Saturday, August 20, 2011

Prepare Your Yard for Monarch Butterflies!

Springerville 8-14-11
While we swelter in record-breaking heat and massive dust storms, monarch butterflies are breeding in the Arizona high country. In the last 10 days we've visited Wenima Wildlife Area near Springerville, Sipe White Mountain Wildlife Area south of Eager, Silver Creek Fish Hatchery near Show Low, and Canelo Marsh near Sonoita and enjoyed monarch butterflies flying through the meadows. If you haven't done so already, it's time to prepare for these beautiful creatures to visit! Here are a few things you can do to attract monarchs to your yard.

Desert Milkweed, Asclepias subulata
If you live in an area that didn't receive much rain this during our summer monsoon, increase your watering frequency for the next month. You want to encourage your Desert Milkweed to bloom and become flush with feathery new growth along the stems. Female monarchs often lay their eggs on the flowers or the soft and tender new growth for tiny caterpillars to eat. We often see monarchs laying eggs in late September through early November in the Phoenix area.

Pine-needle Milkweed, Asclepias linaria
Pine-needle Milkweed will also benefit from additional water to encourage blooms. Many butterflies will be drawn to the nectar of their flowers. A frequent question often arises of whether to fertilize or not. Natives like Desert Milkweed, Pine-needle Milkweed, Arizona Milkweed are adapted well to our soils and usually do not need any amendments but additional water to encourage flowering. Our night-time temperatures will begin to ease as the monsoons retreat in early September (hopefully!) bringing everything a surge of new growth.

Arizona Milkweed, Asclepias angustifolia
 The Arizona Milkweed in pots in my yard under a tree already has buds and is beginning to bloom. I often see monarchs laying eggs on this lovely shade-loving plant late in the season. Like any milkweed they are a butterfly magnet. Water well through the migration.

Tropical Milkweed, Asclepias curassavica
Bloodflower or Tropical Milkweed is non-native (but native to Mexico) that can benefit from a light fertilizer every two weeks for the next six weeks to encourage new growth. Use a liquid fertilizer at half-strength. Water your plant thoroughly first before fertilizing. Then water again the next day. Our high temperatures can cause leaf burn if you fertilize too much or do not water it in well. Opt for a diluted solution and deep watering. You are trying to encourage new strong growth for hungry caterpillars in the next few months.

It's not too late to plant zinnia and sunflower seeds for a fall nectar splash. Monarchs prefer the single zinnias and love sunflowers of any kind. Lightly fertilize your soil and add a thick layer of compost to help preserve soil moisture during the time of germination. Water well. I usually cover the area with burlap and check the seeded area daily.

Zinnia seedlings planted 8 days ago
With warm soils and ample water seeds germinate quickly as you can see by these zinnia seedlings. In just eight days they already have their true leaves. Just remember to water frequently and you'll be richly rewarded.

Enjoy the butterflies that grace your yard as we enter the premier butterfly season for Arizona. Monarchs, like all butterflies, are drawn to a banquet - so create yours now and keep your eyes open to see who visits your yard!

Gulf Fritillary nectaring on Lantana

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Summer Fun - Sharing the Joy of Monarch Butterflies with Children!

It's too hot to see Monarch Butterflies in Phoenix during the summer, but it's a wonderful time to learn all about them!

Photo by Laura
Teens at the Audubon Nature camp learned about the life-cycle of monarchs. Then we took time to explore the nearby milkweed, their only host plant. While the monarchs are in the northern part of the country now, their family kin, the queen butterflies, are found in the desert almost year round.

Photo by Laura

Looking closely at Desert Milkweed, Asclepias subulata, we can find a world of interesting critters! Today we found aphids and small ladybugs and their larvae. Ladybugs will eat the aphids and keep their population under control. But ladybugs can also eat queen or monarch butterfly eggs.

Chandler Public Library Discovery Stations
 Nearly 75 children attended the Monarch Madness Story Hour at the Chandler Public Library. We featured a power-point presentation of a great book about Western monarchs called  "Fly, Fly Butterfly" by Diego H. Pedreros Velásquez. (A special thank you to Mr. Pedreros for permission to create this Power-point. He recently lowered the purchase price of this wonderful book to $12.95 in response to our economy and a donation will still be made for monarch conservation.) You can read more about this amazing true-life story in a review by Dr. Chip Taylor of Monarch Watch. Afterwards everyone wanted to learn more about this curious insect, so we had Discovery Stations to explore.

Chandler Public Library
Butterfly wings and things under magnifying glass containers gave an up close look at scales and the male "dot" on the wings. 

Creating Monarch Caterpillars

We created monarch caterpillars out of pipe-cleaners at another station.

Saving seeds to help the monarch migration!
 We learned about the importance of growing milkweed to help save the monarch butterfly migration. Then we separated milkweed seeds from the "fluff" of Desert Milkweed, Aslcepias subulata. These seeds will be sent to Monarch Watch as part of their Bring Back the Monarchs campaign.

Chandler Public Library 

To help learn the complexity of flying in wind, we created monarch airplanes! Preschoolers and teens alike enjoyed the experience at their own level. Watch what we did with them here: Audubon Day Camp Monarch Plane Launch!

 It's a great summer to learn new things about this wonderful world of nature all around us!