be an entomologist to promote butterfly reproduction. For more information on butterflies and the plants that attract them, log on to www.milkweedcafe.com. This colorful web site has lots of fascinating information about butterflies presented in layman's terms. It even includes a page for children, entitled Club Caterpillar. Another good site is www.butterflies.com.Because butterfly populations are dwindling due to habitat destruction, the Butterfly Garden Club of America is dedicated to increasing habitats in backyard gardens throughout the U.S. The club will send you a free packet of seeds that will yield a selection of colorful, nectar-rich, butterfly-attracting annuals. To get the free seeds and growing instructions, send a long self-addressed stamped envelope (with two stamps) to Butterfly Garden Club of America, PO Box 629, Burgin, KY 40310. There is a limit of one free packet per household; additional packets are available for $1 each.Do you have hints for enticing butterflies to your garden? Do you know of any native plants that attract butterflies? Contact me via the Whidbey News Times at the address below and I'll spread the word. Then settle back in your garden chair, take a sip of lemonade, and watch the fritillaries, checkerspots, skippers, satyrs and swallowtail butterflies flit by.-----------------Mariana Graham, a writer and former editor, is a Master Gardener certified through the WSU-Island County Cooperative Extension Service.If you have questions or comments, contact her at the Whidbey News Times, 675-6611; fax 675-2732; or e-mail wnt@whidbey.net. "

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