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What's bugging you? July 12, 2017

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White-lined Sphinx Moth

This is my first official installment of a new series, "Beasties in The Garden." I am going to lay the foundation for a butterfly garden and then transition to my first winged representative.

I recently made a presentation on butterfly gardening to a local garden club, titled, "Wings in the Garden." This form of wildlife gardening has been popular in England for many years and has recently become quite popular in this country. There is very little to compare with the colorful wings of this insect coupled with its delicate and graceful manner of flitting from flower to flower. Moths, too, can be an interesting visitor but are rarely seen because of their mainly nocturnal habits.

The core of butterfly (and moth) gardening is to provide plantings to attract and retain local visitors. This is done by planting both nectar-producing plants and those plants that will provide for their caterpillar young. Shelter from wind and other weather events may also be important, especially in wintertime, when some butterflies and moths overwinter as adults or as immatures associated with their food plants that are now dormant or dead.

Because not all beasties in the garden are wanted, you might think that some insecticide spraying is warranted. But remember, these same chemicals can kill our beautiful friends. Butterfly gardens tend to look more "wild" than our more traditional garden designs, but that's okay. After all, you are adding another component to your garden in the form of winged visitors. Isn't that worth some sacrifices? So to repeat what's already been discussed and to add a few more items to the list, follow these rules:

1. Plant flowers to attract adult butterflies and moths as nectar sources.

2. Plant for season-long flowering.

3. Plant hosts for caterpillar feeding if possible.

4. Minimize insecticide use.

5. Provide a water source, mostly mud puddles.

6. Provide shelter -- don't clean out the garden in the fall.

7. Create plant groupings, not single plants.

My first "beastie" is not a butterfly at all but a day-flying moth. This is the white-lined sphinx moth or Hyles lineata. It belongs to a group often called sphinx moths, hummingbird moths or hawk moths and their caterpillars are known as "hornworms." The moth's long, coiled up tongue allows them to visit inflorescences with deep tubular flowers containing high levels of nectar. Good plants to attract these moths would be hummingbird mint (Hyssop or Agastache), evening primrose, honeysuckle, catmint, petunias and Datura to mention a few. Caterpillar feeding plants would include willows, apple, grape, purslane, evening primrose, elm and tomato.

I have already enjoyed watching this moth visiting my catmint and can hardly wait until my hyssop flowers, the most visited of all my garden flowers. Can you honestly say that you are unwilling to have a wilder garden with some minor caterpillar feeding damage in exchange for all the enjoyment you will get watching these denizens of the garden hovering just like hummingbirds over your flowers?

Jim Leser retired to Cedaredge in 2007 after a career with Texas A&M University Extension in entomology. He is a member of the Cedaredge Tree Board and a Colorado Master Gardener.

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Jim Leser, What's Bugging You
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