“You may have noticed that the number of butterflies in your garden has been diminishing in recent years,” says experienced gardener Linda Porter of Boyle County. “The use of caterpillar-killing pesticides, habitat destruction and climate change have contributed greatly to this problem.”
Why should you care? Monarchs are a flagship prairie species, reflecting “the health of American grassland habitats and its pollinators,” according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The monarch will disappear from gardens and farms if serious efforts aren’t made to support their life cycle and their migration. Without pollinators such as butterflies, not only flowers but our food supply will be drastically affected.
“There is not much we as gardeners can do about climate change,” Porter says, “but we can help establish friendlier and more supportive environments for butterflies, like monarchs, as they migrate through our state, or live year-round in our home and public gardens.”
Porter and Joanna Kirby, past president of the Garden Club of Kentucky, are working to solve the problem by helping construct monarch waystations across the state. Each waystation contains milkweed, the nectar source for the monarch butterfly and where they lay their eggs, with the plants later becoming a food source for the caterpillars.
“The response of the public in planting monarch waystations has been beyond our fondest dreams,” Porter says. “The number has increased from 36 in 2012 to over 500 in 2017. The monarch butterflies have found a home on their journey in Kentucky.”
Constructing a waystation is a simple task, according to Porter, and it can be as small as a container garden filled with milkweed and nectar-producing annuals or perennials. Monarch Watch sponsors the Monarch Waystation Program and its website, monarchwatch.org, has information on how to create one.
“Monarchs used to be seen everywhere in the Midwest in the summer. On one early morning walk through a native plant garden in Illinois in 1996, I found at least 50 newly hatched monarchs clinging from the leaves of common milkweed plants,” Porter says. “By noon all the monarchs had flown away, but that memory stayed with me. Now the monarchs are struggling.
“As they fly over our state, monarchs can either keep going for lack of suitable places to feed, mate and reproduce or they can stop to live for a while in lush gardens that provide both nectar and host plants. We can make a difference.”