May 31, 2015

The Monarch Butterfly

Monarch Butterflies weren't on my radar until a couple years ago.  It might be the same for you.  Sadly, these tattered-winged pollinators should be on everyone's radar.


The Xerces Society is a non-profit organization that protects wildlife through the conservation of invertebrates.  Their data from the last decade indicates Monarch butterfly numbers have declined more than 90% over the past 20 years.

This graph shows the area of forest occupied by colonies of hibernating monarchs in Mexico from 1994-2015 (Graph courtesy of the Monarch Joint Venture). In late January 2015, the World Wildlife Fund in Mexico reported that the size of the 2014–2015 overwintering population is the second smallest since monitoring began in 1994.

This graph shows the area of forest occupied by colonies of hibernating monarchs in Mexico from 1994-2015 (Graph courtesy of the Monarch Joint Venture). In late January 2015, the World Wildlife Fund in Mexico reported that the size of the 2014–2015 overwintering population is the second smallest since monitoring began in 1994.

The Center for Biological Diversity and Center for Food Safety, along with the Xerces Society, filed a legal petition to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service to seek protection for the monarch butterfly under the Endangered Species Act.

What can we do?

Plant milkweed.  Monarch's habitats are have been altered for a variety of reasons; construction and pesticides are considered important contributors.  The good news is that each of us can do something to improve the situation. 

Our backyards can be natural habitats for Monarchs. 

Shelter is needed for butterfly development, protection from predators, rain and wind.  Milkweed is required for larvae development and eventual birth of a new butterfly.  It's a host plant where they lay their eggs but also a plant where they obtain nectar for energy during migration.  Consider it a super plant!

There are many varieties in the milkweed family.  It is important to plant the variety that is native to your region to avoid throwing off  butterfly migratory patterns.   Plant milkweed in full sun.  Nearly any type of soil will be fine but it is best to plant milkweed in a place that will not be disturbed for many years. 

For Minnesota, some of the best regional-specific host milkweeds are: Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), Whorled Milkweed (Asclepias verticillata) and Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa). 

Ready to hop on the Asclepias Planting Kick?



June 2, 2015  

Planting Perennials for Butterflies

You know those gardens that have bursts of color through the whole growing season? 

I love those gardens. 

It's my goal to have at least a few beauties blooming from Spring through early Autumn which takes a bit of planning.  There a couple things to rely on for help.  First, when you visit a garden center look around to see what is currently blooming and note the month; it is easiest to sell plants that have beautiful blooms so this is a good indication of when those plants are at their peak.  Note what blooms in early summer, mid-summer and late summer.  Second, read the plant tags.  The tags have helpful information including when blooms can be expected.  

What is pleasing to our eye will also attract butterflies as a steady source of food in the form of nectar.  Look for these perennials, which will return each year, to get those butterflies hanging out in your yard:

Monarda (Bee Balm)

Buddleia (Butterfly Bush)

Eupatorium (Joe Pye Weed)

Phlox (Garden Phlox)

Rudbeckia (Black-eyed Susan)

Achillea (Yarrow)

Coreopsis (Tickseed)

Delphinium (Larkspur)

Dianthus (Sweet William - Pink)

Astilbe (False Spirea)

Scabiosa (Pincushion Flower)


Hibiscus (Hardy)

Liatrus (Gay Feather)

Aster (Hardy Aster)

Lupinus (Lupine)

Echinacea (Coneflower)

Asclepias (Butterfly Flower)



Crabapple Tree

Crabapple Tree



June 12, 2015

 "All herb gardens make wonderful feeding grounds for bees and butterflies as herbs are usually highly scented, rich in nectar and closer to their wild forms than many scentless and hybridized garden plants."
                                         Sarah Garland, The Herb Garden (1984)

If your family likes fresh herbs incorporate a few of these in your garden.  What is good for our health is also good for the health of butterflies and bees.   


June 15, 2015

Butterflies have four life stages.

From beginning to end: egg, larvae (caterpillar), pupa (chrysalis), and adult (butterfly) . 

Caterpillars need milkweed to feed on.  Adult butterfly need nectar for energy to thrive and make the long journey to and from central Mexico.    



June 21, 2015

Native Plants

Find plants that bees and butterflies are attracted to and native to your region with one of these websites:

University of Illinois Extension

American Beauties


June 30, 2015

What is pollination?

Plants produce seeds that contain genetic information to produce another plant.  Some plants are self-pollinating and do not require a pollinator.  Some plants require cross-pollination.

Pollination is the process of moving pollen grains from the male anther part of the flower to the female stigma part of the flower, and moving those grains from bloom to bloom.  It occurs in different ways: the activity of wind moves pollen and through the work of pollinators.  This is the first step in a process that produces seeds, fruits and the next generation of plants.  

Who are the pollinators?

Birds, butterflies, hummingbirds, moths, flies, beetles, wasps, bats, small animals, and bees are pollinators.  Pollinators visit flowers to feed on nectar, pollen or both.  It is this activity on the flower and between flowers that causes pollination. 

Some of those critters creep me out.  Wasps do because I had a nasty run in with an angry wasp that got caught in my turtleneck (35 years ago) and I remember it all too well.  Flies only irritate when we are trying to eat outside and their instincts interpret it's all for them.  Beetles really creep me out but the reality is beetles are the largest set of pollinating animals by sheer numbers.  Still, you won't find any pictures of beetles here.

I've been stung by bees a few times over my 54 years.  Of course it's irritating and painful but I'm grateful I am not allergic to bees for I find them fascinating.  Plus I work around lots of bees.  The times I get angry are when a child is stung and those awful cases of people that experience serious medical problems. 

Eliminating the venom quickly is key.  The things that help take the sting away for me on the rare occasions I have been stung might work for you too: make a small mud pack by grabbing some dirt and adding water and hold that over the area; rub a tomato leaf over the area; use a credit card to remove the stinger, hold an ice cube on the spot after the stinger is dealt with; goop the affected spot with a topical antihistamine (liquid Benadryl) and take ibuprofen.    


Bees are really important. 

Bees pollinate about a third of everything we eat (roughly $15 billion worth of crops in the US alone).   Want to see what our salad bars could look like without bees?  It's a bit startling. salad-bar-without-bees

It remains a bit of a mystery as to why, exactly, the bee populations hit a major decline roughly nine years ago.  Some research indicates it is the loss of nesting places from the development of grasslands.  Pesticides are also considered a contributing factor.  Pesticides are used to manage, repel and, when needed, kill insects, fungi, weeds, slugs and snails, and rodents.   Insecticides are one type of pesticide, specifically for insects. 

Eliminating insecticides is a great goal for our yards.  Having said that, we have removed bee and wasp nests for our own safety when they are on or near the house with a spray like Raid Insect Killer.  We have also used insecticides when a bug creates havoc on our flowers and trees.  We use the minimal amount of chemical needed, following label directions carefully.  We have also tried Insecticidal Soaps or just forcefully spraying the plant or tree to try to knock bugs off.  We make every effort to keep plants healthy from the start which is the best defense.


July 5, 2015

Some other things we can do to support bees.

  • Educate ourselves and children about the environment and the purpose of bees.  When bees move from flower to flower, they transfer pollen.  When they are busy with pollination they are not likely to bother us.  If you do not provoke bees, the chances of being stung are very low.  When bees are around plants, in the grass and in the garden give them space to do their work.  
  • Put plants in our yards as a source of pollen and nectar for bees. 
  • Make a donation or purchase products that support bee research.

Shop for the candle, tees and socks that are part of J. Crew's 'Garments for Good' initiatives here

July 22, 2015

Monarch's have arrived in our neighborhood!

Did you know monarchs produce 3 to 4 generations each summer? Each generation travels a little further north, and as the population grows throughout the season, we see more monarchs fluttering in our gardens and on our walks.  Each butterfly will live for approximately three weeks.  They are arriving in the northern U.S. and Canada so now is the perfect time to look for them and appreciate their flight.

More about their habitats and journey through this link

Information provided by the National Wildlife Federation

April, 2016

Excellent Resources

Birds & Blooms Magazine          Article Link: How to attract butterflies by gardening