It is National Pollinator Week! This week celebrates the ecosystem services provided by all pollinators including butterflies, bees, hummingbirds, bats, beetles, moths, small mammals, flies and wasps. Pollinator’s perform a vital role in flowering plant reproduction and are necessary for the production of fruits and vegetables in the garden! Monarch butterflies are an iconic migrating pollinator species that is in trouble. Over the last 10 years monarch butterfly populations have declined 90%. Factors contributing to monarch butterfly decline include habitat loss, herbicide resistant GMOs, increased pesticide usage in monoculture agriculture, weather extremes, deforestation in overwintering habitats. In the face of these challenges monarch butterflies need all the help they can get.
Why is Milkweed so Important?
Monarchs migrate from Canada to their overwintering grounds in Mexico and back each year. During their 4,000 to 7,000 mile trip, monarchs need places to stop, rest, and eat along the way. We can help the monarchs by providing spaces within our gardens for monarchs to rest, recharge and lay eggs. Milkweed is the only host for monarch larvae making it a critical component of any monarch space. Milkweed comes in many varieties. We recommend planting multiple varieties of milkweed in groupings. Planting multiple varieties increases that bloom at different times widens the window that your garden will attract and provide for monarchs and other pollinator species. Each milkweed variety has different ideal growing conditions. This week Hook’s will be giving away a pollinator plant with each purchase and tomorrow the giveaway plant will be a silky mix milkweed plant! This annual sun-loving variety thrives in well draining, moderately dry soils. Silky mix features bright gold and scarlet blooms that are both beautiful and attract monarch butterflies.
Ways to help the Monarch butterflies
Milkweed isn’t the only part of building a monarch way station. Other important factors to consider when planning a monarch or pollinator garden are planting a variety of nectar producing plants and eliminating or minimizing the use of pesticides. While milkweed is the only host plant for monarch larvae, nectar is the source of food for adult monarchs (and many other pollinators too!). We recommend planting a variety of nectar plants for continuous blooms throughout the season. Here at Hook’s we have a number of pollinator attracting plants such as vermillionaire and cosmos. These pollinator friendly plants and many more will be labeled throughout the greenhouse with signs that indicate which pollinators each plant attracts.
In addition to providing consistent sources of food for both juvenile and adult monarchs, eliminating pesticides is a critical step in creating a pollinator friendly space. Chemical pesticides can be harmful to pets and children, and kill beneficial insects such as pollinators (Monarchs!) and natural predators of pests. Integrated pest management (IPM) approaches pest control from a combination of preventative measures, organic control options, and uses conventional pesticides as a last resort. Gardening techniques such as companion planting, cover crops, and crop rotation can help decrease the frequency of pest problems. Other organic control options such as physical barriers, biological control methods and less toxic sprays can be used to prevent and treat pest infestations.
Other ways to help monarchs include supporting monarch conservation, spreading the word about what we can do to help and encouraging public land managers to create more monarch and pollinator friendly habitats. Roadsides are the perfect place for milkweed to grow and milkweed can add a pop of color to these typically droll spaces.
Milkweed is Toxic!
Be aware that milkweed is toxic to pets, livestock and humans. The white sap that gives milkweed its name is toxic. Fortunately, it also doesn’t taste good and is harmful when consumed in large quantities. Most animals will avoid it because of its taste. If you’re worried about milkweed’s toxicity, we recommend planting it in an area that your pets and children are unlikely to traverse. Additionally, we recommend telling children that it is a poisonous plant.
Stop by Hook’s to check out our selection of pollinator attracting plants and get a free pollinator plant with every purchase! Our knowledgeable staff will be happy to help find the perfect plants to create a Monarch friendly garden!