Let’s roll out our Southern hospitality for the monarchs. Our guests from Canada and all states east of the Rocky Mountains will converge on Texas in September through early November on their flights to the oyamel fir forests in Central Mexico for the winter. Their destination is in the mountains, 2 miles above sea level. None of them have made the up to 3,000 mile flight south before. This epic migration has no comparison.
The trip used to be easier. Mother Nature and the environment have changed, making the trip much more hazardous. Their population has declined more than 90% in the last several decades. The monarch is on the verge of extinction. It may be too late for recovery.
Several factors contribute to the monarchs’ decline, including deforestation that has destroyed some of their overwintering habitat, extreme weather conditions and decline of milkweed.
Milkweed, the monarch’s only host plant, has significantly decreased because of the urbanization of farm and ranch land in the U.S., and changes in farming and ranching practices in the U.S., such as the use of pesticides.
According to the Center for Biological Diversity, monarchs have lost 165 million acres of breeding habitat in the U.S. because of herbicides and development.
If we continue these trends, the monarch is doomed. However, we can become part of the solution by welcoming these visitors as they pass through our great state and assuring their needs will be met for a safe journey. Federal and state agencies are working together and request our assistance in the following:
Change farming and ranching practices
Allow pesticide-free spaces to plant native nectar plants and milkweed, such as turning rows, meadows and private roadsides.
Plant pesticide-free nectar gardens with blooms from spring through fall
The nectar provides monarchs energy for their journey. A 100-square-foot nectar garden in full sun would be ideal, but one can also simply add nectar flowers to existing gardens.
Since butterflies flit from one area to another, plant one species of flower in a clump — maybe three to seven plants — for high visibility. Add several other species nearby in similar clusters. Choose various heights and colors.
Since fall migration is quickly approaching, planting live plants may be a better choice than seeds for 2021.
Native plants are preferred. They require less maintenance, are less likely to disrupt the ecosystem and can thrive without pesticides. Although new hybrids display gorgeous blooms, many of our native plants are preferred nectar sources.
Assist our visitors by including shelter, windbreak and a puddling area of moist sand in your garden.
Plant native milkweed within your nectar garden
Monarch butterflies lay eggs exclusively on milkweed, so the tiny caterpillars have access to food as soon as they hatch.
Without an ample supply of milkweed in Texas, there will be no monarchs in the eastern U.S. The topic for Gardeners’ Dirt on July 30 will be selecting appropriate milkweed for the Victoria area.
Multiply your efforts
Teach others what you have learned. Get friends, schools and the community involved in creating monarch habitats. It will take all of us to rescue the monarchs.