Grow it! Creating a monarch and pollinator waystation
Welcome to our gardening adventure. Let’s grow it together!
As we move into autumn, with its color and cool crispness, it’s almost easy to forget summer with its vivid florals and the golden hills throughout the North Bay. Though of course with the drought, the vividness of flower color has been a bit more of a struggle. It’s easy to think that watering something as seemingly frivolous as flowers is a waste of water. But, let’s look at it from a different perspective. Bright flowers = pollinators = so much of the food we eat. One way to help us wrap our brain around the idea of using water on plants is to consider the plants that we support.
We’ve all been hearing about California natives and how they support all of our pollinators and other wildlife. California natives are happy in our gardens in Sonoma county where they have been residing since the time when only indigenous people lived here. They are beautiful plants that can add color to your garden and bring in beneficial critters even when water is harder to come by.
One of the most beautiful pollinators - considered the king of butterflies - that will benefit from our conscious and considerate planting is the monarch. The decline of this iconic butterfly is at a shocking 99% since the 1980s and unless we make changes, this beautiful symbol that represents strength and endurance could become something of just a memory and an image in a photograph. They migrate up to a phenomenal 3000 miles and each adult monarch only lives from four to five weeks. It could seem an impossible task to shift the trajectory but if we work with nature, she has a way of turning things around. One way to do this is to create a monarch and pollinator waystation.
Creating a monarch and pollinator waystation:
-Plant nectar-rich plants
-Avoid any pesticides and ask the garden center where you purchase your plants if they sell plants that are pesticide free.
-Use as many native plants to your area as possible.
-Think in the long-term when planting your waystation.
Ten nectar-rich plants to add to your pollinator waystation:
10.Nettleleaf Giant Hyssop
Native milkweed is the only species of plant that monarchs lay their eggs on. It is considered a robust perennial herb and there are some good choices to plant in Sonoma County. Heart-leaf milkweed, narrow leaf milkweed and showy milkweed are three good choices. Never plant tropical milkweed as it is known to carry the parasite OE (ophryocystis elektroscirrha). Monarchs that are severely infected by OE can fail to emerge successfully from their pupal stage. Mild OE infection can lead to shorter lives, curled wings and difficulty flying. Look online to get a good picture of what happens to the butterfly.
OE is a single cell organism known as a protozoan that can only reproduce inside the body of a monarch or other insect. When a caterpillar hatches it eats its eggshell, the milkweed and the dormant OE spores that have been scattered on the milkweed by infected female monarchs. After the caterpillar eats the spores, they move into the caterpillar’s mid-gut. During digestion the spores break open and release the parasites. It is during the chrysalis stage that the parasite does the worst damage. The OE parasite reproduces, increasing the number of parasites.
Excellent sites online to learn more about milkweed, monarchs and OE:
Beyond Pesticides, Project Monarch Health, WWF and Calscape (California Plant Society),
Five November tasks
1.Dig up and divide perennials and grasses.
2.Freshen up soil with compost and manure.
3.Plant bulbs and California native plants and sow seeds.
4.Shred leaves and put in compost bin.
5.Deed roses and citrus trees with organic fertilizer.
Please email your gardening thoughts and questions to Val at firstname.lastname@example.org. Together we can help each other find solutions to your gardening needs and dreams.