Female monarch landing on a flowering milkweed.

Want to create monarch heaven?

Last year, I attended a butterfly gardening class, offered for free by a Hennepin County Master Gardener. What I found out was so interesting that I thought I would share it with you.

The monarch butterfly is sometimes called the “milkweed butterfly because its larvae eat the plant.  In fact, milkweed is the only thing the larvae can eat. Monarch butterflies only lay their eggs on milkweed, and caterpillars only eat milkweed.

However, people don’t seem to like milkweed very much and are cutting it down for various reasons. And recently wildfires have destroyed a lot of milkweed. Because many people don’t realize that monarch butterflies need the milkweed in order to survive, the monarch butterfly population is dwindling.

Most monarchs live from two to six weeks as an adult butterfly, but the Monarch’s migration is the key to its yearly life cycle.

Each fall, hundreds of millions of monarch butterflies migrate from the United States and Canada to overwintering areas in Mexico and California where they wait out the winter until conditions favor a return flight in the spring. The monarch migration is truly one of the world’s greatest natural wonders, yet it is threatened by habitat loss in North America – at the overwintering sites and throughout the spring and summer breeding range as well.

Milkweeds and nectar sources are declining due to development and the widespread use of herbicides in croplands, pastures and roadsides. Because 90% of all milkweed/monarch habitats occur within the agricultural landscape, farm practices have the potential to strongly influence monarch populations.

Unfortunately, the remaining milkweed habitats in pastures, hayfields, edges of forests, grasslands, native prairies, and urban areas are not sufficient to sustain the large monarch populations seen in the past.

By creating and maintaining a Monarch Waystation you are contributing to monarch conservation, an effort that will help assure the preservation of the species and the continuation of the spectacular monarch migration phenomenon.

www.monarchwatch.org

When I signed up for the workshop, I was already interested in planting a butterfly garden in my one truly sunny garden space (behind our garage, in the alley). When I caught wind of all of the above facts, I wanted a butterfly garden even more. One that would be an especially welcome sanctuary for Monarchs along their migration route.

In addition to making sure that you provide the right plants as good food sources, there are a few other factors you should consider to make the garden even more appealing to butterflies: They love to bask on a rock or other flat, open surface that heats up in the sun (they’re cold-blooded and cannot internally regulate their body temperature), and they also enjoy congregating around a rain puddle or dish of fruity water to sip in.

If you would like to help raise awareness about the plight of monarchs, you can plant a garden according to guidelines provided by Monarch Watch. And, if you register your garden with them, you can get a sign that designates your garden as an official Monarch Waystation, highlighting for passersby the importance of creating more spaces to support Monarchs as they reproduce and migrate.

They even sell a Waystation Seed Kit ($16) which includes Monarch-loving plants, along with a planting and maintenance plan.

A few photos of my butterfly garden:

Swamp Milkweed

Native Cup Plant (Silphium perfoliatum)

Native Blue Vervain

Brazilian Verbena

My butterfly garden, early Spring

For obvious reasons, this would be a great activity to do with children. You’ll be creating something educational, engaging and essential for the environment together.

Now go on, create Monarch heaven.

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Much more information about gardening for Monarchs and other butterfly species can be found here:

http://www.monarch-butterfly.com/butterfly-kits-for-children.html

http://monarchwatch.org/garden/index.htm

http://www.learner.org/jnorth/tm/monarch/jr/LifeCycle1.html