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Fill garden with butterflies

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Posted: Friday, February 24, 2012 12:00 pm | Updated: 9:51 am, Thu Aug 16, 2012.

By Audrey Spencer

The Cove Herald

What kind food does black swallowtail caterpillars prefer?

How about monarch larva?

Mary Ann Everett shared the answers to these and other questions during a presentation on attracting butterflies at the Copperas Cove Public Library's Brown Bag Lunch Program.

Everett, a certified master gardener at the Texas Agrilife Extension Office in Bell County, talked about the food and plants preferences for eggs, caterpillars and butterflies.

"Every time they talk about digging in the dirt, I'm interested," said Ruth Brown, who was among about dozen patrons attending the lunchtime event Tuesday. "I want to improve my yard and get it back up to par and plant more Texas-native plants."

Herbs, such as dill, parsley and fennel, are the preferred food for black swallowtail caterpillars, while monarch caterpillars feast exclusively on milkweed, said Everett.

"Caterpillars are ravenous," she said, offering that they might strip passion vine plants but won't kill them.

Everett stressed the benefits of using local vegetation in landscaping to attract butterflies.

"In all cases, native plants are to be preferred," she said, mentioning black-eyed Susans, blue mistflowers and wildflowers, such as Indian paintbrushes, as ideal plants to create a butterfly garden.

The gardening expert encouraged the audience to arrange the same nectar plants in bunches. "It's more attractive to butterflies than planting everything separately," she said, suggesting arrangements in groups of three, five or seven plants.

Everett also talked about watering techniques, avoiding pesticides and how first-time butterfly gardeners should start small, so their new project doesn't become overwhelming.

"I want to try to plant a lot more this year," said Alma Cruz, who attended the program with Brown. "I love to be outside with my plants, and I enjoyed (the program) a lot. It's the first time I've been to one, and I'll come again."

Elke Hutto, assistant reference librarian and technology coordinator, said the library hosts a brown bag event once a month to provide residents with something fun to do during their lunch break.

"We try to bring in a variety of things people will enjoy," she said. "Everybody was looking forward to this one. There's something about butterflies people like. They're fragile, but they hang in there and persevere, and they're graceful."

The lunch events will continue through May and then stop until September to make time for summer reading programs. The next brown bag is scheduled at noon March 20, featuring a presentation on keeping pets happy and healthy.

Contact Audrey Spencer at aspencer@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7476.

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