Monarch butterflies have been in a steady decline for years and recently the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classified the monarch as endangered. Habitat loss, climate change, pesticides and disease are some of the factors contributing to fewer butterflies each year.
Butterflies don’t live long enough to migrate far, so multiple generations make the trip from summer homes in the United States and Canada to overwintering in Mexican forests and back in the spring. To support the spring and late summer/fall migrations, we can provide food to both baby monarchs (caterpillars) and to adults.
Monarchs seek milkweed to lay eggs. As land becomes streets and houses, it is important to plant milkweed in gardens to raise generations of future butterflies. Plant as much milkweed as you can since caterpillars are HUNGRY! The most common milkweeds for our area are Green Milkweed (Asciepius viridis) and Antelope Horns Milkweed (Asciepius asperula) but other types also grow here. Fall is an excellent time to plant seed for milkweed and other wildflowers.
Molly Keck, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service entomologist for Bexar County recommends cutting milkweed down in October to discourage monarchs from laying eggs that will not hatch, grow and fly before food dries up or a freeze comes.
There are many flowering plants that provide nectar for adult monarchs and other butterflies. Monarchs are especially attracted to Gregg’s Mist Flower (Eupatorium greggi), Sunflowers, and salvias such as Autumn Sage (Salvia greggii).
Butterflies and their food plants are hurt by herbicide and pesticide use. Always use herbicides or pesticides after trying less deadly methods first. Then, if you need to use them, read and carefully follow label instructions. Take care that herbicides or pesticides are limited to problem areas and not broadcast into the whole neighborhood.
Traveling monarchs also appreciate a source of moisture. Hanging a butterfly feeder with old fruit or fruit peels will provide nutrients and moisture. A saucer with stones and water will enable butterflies to drink from firm footing.
Article by Marj McClung, Master Gardener