All summer long I have been watching butterflies float from bloom to bloom treating my garden as a nectar smorgasbord. From the yellow Eastern tiger swallowtail to the iconic orange and black Monarch. Sometimes they’ll linger for minutes, other times for hours. All I have to do is to bring their favorite foods to the buffet line!
Following the purchase of our home during the polar vortex of 2014, my husband and I made the transition from a front lawn filled with grass to a garden oasis filled with edible food, native plants, and habitat for birds, butterflies, and other small wildlife (luckily the deer haven’t followed suit – yet)!
At the top of the list was creating a Monarch Waystation. With a migration that stretches from central Mexico to southern Canada, monarchs need stopping points along their 2,000 mile journey to fuel up and to continue the survival of future generations. While adult butterflies can get their nectar fuel from a number of flowers, they can only lay their eggs on milkweed and the larva (caterpillar) can only eat milkweed. Similar to humans, as adults we can consume a variety foods, but as infants, we survive on a limited number of foods.
Perhaps in the past year, you have heard of the Cincinnati Nature Center’s Milkweed to Monarchs Initiative in which free packets of milkweed seed were available for consumers at local businesses (i.e., Graeter’s, LaRosa’s, REI). In May, when the White House unveiled its National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators, the Monarch was given specific mention with a plan to increase its overwintering numbers to 225 million by 2020.
Why the sudden notoriety? With experts estimating a 90% decline in the eastern population of Monarchs over the past 20 years, the overwintering population in Mexico hit its owest recorded level in winter 2013-2014. Among the reasons for its decline is the significant decrease in milkweed availability. The organization, Monarch Watch, estimates that 2.2 million acres of potential milkweed, thus Monarch habitat, is lost in the United States every year. The loss is due in part to the conversion of land for development and agricultural practices and the increased efficiency of herbicides for non-crop plants.
The good news is that we can create flourishing habitats for monarchs, even in urban spaces! The organization, Monarch Watch, which developed the certifiable Monarch Waystation program, recommends the following guidelines for creating a monarch habitat: – Sun Exposure. Butterflies and butterfly plants need lots of sun; therefore, Monarch Waystations need to be located in an area that receives at least six hours of sun a day.
- Milkweed Plants. It is best to have at least 10 plants, made up of two or more species; however, a large number of plants (more than 10) of one species is sufficient.
- Nectar Plants. By providing nectar sources that bloom at different times, your Monarch Waystation can provide resources for monarchs throughout the breeding season and the migration in the fall. Some good native nectar plants include: Black-eyed Susan, coneflower, liatris, aster, Joe-Pye weed, and goldenrod.
- Minimize the use of pesticides. You don’t want to have a dinner party and then accidentally poison your guests!
If you are able to meet the above requirements, you can submit an application for an Official Monarch Waystation, name your waystation, be listed on the national registry, and install an official waystation sign. My niece helped us name ours: Rosie’s Monarch Resort! For more information, go to MonarchWatch.org.
Autumn is a great time to get a head start on creating a monarch habitat. With mosquitoes and unpleasant temperatures at bay, you can take your time sowing seeds and/or putting in your milkweed plants. Of the 13 milkweeds native to Ohio, swamp milkweed and butterfly weed are the most commonly found in the nursery trade and are best in smaller garden spaces. Common milkweed will gladly take over, so choose accordingly. Regardless of which milkweed(s) you choose, they are all perennials and will eagerly return year after year without any pampering.
Keep in mind, whether you plant one milkweed or many, no effort is too small to have a positive impact!
By Maria Weyler
Maria Weyler has been a Northside resident for nearly 6 years with her husband, Kris. She is a member of the Village Green Foundation, where she started a second Monarch Waystation this year. Maria is a speech-language pathologist at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and volunteers internationally with Operation Smile.