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desert gardening basics
March, 2014, Page 144
Photo by Richard Maack
Gail Morris’s backyard Monarch Waystation is a haven for migrating butterflies.
How to create a habitat for attracting monarchs
Each spring and fall, monarch butterflies travel up to 3,000 miles between overwintering sites in California or Mexico and their summer breeding grounds around the U.S. and Canada. It may take three or more successive generations to reach their target. Although researchers—aided by citizen-scientists—continue to study their routes and habits, they do not yet understand how these insects are able to return “home.”
The monarch migration, one of nature’s most intriguing mysteries, is sustained by resting, refueling and egg-laying stops en route. According to Monarch Watch, a nonprofit educational outreach group, habitats for monarchs has been disappearing at a rapid pace due to a combination of development, roadside weed management with herbicides, and the increased use of genetically modified crops that withstand glyphosate, an herbicide.
Instead of tilling weeds, growers may spray fields with glyphosate, which also kills milkweeds (
). Because monarchs lay their eggs exclusively on milkweeds, the widespread loss of these plants reduces the butterflies’ ability to reproduce. Gardeners can help replace lost habitats and sustain the migration by planting a Monarch Waystation in their yard, suggests volunteer Monarch Watch Conservation Specialist Gail Morris. Her Chandler, Ariz., Monarch Waystation hosts hundreds of butterflies each year.
Size and sun
—Plant an area that is at least 100 square feet and receives six or more hours of full sun daily.
—Include a tree or large shrub for protection and roosting. Existing mature plants are fine, but if starting from scratch, choose a species that offers nectar when in bloom, such as chaste tree (
), willow acacia (
) or Baja red fairy duster (
—Include at least 10 milkweed plants, using two or more species. Arizona native milkweeds for low-desert gardens include:
• Arizona or narrowleaf milkweed (
): morning sun only
• Desert milkweed (
): no-fuss landscape plant that takes full sun
• Pineleaf milkweed (
): prefers afternoon shade
• Mid- and high-desert elevations milkweed options include
. You can see milkweeds that grow well in Arizona at
—Your landscape may already include reliable bloomers that butterflies seek, such as lantana and salvia. Include at least four types of flowering plants with staggered bloom periods from spring through fall.
Easy-to-grow favorites include butterfly mist, coreopsis, Mexican sunflower, sunflower, verbena, wooly butterfly bush and zinnia.
Eliminate pesticide use
—While nature will strike a balance with birds, beneficial predator insects and lizards consuming pests for you, try and avoid buying milkweed plants that have been sprayed with pesticides. (Ask the nursery before making a purchase.)
Register your Monarch Waystation at
, where you also can order a plaque to display in the garden. To schedule a Monarch Waystation workshop in the Phoenix area or to find milkweed sources, contact Gail Morris at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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