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Thu, Nov. 21

Butterflies love to have season-long color

I love talking about gardening, and really had a ball Wednesday morning speaking at the Sun-Up Rotary meeting. My thanks go out to this group for inviting me to talk about the best garden techniques for summer gardens. I had such a good time meeting with this group of Rotarians that I want to plug their annual duck race fundraiser. Because the money raised at this event stays in our community, it is well worth our support. This is a service club that knows how to have fun.

There are many plants looking great in the garden right now. One of my favorites for our area is the butterfly bush, Buddleja davidii. Its other common name is summer lilac. Although the blossoms look much like a real lilac, the flowers seem to float above the foliage. And, yes, early in the day butterfly bushes really are butterfly magnets. Then, in late afternoon, just as you head to the garden to enjoy a refreshing glass of iced tea, butterflies return for their little evening snack. The first plant they'll visit is your butterfly bush!

A butterfly bush is the perfect plant at this altitude. It's not a true evergreen, but as it always has some foliage showing, I guess we could call it a semi-evergreen. From now through fall its dozens of stems sport brightly colored flowers. The flowers are uniquely situated to float above the foliage in the slightest breeze, bringing colorful movement to your yard. This bush grows to 10 feet tall, but trimming can easily keep it five feet.

Clay soil has the highest impact on garden plants throughout the region. So, when planting, add lots of mulch or compost to create a rich soil that encourages speedy root growth. A typical five-gallon plant will need one bag of mulch per plant. Butterfly bushes love clay soil if you don't over water. I would recommend a twice-a-week water schedule for new plantings, then for established shrubs just deep watering once a week, even in the heat of June.

The spring blooming lilac, Syringa vulgaris, is the natural companion to the summer blooms of a butterfly bush. Although out of bloom by now, lilacs are available at local garden centers for planting in anticipation of next year's show. Both shrubs grow to the same height and width; the lilac's deep green glossy leaves are an eye-pleasing complement to the Arizona blue and silver foliage of the butterfly bush.

The best design element of this plant combination is their bloom cycles. Lilacs are the second shrubs to bloom in spring, their luscious fragrance filling the early spring air before most plants even begin leafing out for the season. Lilacs' scented flowers are perfect for cut bouquets in the house, lasting longer than a vase of roses.

The butterfly bush and lilac duo will deliver striking season-long color to a garden. I have a two-story deck overlooking my back yard and am planning one of each of these plants to accent the second story view of our gardens. The way the flowers stand up from the body of the foliage should make for a spectacular bird's eye view from the balcony.

If you need help with simple garden designs, take some quick measurements of your garden area, make a rough sketch to show existing plants, patios, etc., and bring them to your favorite garden center. The professionals "working the floor" will have a good time helping you lay out new designs or suggesting simple additions and/or changes.

Every first and third Saturday at Watters Garden Center, customers who are looking for more detailed garden designs but really don't need a full landscape plan can make appointments to meet with members of our design staff. Our design people love this service because it gives them a break from the detailed demands at the drafting table and gets their creative juices flowing into a variety of fun projects. Using the customer's measurements, they offer suggestions and lay out professional sketch ideas.

My Web site at has just posted a new Garden Talk Topics about my experience with "Javalina Resistant Plants." For answers to your gardening questions, tune in to my radio show, Gardening in Granite, every Saturday from 7 to 8 on KYCA 1490AM.

Until next week, I'll see you in the garden center.

Ken Lain is the owner of Watters Home and Garden Center and is an Arizona Certified Nursery Professional and Master Gardener.

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