The monarch butterflies have been drastically reduced from regular garden visitors to rare garden treats over the past two decades.
Many believed 2016 was finally the beginning of the eastern monarch recovery we’ve been striving for the past few years, as the population swelled to over 200 million butterflies…until a fateful March snowstorm (in Mexico!) destroyed a promising season.
Less than one year later, there was reason to be optimistic when new numbers revealed how far they’d come back from this unexpected tragedy:
The monarch population estimate for 2017-2018 has not been released, but with with warmer than average fall temperatures from Canada on south, an extra generation of monarchs was able to make their way to Mexico. Some believe this season’s population will surpass the bounty of butterflies from 2015-16…an update will be posted here soon!
What could have been responsible for this noticeable eastern population increase in winter 2016, and the surprising comeback to Mexico in fall 2016? My money’s on…
While monarch numbers have plunged, North America’s interest in their recovery has surged to an all time high…
The power of our community (magnified by social media) has brought monarchs to the forefront of wildlife conservation, and more people are taking an active role in supporting monarchs through gardening, raising butterflies, and getting involved with organizations that support monarch conservation.
Before we get started, you need to know what the monarchs are up against…
The Pollinator Problem
The North American monarch population has been in a dangerous decline over the past decade.
In 2013, the eastern population hit an all-time low as many alarmed butterfly enthusiasts reported seeing no monarchs the entire season…something completely unimaginable a short decade ago!
2014 & 15 estimates showed a minor increase to the struggling population, but neither report was a cause for butterfly celebration. This was not a serious recovery from the disturbing downward spiral.
2016 proved that even when the pendulum swings forward, that progress can be a precarious thing: Snow in Mexico? Caterpillar-killer ‘mosquito’ spraying?…the monarchs still need our help going forward!
Most of us are familiar with the usual suspects for the monarchs’ population decline: habitat destruction, pollinator-killing pesticides, and extreme weather conditions, etc. Weather control is not an option (at this point) and stopping others’ pesticide use (barring national legislation) often proves futile, although we should embrace opportunities to respectfully educate others.
Until (and probably even after) there is irrefutable proof that pesticides are killing off pollinators, farmers will choose the needs of their families and businesses over the needs of milkweed butterflies.
What would you do in their position?
5 Ways to Make This Your Best Monarch Year Ever
1. Start Growing Early
An early jump-start for your garden can be accomplished in a variety of ways starting with fall planting plants. You can also overwinter plants like tropical milkweed and take cuttings to start new plants indoors.
If those ideas sound like too much work (or it’s too late), you can always purchase plants in spring from local plant sales, nurseries, or online vendors selling both milkweed plants and nectar flowers.
Buy plants from nurseries that have their own greenhouses or can guarantee no monarch-killing pesticides have been used on your plants. We buy most of our plants at locally-sourced plant sales.
However, when local resources can’t provide you with exactly what you want, someone online usually can. Check out these milkweed seed resources.
Could you find all those options at your local nursery?
What’s most important, is that you have plenty of options to start your season in high gear, ready to support spring monarchs.
2. Expand Your Milkweed Menu
Planting a variety of milkweed plants in your garden, gives you a much better chance to support monarchs throughout the entire butterfly season. Why?…because you’re likelier to always have viable milkweed leaves for caterpillars and nectar that can support adult butterflies.
Having 3-4 varieties is a good goal, but remember to choose varieties that have different growth cycles.
3. Don’t Believe the Native Hype
I try hard not to roll my eyes (with varying degrees of success) when I come across the many articles online that say native plants will always attract and support more pollinators than their non-native counterparts.
Those who actually grow both know this isn’t always true, but some who can only see value in native plants are obsessed with convincing the world otherwise, based on second-hand info from biased books pushing an all-native agenda.
If the fear mongers win, your butterfly garden loses…and so do the butterflies!
I agree that native plants are the cornerstone to a successful garden, but I also believe that non-invasive annual plants are complementary tools that can help you attract and support even more pollinators.
My beliefs are based on my personal experience as a gardener, and talking to other butterfly gardeners across North America.
While ultra-controversial butterfly bush and tropical milkweed can have potential issues in some regions of North America, they are not killing off native plants in droves, nor are they decimating the monarch population.
We need to have honest, informed, solution-based conversations about these controversial topics or they will continue to divide our community.
4. Raise Your Game
Raising monarch butterflies is a great idea for a variety of reasons. It’s educational, fun, inspirational, and it also helps to grow the struggling monarch population. It’s estimated only 1-5% of monarchs survive outdoors.
You can boost those survival odds (once you have a good raising system in place) to over 90%. During the spring and early summer months, this can also help to promote more monarch activity in your butterfly garden.
To learn how to raise more monarchs with less effort and at least a 90% survival rate click here
and check out Monarch Butterfly Shop to find butterfly cages and other helpful raising supplies
5. Finish with a Bang
Once you’ve perfected your raising process over the summer, you have a unique opportunity to help support one of the most amazing wildlife migrations on planet earth…the Monarch Migration.
Each August, I host an online event called Raise the Migration which helps our community members across North America raise and release monarchs for their amazing fall migration.
This is an awe-inspiring, educational event for gardeners, schools, homeschoolers, seniors, and nature lovers. You can sign up here to receive this exciting email course in August and September.
I’ve personally tried these 5 Monarch Attracting/Supporting Ideas in our home and garden and they’ve substantially increased our monarch visits over the past decade, in spite of the declining butterfly population. I hope these ideas will help you in your quest to attract and support monarch butterflies.
Which ideas will you try to help make this your best monarch season ever? Please share your 2018 plans in the comment section below…