Creating Waystations to Support Monarch Butterflies

monarch butterfly

The Monarch Butterfly has been added to The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as endangered. Threatened by habitat loss and climate change, this butterfly is known for its spectacular migration each year across America and into Mexico. September through October, these small insects take flight to embark on one of the world’s greatest natural wonders, a truly epic migration. Traveling well over 1,000 miles, and up to 100 miles in a single day, these international travelers return to the same forest in Southern California and central Mexico every year, and even visit the same trees their ancestors landed on. With a migration like that, it’s no wonder the Monarch Butterfly has been referred to as the ‘King’ of butterflies, hence their name, Monarch. 

But nature is all about balance. While these fascinating butterflies are beautiful to gaze upon as they flutter by our flowers, seemingly without a care, they are extremely beneficial to our backyards and beyond – pollinating an abundance of blooms and wildflowers as they forage for nectar.

You can help the declining Monarch Butterfly population at home, at school, at a park or even at work!

What can you do to help? One thing we can do to help support Monarch Butterflies is to create a certified Monarch Waystation in your home gardens as well as at businesses, schools and parks. Monarch Waystations are simply “places that provide resources necessary for Monarchs to produce successive generations and sustain their migration.” 

Why Create a Monarch Waystation?

A small gesture, a small act has the ability to create a reaction that makes a difference! Today, we have the knowledge, resources, and ability to help the struggling population of the Monarch Butterfly. By creating a Monarch Waystation you will be that ripple of change to ensure the Monarch Butterfly maintains its place in our world and in our gardens. 

How do I create a Monarch Waystation?

The beauty of a Monarch Waystation is it can easily be integrated into your existing garden or landscape. Large space isn’t a requirement, so even if you have a small garden, you can still help. Ideally, a Monarch Waystation should be a cumulative total of 100 square feet, which can be split into several sections and can even include containers. However, certain exposure is a requirement and your Waystation must be located in a sunny spot that receives 6 or more hours of sunlight. 

What do I include in my Monarch Waystation?

The Monarch’s life cycle, which includes the egg, caterpillar, chrysalis and adult butterfly, drives the plants you want to include in your Waystation. By providing these plants and habitat you are ensuring that all the fundamental requirements are met for all the stages of the Monarch Butterflies life cycle.

Host Plants

The Female Monarch is very particular about the plants on which she lays her eggs: Milkweed, and only Milkweed will do. Butterfly Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa), Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) and Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) are native to Michigan and produce small, delicate, fragrant flowers with striking green leaves. The leaves serve as a food source for the caterpillars, with milky sap filled with chemical compounds that provide  protection by making the caterpillar poisonous to potential predators. The nectar-filled flowers also serve as a food source for the adults.

Ideally, you will want to plant at least 10 Milkweed plants made up of at least 2 different species. The more Milkweed, the more Monarchs you’ll attract! If that isn’t an option, at least 10 plants from a single species will work. Butterfly Milkweed and Swamp Milkweed can be found in seed form as well as starter plants in many garden centers like Flowerland. Common Milkweed is generally found only in seed form. Since growing Milkweed from seed can be a little tricky, many gardeners prefer to use the starter plants.

Nectar Plants

Adult Monarchs feed on nectar. When planning your Monarch Waystation, be sure to include all plant types such as annuals, biennials and perennials that bloom successively or continuously throughout the season. Try to incorporate at least 4 species of nectar plants to provide a good variety. When selecting plants to partner with your Milkweed, keep in mind that Butterfly Milkweed prefers dry, well-drained soil. Swamp Milkweed prefers a little more moisture.

Shelter

Monarchs appreciate shelter from predators and from time to time, the elements. Planting Milkweed and nectar plants close together is one way to provide that shelter. However, be careful not to overcrowd your plants. And don’t forget to think big …  if you have the space, nearby trees and shrubs will be much appreciated by the Monarch. 

(Note: If you plan to register or certify your Monarch Waystation with monarchwatch.org, there are specific criteria you will need to follow. See their website for details.)

Sustaining your Monarch Waystation is just as important as establishing it.

Once you’ve established your Monarch Waystation, be sure to keep it in “tip-top” shape so it’s providing the best resources Monarch Butterflies need. As with any garden, you will want to water and feed your new plants, and remove spent stalks and any invasive species popping up. 

The most important thing you can do for a Monarch Waystation is avoid the use of insecticides. Insecticides – even natural or organic varieties – can be harmful to both desirable and undesirable insects, including Monarch Butterflies. Insecticide should be used sparingly, cautiously, and only when absolutely necessary. 

Lend Your Support to the Conservation of the Monarch Butterfly

To get more information on how you can support the declining Monarch Population,
visit Monarch Watch.

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