I am sure most of you are aware of the decline in the Monarch butterfly population. I just read in USA Today the following: "We need a national priority of planting milkweed to assure that this magical migration of monarchs will continue for future generations," source: USA today.
I am almost in tears as I write this. This is a story I wrote a couple years ago but I wanted to share it with you and I would appreciate it if you would share it with others. I have experienced such joy with my butterfly gardens, but last summer I did not see a single Monarch in my garden. All winter I have been driving my co-workers and friends crazy by talking about the Monarchs and telling them to plant milkweed. I don't think anyone takes me seriously, but I am telling you - this is serious and as a team we can make a difference!
I challenge you (whether you garden or not) to plant milkweed this year. Lots of it!
"Join the growing effort to bring back the monarchs by adding milkweed to their gardens and balconies this spring, and taking action in their communities by organizing pollinator-friendly corridors throughout their neighbourhoods — especially in parks and schools and along roadsides and hydro and railways." source: David Suzuki
Here's my story ...
When I think of butterflies many words come to mind – peace, tranquility, innocence, fragile, beautiful, colourful, majestic, graceful.
When I first started gardening I would see the odd butterfly in my garden and watching them always fascinated me. Several years ago I did some research on creating a butterfly garden to attract more butterflies. Better Homes and Gardens is always my go-to website and I started there.
That year I bought several Asclepias tuberosa plants (commonly known as milkweed or butterfly weed), as milkweed is the only host plant that Monarch butterflies lay eggs on. Milkweed is also a food source for the emerging caterpillars. Anyway, back to my story. I planted the milkweed at the back of one garden because I didn’t really want to be grossed out if I actually had caterpillars and if I didn’t get me some caterpillars I certainly didn’t want orange flowers showing in my garden. Yes, I personally don’t allow orange flowers in my garden. The plants were young that year and I didn’t have any caterpillars nor did I notice an increase in Monarchs.
The following year I quickly cleaned out my flowerbeds in the spring and then concentrated on pulling out the rest of my grass in the front yard to plant even more flowers. (Side note: no more grass – no more dandelions – EVER!) Then I left for Europe for a few weeks to see the lavender fields of Provence, France. When I got home my gardens were trashed and I began a massive weeding job. I was crawling around the back of one bed and out of the corner of my eye I spotted something moving on a plant. Then I saw more movement. Completely freaked out, I ran out of there, sat on a bench, took a big breath and realized it was them – they had come. I had been hoping for them and waiting for them and they had finally come. I almost wanted to cry. I ran inside and grabbed my camera. These puppies were completely fascinating to watch. They were the size of my index finger and I swear they ate so much milkweed that I could watch them grow as quickly as you can watch Hops vine grow in your garden.
I got on the phone later that day and phoned all my garden pals to tell them the news. I told all my neighbours and all of my friends and they all came to see them. I even told the hydro guy working up on the pole in my back-lane. I was so excited that I yelled at him “Hey, you ever see a Monarch caterpillar?” He came down the pole and visited with my caterpillars. I was so proud, kinda like a new mom showing off her first born. I thought he was just humouring me by showing interest, but a few days later he showed up with his grandson to teach him about the Monarch cycle of life. It was really cool.
Then crisis hit. My pals were running out of milkweed. They ate every single leaf on every single plant. I called every greenhouse in town and they were all sold out of milkweed. I frantically started to research what else I could feed them. My only hope was cucumbers. I quickly got over my fear of actually touching them and picked them up and moved them to the ground where I had placed the cucumbers. No luck, they turned their noses up to it.
Almost in tears, I sought the advise of my neighbour, Arlette. She is really into nature and flowers and critters. I knew I could count on her for advise and my spider instincts were right. She knew of a house that had tons of milkweed, so off we went. I dug a hole in the ground and buried a glass filled with water and put the milkweed stems in it. I saw hope for my pals.
A couple days later I came home and the caterpillars were gone. I assumed they had turned into a pupa and in 10-12 days they would emerge into beautiful Monarchs. Although I searched high and low, I never did locate any pupa. I watched the days pass on the calendar and I swear that after about 10 days I noticed an increase in my Monarch populaton. I spent the rest of the summer watching them and learning about their habits.
As quickly as they had come, the Monarchs left and I knew that they were making the long journey to Mexico where they would spend their winter hibernation.
I have many perennials in my garden that Monarchs and other butterflies like. The only advise I really have to offer you is to plant in masses. Make an entire garden area of these perennials so that the Monarchs will have a feast. I find that Monarchs definitely prefer my purple coneflowers and I have about 30 plants in my garden.
I promise you that if you plant them, they will come – and it will be magical.
The photo below is not a Monarch but it is the only real close up I had. Pretend it is a Monarch, look him in the eye and say "yes, I can help save you and I can plant milkweed". Dramatic - yes. Crucial - Yes!
Plants that Monarchs love:
Annuals: Milkweed, Alyssum, Cosmos, Heliotrope, Marigolds, Nasturtium, Salvia, Zinnia Biennials, Red Clover, Queen Anne’s Lace, Sweet William
Perennials: Milkweed, Asters, Bee Balm, Butterfly bush, Coreopsis, Purple Coneflower, Hollyhock, Lavender, Lupine, Phlox, Black-eyed Susan, Salvia, Shasta Daisy, Violets, Yarrow
Two great slideshows from Better Homes and Gardens are How to make a Butterfly garden and Top plants for your Butterfly garden. If you snoop around the site, you will even find butterfly garden plans.
Another great source of information is http://www.monarch-butterfly.com/.
Thanks for taking the time to read this!