Each fall, millions of monarch butterflies migrate from Canada across the United States and through Texas to Mexico where they overwinter. While this great journey is not as famous as the African migration of wildebeest and zebra, it is one of the mightiest feats of nature by some of the smallest creatures.
Despite their herculean efforts, monarchs need help. Their population is dwindling due to habitat loss. A proper monarch habitat consists of nectar plants and host plants. Monarchs need milkweed; it is the only host plant upon which they lay their eggs. And monarch larva/caterpillars feed exclusively on milkweed leaves.
However, milkweed is disappearing due to development (subdivisions, shopping centers, etc.), mowing along roadsides and the widespread use of herbicides on crops and in pastures. Nectar sources are also limited for similar reasons. Monarchs need nectar to give them the energy they need to fly long distances, which ensures their life cycle.
How can you help? First, grow mostly native plants, which are better adapted to the area’s weather and soils. Native plants are the preferred choice of food and shelter for native wildlife. When possible, plant milkweed native to Texas, such as antelope horn milkweed or green milkweed. If you grow tropical milkweed, cut it back in fall to encourage migration. Second, try to mimic nature in your landscape by using diverse plant species. The more diverse, the better for wildlife such as birds and bees.
You may also create monarch waystations in parks, nature centers, along roadsides and on other land parcels where the creatures will not be at risk for harm. Waystations provide the resources necessary for monarchs to produce successive generations and sustain their migration. They include both host and nectar plants. There is no minimum or maximum space requirement, although MonarchWatch.org mentions 100 sq. ft. as the optimum size. Other tips for creating a waystation include:
Site: Locate the station in an area that receives at least six hours of sun per day. Select an area with good drainage to avoid root rot. Milkweeds and nectar plants perform best in lighter soils (low clay content). The plants should be close together, but not crowded, to shelter the butterflies from predators and the elements.
Plant selection: A waystation should have at least 10 milkweed plants, which may include one or more species. Since various milkweed mature and flower at different times, increasing the number of milkweed species at an individual waystation will boost monarch use. Plant nectar sources so that they bloom sequentially spring through fall. Include annual, biennial and perennial plants. To sustain the waystation, perform typical garden chores, such as weeding and mulching.
For more information on protecting monarchs, attend Lake Granbury Master Gardener’s Romancing the Monarch educational, fun event on Saturday, Oct. 7, 1:30 p.m. – 4 p.m. at the group’s Demonstration Garden, 1410 W. Pearl St., behind Hood County Annex 1. The festival includes activities for all ages including crafts, monarch tagging, a live butterfly release and garden tours. Admission is free.
For answers to your horticulture questions, please call the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, Hood County at 817-579-3280 or go online to visit lakegranburymastergardeners.org.
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