Monday, September 9, 2013

Helping Monarchs: Plant Your Own Milkweed

Over Labor Day Weekend, we enjoyed a great visit to a neighboring fair.
 One of my favorite exhibits there is a parks area where all kind of natural living is exhibited, everything from choosing a great hunting dog, making maple syrup, archery and wildlife shows.  This year we happened to attend a butterfly tagging workshop for Monarchs. Like many of you, I love butterflies and try to plant as many flower varieties as I can to attract them.  I found out that this year though, the butterfly population was way down.

I found out that it was because of two reasons.  The first is loss of habitat.  That of course is understandable because of cultivation, building, herbicides and so on.  The second is because our weather pattern in the northeast last year was very dry and it led to the lack of enough plant material to host the monarchs.  So, the weather last year affected the population this year, including the monarchs overwintering in Mexico.

The naturalist showing how to tag a monarch.

How do they know about the populations and where the monarchs travel?  It comes from the tagging program.  Basically tagging monarchs is putting an ID sticker on one of their wings which doesn't interfere with their flight and helps other naturalists to track the population and it's health. Who tags them?  Anyone who would like to... I'm in.  

Obviously not everyone wants to chase butterflies with a net and place a sticker on them, so how else can we help?

Butterfly Garden at the Nature Center Display

Well, that takes us back to the first problem facing the monarchs...loss of habitat.  This is an easy remedy.  There's only one plant the monarchs need as a host plant and this is milkweed.  Milkweed comes in many different species including, tropical, swamp, showy, purple, as well as common milkweed.  
Milkweed gets its name from the white latex type sap that comes when you break any part of the plant.  This sap must be milk to monarchs because it's their number one caterpillar food of choice!

One of two caterpillars we found at our community garden.

You can help the monarch by including Milkweed in your garden space.  We don't actually plant ours because as it is a weed, it comes up by itself.  We just let it some plants come up in our community garden space for the butterflies. Remember, common milkweed is a, well, a weed.  It will get very invasive if it's left to itself in fertile soil.  So, we keep some around but weed the rest.  
This year, we actually found some monarch caterpillars on our milkweed!  Not just one, mind you, but two bit fat caterpillars!  It's the best kind of nursery to have...we really did it by not interfering with nature's process too much.  Allow a few plants to grow and bloom and let the butterflies do the rest. 

This monarch caterpillar is just about ready to pupate!

Experts suggest if you would like to grow your own common milkweed, try planting it in pots so it doesn't get take over your garden or buy some more exotic varieties that aren't quite as vigorous to reproduce.  You can find some more info here.

As for us. we have found the perfect balance by letting it grow where it's already at and enjoy helping out these amazing butterfly wonders.  Here's hoping you can help you too.

First: Identify milkweed in your area or property and allow some to grow.
Second:  Purchase some special varieties of milkweed to grow in your garden space.
Third: Plant lots of flower varieties like zinnias, marigolds and echinacea to feed the mature butterflies.
Fourth: Limit your use of any herbicides or pesticides in your garden space to encourage these winged wonders.

Thanks for reading!!  To find out more about tagging Monarchs, go to
to order tagging kits and nets.  Be blessed!

Have you noticed many Monarchs in your area? 

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