There’s something magical about looking up from your work in the garden and watching a colorful butterfly settle on a zinnia, or seeing a tiny goldfinch hovering around a towering sunflower. But it’s not just the chance to see these beautiful creatures up close that makes these moments special. It’s knowing that you created an environment that nurtures pollinators, because pollinators are a vital, and increasingly endangered, part of the food chain.
Why Pollinators are Important
Bees are the most famous pollinators, but butterflies, moths, bats, and some birds also feed on flower nectar. They then spread pollen from one flower to the other, fertilizing the plants and ensuring their survival. Pollinators are in danger due to numerous factors, including habitat loss, pesticide use, parasites, and invasive species. In fact, bees, Monarch butterflies, and bats are all in serious decline. Trouble for pollinators spells trouble for people, because so many of our crops depend on them.
What You Can Do:
The good news is that there are many things you can do to help pollinators thrive. Here are just a few ways you can help:
- Grow native plants in your garden that flower at different times of year from spring to fall, so pollinators have a ready supply of nectar year-round.
- Avoid herbicides and pesticides that can harm pollinators, particularly neonicotinoids, which have been found to damage the physiology and reproductive anatomy of queen honeybees.
- Go easy on the mulch (it covers up the ground where native bees may nest).
To learn more about pollinator-friendly gardening, see this blog post.
How To Build a Monarch Waystation
Another concrete step you can take to protect pollinators is to build a Monarch Waystation in your yard, school, or community garden. A waystation is like a rest stop for migrating butterflies, but instead of restrooms and vending machines, winged travelers will find nectar plants to feed adult butterflies and milkweed plants where they can lay their eggs.
Adult Monarch butterflies can feed on the nectar from a variety of flowers, but like many human children, their offspring are pickier. They only eat milkweed leaves. So Monarchs lay their eggs on milkweed plants to ensure their newly hatched caterpillars have food from day one. Unfortunately, rapidly vanishing milkweed habitats pose a serious threat to Monarch butterflies.
A waystation can be any size, but at least 100 square feet is ideal. Choose a sunny spot with light, low-clay soil and good soil drainage. Plant at least ten milkweed plants of two or more species, making sure to choose some that are native to your part of the country — not ornamental varieties. Then plant a variety of nectar-producing plants. Black-eyed Susans, Echinacea, goldenrod, sunflowers, and zinnias are good choices. They like chives, too, but you have to let them flower.
For more detail on how to create a Monarch waystation and what kind of milkweed to plant in your area, see this guide from Monarch Watch. When you’ve finished, you can register your waystation and display a sign in your garden to let your neighbors know you are helping protect Monarch butterflies. You might just inspire them to do the same!
Pollinators have been helping people for millennia. It’s about time we return the favor.