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

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