The plight of the Monarchs

They are gentle in their movements and so beautiful to watch on a hot summer day. They never seem to be in a hurry like so many of us are today. And, if you are lucky, you can make your own Monarch butterfly house, feed them, watch them become chrysalises and then after much time and patience, get to watch them grow from a wondrous caterpillar into a beautiful butterfly.

These gentle creatures of our planet, our gardens, need our help more desperately then they ever have. The word coming out of Mexico is that the population of Monarch butterflies is seriously low.

They once covered 50 square acres of land during their winter break, and now they are only covering about three acres. If you have been watching and noticing these beautiful creatures in your own garden, this probably won’t surprise you.

We have seen fewer numbers of Monarchs in and around our gardens for the past two or three years.

The loss of milkweed plants, in combination with drought conditions, is not helping these tiny miracle creatures. I remember when I was a kid; we walked the beans and yes, sometimes corn, pulling up milkweed if it was growing within the rows. It still grew abundantly in the ditches and alongside the edges of our grove. This is no longer true.

In fact, when I write about milkweed plants and how beautiful they really are, I get a landslide of questions from people who would like to purchase the seeds from the plants that we just allow to grow up in our flower gardens.

Milkweed plants are a really good start, but you can also plant other plants to help out our winged friends. You cannot provide just food for the adult butterflies; you must also provide food for the caterpillar form as well.

Butterfly caterpillars mostly feed on leaves of plants, but once in a while, just to keep us guessing, they will also dine on the reproductive parts of flowers or seeds.

There are many plants you can plant besides locating some milkweed and allowing it to grow among your other flowers. Purple coneflower, Dill, hollyhock, Joe-Pye weed, Globe centaurea, Peony, Turtlehead, Swamp milkweed, Yarrow, Queen Anne’s lace, Petunia, Mountain bluet, Annual asters, Autumn Joy Sedum, Rock cress, French marigold, Happy Returns daylily, Blanket flower, Nasturtium, Goldenrod and gayfeather.

There are a few other considerations that are easy to do as well. They also need protection or shelter in order to feed and lay their eggs.

A row of shrubs works well around a butterfly garden in order to give them protection. A bowl of wet sand or creating a mud puddle in your garden will also help attract butterflies and encourage butterfly puddling. In our garden, when it comes to dill in particular, we always plant extra since, for example, Black Swallowtail caterpillars can really go crazy when it comes to this plant. So, we plant some for them and plant some for us. We also need to make sure that we know what we are squishing. Yes, that is right, squishing.

You might mistake a “good” caterpillar for one that is a pest. A good caterpillar or insect book will come in handy or queue up some pictures on your mobile device to help you determine what gets to stay and what has to go, while you are out looking at your garden this summer.

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