Why Gardeners Hold The Key To
Saving Monarch Butterflies
- The Drought from Hell- The USDA refers to the 2012 drought as “the most severe and extensive drought in the past 25 years.” Considering a large percentage of the migration typically occurs over some of the most drought stricken regions, it’s easy to understand how the sizzling summer heat depleted much of the available milkweed supply, while cooking defenseless eggs and caterpillars.
- Pesticides- The use of genetically modified seeds in farming have allowed farmers to use herbicides that largely wipe out the milkweed plants inside their fields. These “milkweed fields” have traditionally been popular laying grounds for the monarchs. The use of these seeds (and herbicides) will not stop anytime soon, if ever!
When large seed companies and farmers are faced with a choice between lucrative crops and more monarchs, what do you think most of them are going to choose? I’m not sure how effective monarch proponents can be in waging this war. I have serious doubts it’s a battle we can win until people come to grasp with what the loss of pollinators could mean to our future food supply.
- Loss of Habitat- As more people inhabit the earth, it’s inevitable that more land will be developed and more milkweed lost. Again, it’s a losing battle to argue the needs of monarch butterflies against mankind. It’s beneficial to have parks and protected prairie land, but many of these will be slowly lost over time barring the second coming of Noah’s ark.
The best way for us to help the monarch population now is to make use of the land we own, or integrate milkweed and nectar flowers on to public and private properties where owners are willing to lend a hand to the struggling monarch butterfly. People are much more willing to help when it doesn’t negatively impact their livelihood! (eg: schools, public buildings, malls, libraries, golf courses, malls, and many other possibilities…)
Communities are even more willing to help when it’s mutually beneficial. A butterfly garden can add wonder, beauty, educational opportunities, a sense of peace, and value to your property. By revealing several milkweed options, I’m hoping you can find something that excites you and…saves more monarchs!
If you tend a garden, you can start helping the monarchs this spring. But planting one milkweed in your garden is not enough to sustain them over the season. Monarch caterpillars have voracious appetites and you can best serve them (and preserve your garden) by planting in bunches of 6-10 milkweed plants per species.
Also, try planting 3 species that “peak” at different times so your garden sustain monarchs over the entire season. Why is this important? I received a large monarch deposit in late August, but none of those eggs were layed on our fading common milkweed. Without tropical milkweed, the monarchs would have passed over our garden…
Most of us are familiar with ‘wild’ milkweed species that grow in local parks, ditches, and fields, but there are over 100 species of milkweed that can be grown in North America. Some of these species don’t attract many monarchs, while others can take over yards and gardens, making them bad choices for a residential setting.
The list below includes some of the species that can work well in gardens. While some species on the list might not be right for your particular situation, some options will probably work great in your garden.
Here are some milkweed options that could work well in your garden while saving more precious monarch butterflies:
Spring Milkweed Ideas
Before you rule out ‘common’ variety as an invasive garden pest, see how to effectively control it so it doesn’t take over your yard and garden.
Summer Milkweed Ideas
A long blooming summer milkweed popular with monarch butterflies. Swamp cuttings are also ideal for raising caterpillars.
You never know who might drop in for a drink when you’ve got nectar-rich butterfly weed planted in your garden.
This species is rare to North America, but it could be worth checking out since it’s both a host plant and nectar flower for monarchs. Did I mention it blooms all summer?
Migration Milkweed Ideas
A beautiful, well-behaved option that can be grown as an annual in northern gardens. It’s viable the entire season if you start with plants or cuttings.
The goose plant is best known for its distinctive seed pods. This milkweed pods are sometimes used in expensive floral centerpieces.