Planning A Monarch Waystation
It's fall and it's time to plan and plant. For Monarchs!
Monarchs have an impassioned following partly because of our admiration for the feats of the beast, so to speak. Here is a critter so delicate you find it plastered to the grills of cars at much higher rates than deer or skunks (though perhaps not opossums and squirrels)
and yet it is still hanging in there. Hanging in there after migrating for thousands of miles (from Canada and the U.S. to Mexico). Hanging in there despite millions of acres of habitat lost each year. Hanging in there despite the widespread application of herbicides and pesticides (yes, they BOTH do harm) that kill millions of monarchs every year--most at the egg or larval stage.
Only about 10% of all eggs laid make it to adulthood.
It is getting harder for the monarch to "hang in there."
When it comes to monarchs, you really only need to provide two things: food and shelter. The trickier part is that you need food and shelter for two different life phases! "Baby" monarchs need one thing and adults need something else entirely.
The commonality to both phases is one of the hardest for home gardeners to give up: their RoundUp and various pesticides.
Either of these in use is going to cause even the best planted milkweed bed to be more of a death trap than a four-star hotel. These chemicals migrate to the soil and are absorbed by plants -- not necessarily in levels high enough to kill the plants, but certainly enough to kill the caterpillars or weaken them so that they are susceptible to viruses and bacteria.
So let's start with the adults. As adults, monarchs need shelter in the form of evergreens to get protection from storms and predators. Just as for birds, clusters of evergreens provide the best resource. If you have a windy site (we do!), typically the wind comes from a specific direction. Ours comes from the southwest, nine times out of ten. So our monarch areas are set on the north side of the house to try to use the house as a wind block. Without shrubs, however, the wind would come around the house with so much force we'd probably never see a monarch! Fortunately, we have a whole cluster of shrubs (deciduous) on the west side of the house to diffuse the wind turbulence, leaving a nicely calm area in a sunny spot available for nectar and host plants. So shelter, for adults, needs to be an area protected from wind--for nectaring, for the laying of eggs and for protection from storms. Be sure to include some evergreens.
Shelter for larvae includes the milkweed they need to consume to survive and places to crawl to to pupate. Some of our caterpillars have only gone as far as the daylilies next to the
, but most have traveled far enough that we really, really have to look to find them. We have found them in switchgrass, which is also in our "meadow" area, and on the pink turtlehead, which is in our rain garden. Both of these happen to be natives. Imagine that!
Nearly all of the milkweed (with the exception of swamp milkweed) require full sun (at least six hours) and well-drained soil. Because of this, we actually moved our
a couple of weeks ago. We had it in a sheltered, sunny spot, but the soil was very heavy and made it hard for the plant to perform its best. So they have been moved to a new spot in the meadow and the soil has been amended with
and compost to ensure good drainage. Swamp milkweed can tolerate saturated soils. See the link on Flora of the week at the bottom of the post for more info on milkweed! Milkweed is the food you MUST HAVE to support monarch egg-laying, as it is the only thing the caterpillars will/can eat. Milkweed nectar will also feed the adults. Adult monarchs will make use of many, many nectar plants (check the Power Plants link), so you can plant a variety to ensure you have blooms from spring through fall.
Some recommendations: Common Milkweed, Swamp Milkweed, Butterfly Weed, ironweed, phlox, salvia, joepye weed, any and all rudbeckia, any and all coneflower, marigolds, blue mist spirea (C
) and buttonbush (
). Buttonbush is a good combo for the swamp milkweed, as they both like moisture. These last two are shrubs--right now is a GREAT time to plant them! And if you can track down any of the perennials, if you get them in the ground now, they'll have time to really establish themselves before your spring monarchs start their marathon.
Now. If you are impassioned enough (I know you're out there!), you can set up an official Monarch Waystation. A waystation must contain at least six milkweed plants--any variety. Given the dozens easily acquired from nurseries, you have no excuse. ;) For more information on Monarch Waystations, be sure to check out my research links for Monarch Watch, a tremendous resource for monarch lovers. Good luck planning your waystation!
Other posts on monarchs here at NativeBackyard: