Providing Habitat for Monarch Butterflies

Monarch butterflies are in trouble. Their numbers have plummeted 97 % since the 1980s for several reasons:

  1. They lay their eggs on only one host plant, milkweed. Unfortunately, milkweed often grows along roadsides or farm fields where extensive pesticide sprayings occur. Milkweed is an innocent victim of man’s obsession with pesticides and insecticides.
  2. Extensive logging has occurred in Mexico, where the Eastern population overwinters. The habitat fragmentation endangers monarchs so much that a winter storm can decimate their numbers very rapidly. Even more alarming is the news from California, where the western population is facing a decimation of 86 % last year.

We were therefore thrilled that our Pennsylvania yard was a thriving monarch nursery last summer. Their pupa were usually so well concealed that we never found them until a freshly hatched butterfly perched nearby to unfold its wings. There is nothing like seeing a butterfly go through the life stages of egg, caterpillar, pupa and finally, adult.

While the caterpillars only feast on milkweed plants, the adults are not so limited in their choices. Any nectar-producing flower will do, whether it is spearmint, lobelia, goldenrod or zinnia. Zinnias were especially popular once monarchs began passing through our yard during their fall migration. That’s why it is so important to provide nectar sources for insects well into fall.

Our Garden Year 2018

The year 2018 brought record-breaking precipitation to our western Pennsylvania garden. After a short and late spring, the hot and humid summer lasted into early October. We seldom had to fill our small pond, which was home to three green frogs and several kinds of dragonflies. They provided me with plenty of photo opportunities while also keeping the number of mosquitoes down.

Our native plants were able to cope with frequent rainfalls while some annuals did not thrive until we experienced a relative dry spell. Perennials have a short blooming season and it is very important to plan successive blooms from spring to fall to provide nectar for insects. The earliest bloomers in our garden are redbud, wild columbine and false indigo.

The heat prompted some plants, such as this common milkweed, to bloom earlier than usual, an observation we made with other plants as well. This was a matter of concern because by early fall there were not many nectar sources available for insects. Luckily, our zinnias and salvia continued to bloom well into fall and became very popular with butterflies and bees.

Would you like to add some native plants to your garden? Make sure they are appropriate for your region. To get you started you may want to check out the websites of the National Wildlife Federation and National Audubon Society. Happy gardening!

Our House, a Wildlife Habitat

When our yard was certified as a Wildlife Habitat I assumed that our house would remain almost free of animals, except for our two cats. Yet gradually, sneakily, animals have taken advantage of our good nature. First they took over our in-house garage. Mice nest behind or under our accumulated belongings. Birds such as wrens check out our supply of bird seed or simply spend the night in a cozy place. And let’s not forget the peanut shells that my car mechanic found in the engine room of my car years ago…

Next was the basement, where spiders and other critters hunkered down during winter. Marmorated stinkbugs have invaded pretty much the entire house, inside and out. I will never live down the day when I served beef stew and a stinkbug had landed on it…

Last week our cat Pocket spent all day in the basement even though it is colder than the upstairs. Late in the afternoon she was playing with a mouse in the dining room. We were not too alarmed – until we realized that it was a real mouse, not a toy!












What followed was a mad chase. The poor mouse escaped into the hallway and I managed to lock Pocket in the spare bedroom. I quickly closed the other doors and the mouse scurried into the tiny bathroom. Not wanting to catch a mouse with his bare hands, my husband fetched a pair of gloves. Unfortunately, they did not give him any dexterity and the creature escaped into our computer room. Meanwhile, I frantically searched for a trap in the garage. Imagine my surprise when hubby came downstairs with a mouse hanging onto his shirt sleeve! Maybe the mouse had gotten tired from being chased all day by Pocket and simply surrendered.

After the mouse was safely back in the garage I realized that I should have filmed the whole action!