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.
But in 2018, a second dip in the population is disappointing, and more troubling…
Although multiple factors are involved, the low turnout is being attributed to an active hurricane season that produced three eastern hurricanes and two tropical storms…and warm fall temperatures that have historically meant lower migration numbers.
It’s difficult to believe the masses of monarchs would fly into the path of violent storms, but I suppose it’s possible. We know (approximately) where they end up in Mexico, but much of the flight behavior down remains a mystery.
I’m hoping it’s possible they’re missing monarchs that migrated to other areas in the region where they haven’t previously overwintered…or that the count is off.
Did you know, scientists measure the population in hectares but one hectare can hold between 10 and 50 million monarchs…that creates a massive margin of error.
So, what does this mean for the 2018 monarch season? 🤔
While monarch numbers have plunged over the past 2 decades, 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.
Most of us are familiar with the usual suspects for the monarchs’ population decline: habitat destruction, pollinator-killing pesticides, milkweed-killing herbicides, 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 specific pesticides and herbicides are killing off pollinators, farmers will choose the needs of their families and businesses over the needs of milkweed butterflies.
Why not focus on the problems and solutions that you have direct control over?
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…