Monarch Butterfly Habitat
Unfortunately, the butterfly we all know and love is losing its habitat, specifically milkweed, to modern farming methods and population development. The Monarchs are the only North American butterflies that make a 3,000-mile migration to Mexico and California for the winter, taking 6-8 generations to complete the journey. The fragmentation of milkweed in their migratory path is significant becausemilkweed is the only host plant where Monarchs lay their eggs, and the sole food source for their larvae. With fewer host plants, their population is suffering as a result-90 percent decline over the last 20 years. Their population decline is so significant that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is reviewing to determine if the butterfly should be classified as "threatened" under the Federal Endangered Species Act.
As home gardeners, we can help to replenish the butterfly habitat by sowing nectar and host butterfly-friendly varieties in our home, school, and community gardens.
Want to help boost the monarch population and observe their life cycle? Monarchs lay their eggs exclusively on milkweed, a plant that feeds the young caterpillars. These precious butterflies will seek out your garden when you grow these vigorous, shrub-like plants. With pink, white, and fiery orange shades of clustered tiny flowers, you'll enjoy them, too! Sow directly outside 2 to 4 weeks before your average last frost date, and again up to 8 weeks before first fall frost. In short seasons, start seeds inside 6 to 8 weeks before your average last frost date.
Butterfly flower (milkweed) benefits greatly from stratification, the process of subjecting seed to moist/cold treatment to break dormancy, which occurs naturally when seed is sown outdoors in fall. We recommend Botanical Interests® seeds. When starting seed indoors in spring, sow the seed into a container of moistened seed-starting mix, cover with clear plastic wrap and leave the container in a refrigerator for 3 to 6 weeks, then remove to a warm location to germinate. Always keep soil evenly moist.