Friday, June 02, 2006

Butterfly Time Once Again

By Christina VanGinkel

In my email inbox this morning, was a picture of a leaf. Upon reading the email that accompanied it, that was from a good friend, I looked at the leaf again and that time saw a tiny speck on it. I can be assured that over the coming days and weeks, this friend will send along more pictures of this and other leaves, as the speck of the egg grows and devours the leaves on its way to becoming a Monarch butterfly. We happen to live in an area where the Monarchs migrate to from down south of the border. When they arrive back up north, we can always expect to be front seat spectators to the wonders of life in one of its most simple forms. The butterflies lay their eggs; the eggs then grow into caterpillars, and eventually turn into adult Monarchs, in time to migrate back down south so that they can make the return trip next year in this continuing trip of evolving life.

As usual, whenever I see my first hint of the Monarchs return, I am reminded that it is time to double check that my garden is in prime form to both attract and keep these amazing creatures as standard visitors in my yard and garden. One of the biggest mistakes that many gardeners make when they plant a garden full of what they presume will attract them, is that they do not take the time to make sure that they have enough variations in the timeframe of when the flowers in their garden will be productive. Monarch love nectar, and even if you have a garden full of nectar procuring flowers, if they are all in full bloom at the same time, there will soon be nothing left to keep the butterflies around. For this simple reason alone, it is important to make sure that you plant enough variety that you will have flowers blooming from early spring through late summer. To backtrack a bit here too, no garden will ever be home to an egg laying Monarch, no matter how bountiful the nectar-filled flowers are, if it does not contain milkweed. Monarchs must have milkweed for which to lay their eggs. You might end up with a few visiting Monarchs without the milkweed, but some of the most joy I have ever received from watching these miraculous little wonders, is when they alight atop a milkweed plant to lay an egg and the evolution of life starts all over again.

I once explained this to a friend who was new to gardening and wished to make her garden as attractive to butterflies as she could. The following spring, she called me up in a panic that her milkweed was being all chewed up and she wanted to know what she should spray on it to kill all of the bugs. I calmly explained to her that her chewed up milkweed was exactly what she wanted. It meant that she had succeeded in attracting egg lying Monarchs, and the tiny 'bugs' were actually the eggs. Every time I think of how close she came to spraying some insecticide on her milkweed I cringe, and it also reminds me how too often new gardeners are so quick to spray whatever it is they do not believe belongs in their garden.

Monarchs also love to sit on rocks and other structures early in the morning, so having some prominent rocks or statues placed about, out where the early morning sun can reach and start to warm the stone early is an ideal way of making sure you have the utmost possibility to see the Monarchs that are about. If they have no place to sit and stretch their early morning wings, they may soon be moving on to more friendly gardens.

Water is also a good addition. While they will most commonly get the water they need from the dew from your plants, fresh water in a birdbath or two placed about will only add to the positive attraction of your garden to the butterflies.

If you are interested in attracting Monarchs to your garden, check out a book on the subject, such as Butterfly Gardening: Creating Summer Magic in Your Garden, put out by the Smithsonian Institution and available through outlets such as

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