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Plant a Monarch Migration Station
and Help Save the Monarch Butterfly
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Gardenscapes Newsletter March 2023
We do not have the right to starve local pollinators species by not planting the native flowers on which they depend.
We also no longer have the right to ignore the stewardship responsibilities attached to land ownership.
Coping with Climate Change How it affects Gardens and How We Can Respond
By now, nearly everyone has heard of climate change and its consequences. Climate change results in abnormal weather, not just warmer temperatures. The sudden shifts in temperatures stresses plants out in the spring when they have just begun growing and are at their most fragile. Shrubs and trees may break bud dormancy too early, increasing the risk of spring frost.
Gardening relies heavily on timing, and gardeners are always keen to create a succession of flowers for not only multi-season interest, but also to feed the pollinators. Scientists compared today's flowering times to the times recorded in Henry David Thoreau's famous book Walden and found that plants are now flowering about 18 days sooner than in the mid 1800's.
Higher levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere can boost plant growth, but aggressive and weedy plants usually exploit excess resources better than desirable garden plants.
Changes in temperature and moisture can alter flowering times, causing pollinators to arrive too early or too late to fertilize the blossoms. The symbiotic relationships between plants, insects and animals are imperative to the success of gardens and the overall health of ecosystems.
What Can We Do...
Plants, especially trees and shrubs, are key to mitigating climate change as they reduce carbon dioxide in the air. Larger plants take up more CO2 than small plants. The more leafy plant material a garden produces, the better it performs for reducing CO2 levels. Growing lots of plants versus a sea of turf grass is already an improvement.
Common gardening habits like tilling the soil are bad for soil health and for the environment. Tilling not only destroys important soil structure but it adds excess oxygen to the soil. This increases microbial activity, which uses up the stored carbon and releases CO2.
Please do not fertilize plants that do not need it. Planting natives plants is a great way to minimize fertilizer use.
So, what is a gardener to do? The answer lies in diversity. Planting different species of plants reduces the extent of damage to your whole garden from sudden and extreme shifts in weather or new pests and diseases. More diverse plants also support a wider range of beneficial insects and pollinators that will keep your garden blooming for years to come.
The Buzz on Spring Clean Up
It is always tempting to clean up the garden as winter turns to spring, but I invite you to consider how you might adapt your activities to be a better steward for bugs. Many insects overwinter in leaf litter or in hollow stems left standing from last year's blooms. Cleaning up the garden too soon means you could be removing beneficial insects from the garden along with your debris. Rather than beginning spring clean up on the first warm day, try to hold off until insects have had time to emerge from their winter slumber. Generally, this means waiting until there have been at least seven consecutive days of temperatures above 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Understanding insect life cycles help empower gardeners to make more sustainable and ethical decisions in the garden.
Don't Leave the Light On
Besides planting milkweed in your gardens, anyone interested in helping monarch butterflies might want to turn off the porch light. Biologists at the University of Cincinnati say nighttime light pollution can interfere with the remarkable navigational abilities of monarchs, which travel as far as Canada to Mexico and back during their multigenerational migration.
Researchers found that butterflies roosting at night near artificial illumination such as a porch or streetlight can become disoriented the next day because the light interferes with their circadian rhythms. Artificial light can impede the molecular processes responsible for the butterfly's navigational mechanisms and trigger the butterfly to take wing when it should be resting.
Monarchs rely on the darkness of night to process proteins key to their internal compass. These help the insects tell which direction to fly in to reach their southern wintering grounds, and to return.
The iconic monarch butterfly has been listed as Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), a global authority on the conservation status of species. An endangered listing means the species is likely to go extinct without significant intervention.
The listing of migratory monarchs (Danaus plexippus plexippus) on IUCN Red List of Threatened Species comes as no surprise. Monarch numbers have plummeted more than 95% since the 1980s. Scientists point to climate change, habitat loss and the use of herbicides and pesticides as drivers of this loss.
“It’s been so sad to watch their numbers decline so much, so anything that might help them makes me happy, and I think that this designation might help them,” Karen Oberhauser, a conservation biologist at the University of Wisconsin who has studied monarchs for more than three decades told The New York Times.
There are two populations of migratory monarch butterflies in North America, both renowned for their impressive overland journeys spanning up to 6,400 kilometers (4,000 miles). Eastern monarchs spend the winter in Mexico, while the western monarchs winter in California. In the spring, all monarchs migrate north, some as far as Canada. This migratory cycle covers thousands of miles and takes three or four generations. Monarch population estimates are taken at their overwintering grounds.
Monarch numbers are largely driven by climatic factors and habitat availability. Unfavorable weather conditions during spring and summer 2022, especially in the southern United States at the time the monarch population was migrating north from Mexico, led to lower numbers throughout the summer on the northern breeding grounds. While monarchs are able to fly long distances to find milkweed host plants and nectar sources, widely spaced milkweed patches mean that females need to search longer as they are laying eggs, and thus they lay fewer eggs over the course of their lives. In the wintering sites in Mexico, as forests become more heavily degraded they are less able to buffer the monarchs from temperature extremes, including both warm daytime temperatures and cold nighttime temperatures.
In addition to changes in climate and habitat, exposure to environmental toxins (including mosquito sprays), diseases, and predators also affect monarch survival.
One of the important aspects to saving the Monarchs is to be able to recognize them at each stage of their life. We have provided pictures of what you should look for on our Save the Monarch page located on our web site.
Please consider planting Milkweed (Asclepias) to help save the Monarch Butterfly!
Milkweed now planted in vegetable garden.
Organic Air Tree and Shrub Care
This is Bernie Carr, our friend in the green industry and owner of Organic Air Tree and Shrub Care. Too much soil burying the root flare of trees, is a slow death for most trees. Improper planting, girdling roots, or soil build up around a tree's root system is not healthy for this living organism. Bernie and his crew specialize in all facets of organic tree care including organic root-feeding, organic foliar sprays, repairing compacted soils (especially after new construction), and removing girdling roots. Please visit their website for more information at Organicairtsc.com
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