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Gardeners urged to boost butterfly numbers
7:00am Saturday 23rd June 2012 in NewsXtra
Tips to help the dwindling butterfly population survive - plus, find out what else needs doing in the garden this week.
By Hannah Stephenson.
Butterflies have long been among the prettiest visitors to the British garden, feeding on buddleia and other nectar-rich plants, providing movement, colour and interest for all, as well as being beneficial pollinators.
But the terrible summers of the last two years and the cold, wet weather in late spring and early summer have all contributed to a reduction in numbers, according to the charity Butterfly Conservation, the world's largest research institute for butterflies and moths.
"This spring could have been catastrophic for butterflies, because it means we will have had three really bad breeding seasons in a row," says Dr Martin Warren, the charity's chief executive.
"We have evidence that even common butterflies such as the small tortoiseshell are getting much rarer. Almost three-quarters of UK butterfly species have decreased in population during the last decade. Last year we saw a quarter less butterflies than in the previous year."
The weather in recent years has just exacerbated the situation, Warren continues.
"In 2010 and 2011 we had a really bad July and August, as butterflies struggled to feed, fly and find a mate in the chilly conditions. The cold, wet weather in summer reduces their chances of survival."
The charity is urging people take part in this year's Big Butterfly Count, from July 14 to August 5, in which people record their sightings to provide the vital data which helps to determine how best to conserve the UK's butterflies.
To enter, just find a sunny place and spend 15 minutes counting every butterfly seen and then submit sightings online at www.bigbutterflycount.org.
But it is also hoping that gardeners can help boost populations by encouraging a small patch of their garden to grow wild, so providing a vital haven for threatened species.
"Habitats where butterflies breed are becoming much smaller, as people have gone for formal gardens and more pesticide use. Butterflies tend to breed in long grasses and wildflower meadows, but much of that habitat has been lost."
Leaving a patch of your garden wild doesn't mean it will just be a mess, he says. Seeding it with herbs such as oregano, thyme and marjoram will not only provide rich nectar sources for butterflies, but will also be useful in the kitchen.
Buddleia has long been seen as the key species to attract colourful red admirals, peacocks and small tortoiseshells. But less showy plants such as clover, ivy and daisies provide caterpillars and butterflies with much-needed food and shelter.
Steer clear of 'double flowers' as they tend to produce much less nectar than single-flowered varieties. F1 hybrid plants also usually produce very little pollen.
Spare a few brambles and nettles from the chop and plant some wildflowers and you will be providing your garden butterflies with a vital source of food and shelter.
Verbenas are good nectar plants, especially Verbena bonariensis, a very popular border perennial from South America.
Michaelmas daisies, including asters, lavender, the ice plant (Sedum spectabile), scabious and honesty, are all butterfly magnets.
Certainly this year's garden shows so far, including Chelsea, have shown a move away from formal towards more natural planting with native species - and if we all follow suit, we may give the butterflies the boost they need.
:: The Big Butterfly Count runs from July 14 to August 5.
Best of the bunch - Diascia These pint-sized, delicate-looking annuals or tender perennials make a pretty addition to summer containers and hanging baskets, in subtle shades of pink and apricot, a froth of richly coloured flowers carried on slender stems.
These pretty plants from South Africa, members of the Scrophularia or figwort family together with verbascum and buddleia, flower prolifically all summer.
Shear the spent stems after their first flush of flowers to promote new growth and they will continue to bloom into autumn.
Most are annual but there are a few perennials including Diascia personata which produces stiff stems that grow 90cm (3ft) tall, supporting dusky pink flowers from early May to November.
Diascias do best in fertile, moist but well-drained soil in full sun and their trailing habit makes them ideal for hanging baskets.
Colour scheming is easy with varieties such as 'Coral Belle', 'Ruby Field' and 'Salmon Supreme', which look great with true blues, white and lime green.
Good enough to eat - Harvesting Broad Beans These large flat beans are among the earliest in the pea family to be ready for harvesting, and some of them should be ready this month and will taste so much better than many of the tough versions you find in supermarkets.
If you sowed them under cloches in February or early March, you should have given them a head start and hopefully they will now be mature.
Pick the pods when the seeds inside are just showing and are still soft, picking the lower pods first. You can also eat the young pods whole, like you would sugar snap peas or mangetout.
To check that they are ready for shelling, open one up and look at the scar where the seed is joined to the pod, which should be green or white.
If the scar is discoloured, the broad beans are past their best. When picking, pull the pods downwards, twisting them, but if they are too tough to break off, cut them, as you don't want to damage the main stem.
Pick your beans regularly, when you need them. Any surplus can be blanched and frozen to use later in the year.
Once the main harvest is over, remove the plants and replace them with late-flowering perennials such as penstemons.
Three ways to... Deter moles 1. Put mothballs down the holes - moles hate the smell and may seek a new home.
2. Try a battery or solar-powered device which produces sonic pulses to annoy the mole into leaving.
3. Use a simple windmill to position at the top of the molehill to produce enough movement and vibration to drive the mole away.
All these have been tried and had limited success. Maybe you just have to live with the moles unless you call in a professional to get rid of them.
What to do this week :: Fill gaps in borders with bedding plants, waiting until autumn to put in more permanent plants.
:: Cut the lawn at least once a week, mowing in a different direction each time to ensure a good cut.
:: Hoe or hand-pull annual weeds regularly while they are still small.
:: Continue to plant aquatic plants such as water hyacinth.
:: Deadhead azaleas, camellias and rhododendrons.
:: Remove suckers from rose bushes.
:: Tidy bulbs, cutting down the foliage of spring-flowering bulbs naturalised in grass once six weeks has elapsed since flowering.
:: Soak and plant autumn-flowering anemones including Anemone coronaria.
:: Continue to plant tomatoes outside in a sunny spot against a south-facing wall, if possible.
:: Sow salad veg every two to three weeks for a constant supply in summer.
:: Protect newly planted runner beans from slugs.
:: Control grey mould on strawberries by inspecting regularly and removing any infected ones, as well as keeping fruits off the soil by putting straw underneath them.
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