MATER GARDENER — Secrets revealed of a personal Monarch butterfly habitat

Published 12:02 am Wednesday, July 12, 2023

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Gardeners, it’s hot outside, so schedule gardening chores early in the morning or late in the evening, drink plenty of water and keep a sweat towel handy … enough said.

A quick few words if you planted a spring vegetable garden, as most are struggling now or if like mine, a pleasant ‘recent’ memory, with all plant remnants removed.

It’s time to top dress each garden bed with amendments to add structure and to reinvigorate the soil, by adding worm castings, composted manure, topsoil, and compost. Use a broadfork, garden fork or spade to turn the soil amendments (these garden implements are less damaging to the microbiome created in the garden spot) into the soil.

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Create a homogeneous mixture throughout the soil by turning them into the soil, moderately. Doing this will allow nutrients to be readily available for ‘replanting’ garden beds, since some nutrients (micronutrients) might be in short supply or completely depleted due to the spring gardens’ harvest!

Plant a summer garden with vegetables that can handle Texas’ heat, such as peas (cow & pinkeye, purple hull, black eye), okra, Chinese long bean, and various varieties of squash, and numerous melons.

Informed gardeners understand the Monarch butterfly population is collapsing, drastically dwindling due to environmental pressure created from habitat loss and increased (incorrect) pesticide application.

We all hold a share of the blame but now is the time for each of us to help them, one planting at a time. SETX each of us needs ‘wake up’ because this is our problem too! Let’s help these beloved pollinators before it’s too late! How can you help them?

Start by learning about them and other pollinators. Make time to read about them, learn the plants they need to survive and reproduce. Stop using pesticides indiscriminately and be willing to ‘sacrifice’ a few fruits and vegetables to vectors (insects), and if necessary to control vectors, begin with organic products (typically least invasive approach) before choosing a more dramatic approach.

Always follow pesticide use labeling instructions-explicitly! Using more than necessary is detrimental to our beneficial insects and pollinators!

Let’s begin creating a personal Monarch butterfly habitat, starting by making our garden areas into a tantalizing feasts, a veritable ‘smorgasbord’ for them. Do this by learning the plants which they require not just for survival but to allow them to thrive.

Begin by adding Monarch-favored plants into each garden area, flower bed, vegetable garden, hanging basket, patio planter and more. Fill the landscape with plants they love and watch your garden come to life, bursting with color!

Monarchs are beautiful and an interesting species of butterfly. They have conspicuous orange and black color patterns that commands attention wherever they fly, and they fly enormous distances along migratory paths.

Their daily travel can be up to 100 miles, which is an amazing feat, considering the diminutive size, weighing about ½ a gram (the approximate weight of two sunflower seeds)!

They migrate from North to South America and return, staying in warm environments because they can’t over-winter in cold climates. Monarchs are the only butterfly species, which have a 2-way migratory path identical to many bird species.

This is why providing them with food sources along their journey is critical for their survival but more importantly allows them to reproduce!

Setting the Stage: Plants that Attract Monarchs

Monarchs require an abundance of nectar daily, as they are heavy feeders and must visit hundreds of flowers daily to meet their carbohydrate requirements. As they fly between blooming plants, they help us by distributing pollen along the way. There’s no secret to luring Monarchs to your garden, simply provide them with the nectar-rich plants necessary to survive and reproduce! Here is a list of a few plants to entice Monarch butterflies to dwell in your own personal butterfly habitat.

Plants Which Attract Monarchs

WILKWEED — is considered one of the most beneficial plants to Monarchs for numerous reasons. It’s a major food source for adults but also used by them to lay their eggs. When the eggs hatch, forming larvae, the caterpillars consume the milkweed plant, readily devouring the plants foliage.

LANTANA — is another ‘instant’ food source for migrating monarchs needing nourishment. Fortunately (SETX), Lantana is a perennial plant for us, providing near constant flush of blooms they find irresistible. I plant Lantana in hanging baskets, planters, along pathways, even tucked into vegetable garden spaces. Guarantee you’ll notice the increased numbers of pollinators visiting your garden spaces!

VERBENA — with its many colors and hues brings in beneficial insects but purple-colored flowers are great for attracting Monarch butterflies. They are encouraged by the sweet scent and plenty of nectar.

CONEFLOWER — especially purple coneflower is excellent at attracting monarch butterflies. The over-sized bloom, and vibrant color entices them during migration, while also producing a large amount of nectar and pollen.

BUTTERFLY BUSH — this shrub is a butterfly magnet, but also attracts bees and hummingbirds. The plant is carbohydrate-rich, a powerhouse (due to the copious amount of nectar produced) which Monarchs find intoxicating!

COREOPSIS — needs to receive 8 hours of sunlight and prefers well-drained soil, though it will grow in less-than-optimal conditions with little fertilization needed to remain healthy & vibrant. Butterflies will show their appreciation!

COSMOS — are annual plants, providing lots of blooms, which are colorful additions to any garden space. Daisy-like species that are extremely easy to grow from seeds, requiring little to no maintenance, and even thrive in adverse growing conditions.

SUNFLOWERS — every butterfly species is attracted to sunflowers. They are easy for butterflies to locate, with open flower heads for easy feeding. They are easy and inexpensive to plant from seed. Plant them throughout your garden spaces to create a visually stunning backdrop while enjoying the beneficial visitors to the garden!

So long for now fellow gardeners, let’s go out and grow ourselves a greener, more sustainable world, one plant at a time! Readers, thank you for the questions! Keep sending them to me.

John Green is a Texas Certified Master Gardener. Email him at