The incredible 2500-mile journey of a monarch butterfly happens twice a year. In spring, as the weather warms, the roosting butterflies of Mexico spread their wings to fly north. As soon as spring milkweed plants are available for depositing eggs, mating begins. It will take several generations to complete the northern trek. However, in the autumn migration group, the southerly journey becomes the responsibility of a single butterfly.
In spring and early summer, adult butterflies live for only 2 to 5 weeks. Mating and laying eggs is of utmost importance. The late summer or early fall generation has a different role in the monarch’s survival. When the weather cools, the late season butterflies must migrate to overwinter grounds in central Mexico. Their life span is longer, 8 or 9 months. In preparation, monarchs need a large quantity of nectar to accomplish the incredible journey south. Here are 3 easy steps a gardener can apply to ensure a successful migration.
1. Provide nectar plants in all seasons, but especially in fall.
Rudbeckias, Black Eyed Susans, Salvias, Coneflowers, Durantas, Pentas, Mistflowers, Lantanas, Verbenas, Butterfly Bush and Butterfly Vine are some of the delightful autumn blooms to include in the butterfly garden. Planting flowers for fall will help the monarch butterflies to fuel up for the long journey south.
2. Provide a water source
Birdbaths and fountains are easy to include in any garden from balcony to farm. Not only will butterflies sip from the water, so will many pollinating insects and birds. Be sure to change the water frequently in birdbaths to avoid mosquitos.
3. Prune back milkweed plants
Milkweed is the host plant for depositing eggs after mating. The monarch caterpillars will feed on the leaves until mature enough to pupate or make a chrysalis. By autumn, there are many predators, diseases, and potential frosts that threaten the success of a butterfly’s life cycle. To encourage the monarch’s survival cut down milkweed plants in October, so the delicate creatures will feed on nectar plants and continue south. Use the fresh cut flowers in a beautiful fall bouquet.
In honor of the monarch migration, Round Rock Garden Center will no longer sell milkweed after October 15. However, there are many wonderful nectar plants, birdbaths, and fountains looking for a home in an autumn butterfly garden.