Thursday, March 8, 2012

Plant Sales in the Air - Help the Monarchs!

A few days ago I was working in the yard when this ragged male monarch butterfly arrived. His faded, ripped wings stood in sharp contrast to the many freshly eclosed monarchs around. He had quite an attitude zipping around, trying to drive out the other butterflies. How many monarchs would choose to rest on the top of a fence to have a good view over the territory? Then I remembered how close we are to the time of the Spring Migration. Monarchs should be arriving soon from both from Mexico and California passing through Arizona. They are already spotted in Southern Texas. What better way to get ready for their visit than to infuse your Monarch Waystation with new milkweeds and nectar with all the plant sales beginning this week?

Male Monarch
Start your plant list with the new Low Desert Monarch Waystation publication we just created on the SW Monarch Study web page. You'll find milkweeds that grow well here as well as recommended nectar sources. You can find photos of milkweed on the site as well. 

Red Admiral
 Many nurseries recommend Butterfly Bush but seasoned gardeners in the low deserts find it doesn't grow well here and it is not included on the list. Our summer heat is insurmountable for some species. But, I did find one Butterfly Bush that thrives here with afternoon shade - a definite keeper. It is a cultivar only available and created at Boyce Thompson Arboretum. The pale Spring lilac blooms are profuse and fragrant - and covered with butterflies. This morning I found eight butterflies feasting  including several monarchs, red admirals (three on the plant this morning!), queens, gulf fritillaries, and a West Coast Lady. Plus hummingbirds love it, too!

So take a few moments and visit some of the upcoming Spring Plant Sales for great selections for your garden:
  • Boyce Thompson Arboretum near Superior:  March 10 to 25 (Members only March 9)
  • Desert Survivors in Tucson:  March 10 to 18 (Members only), March 17 & 18 (Public)
  • Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix: March 16 (Members only), March 17 & 18 
  • Tohono Chul in Tucson:  March 31 & April 1
If you'd like to learn more about the exciting monarch migration through Arizona stop by the SW Monarch Study table this weekend at the Tres Rios Nature Festival at the Estrella Mountain Regional Park near Phoenix. We'll have great educational information as well as activities for children.

If you are a teacher, scout or 4-H leader, anyone interested in learning more about monarch butterflies in Arizona sign up for Monarch Educator Workshop at the Valley Verde Birding and Nature Festival in Cottonwood on Saturday, April 28. This is a great opportunity to learn more details about the monarch life cycle, the migration through Arizona and monarch citizen science opportunities.

You can also see up to the minute news about monarchs on the Southwest Monarch Study Facebook page. This is a public page - you don't need a Facebook account to access.

The SW Monarch Study also has a discussion group to share monarch related sightings and new studies in more detail. You can learn more about this group and join here.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Time To Plan Your Monarch Waystation

Female Monarch on Arizona Milkweed, Asclepias angustifolia
It's March 1 and our official last frost date for the Phoenix area - now we can dream about trimming overgrown bushes and Spring planting. Spruce up your Monarch Waystation with fresh, new milkweeds and add some perennial nectar sources as well as your annual favorites. Its easy to go overboard both in trimming and planting this time of year, so take a few moments to plan now before the Spring Plant Sales around town begin next week.

Queen larva in "J"
Be careful when trimming back existing plants. Our warm winter was perfect for both monarch and queen butterflies to stay around town and now they are breeding. While making room for some new annuals, I luckily spotted this queen larva in a "J" formation hidden under a leaf. Now it is a beautiful pupa. Both queen and monarch larvae can wander 30 feet or more from the milkweed they devoured. Look for them in dangerous places, too. I rescued two from my pool right on the water and another floating down the rocky stream in my pond towards the pump.

Scalped Desert Milkweed, Asclepias subulata
Restrain yourself when using new sheers or power trimmers. More is not necessarily best. Native milkweeds do not need sheering. I've seen more scalping of desert milkweed by well meaning people lately. The new growth that occurs is usually only a fraction of the old plant and often is too weak to even support hungry larvae. Plus pruning plants now mean you'll miss the unique opportunity for spring egg-laying by both monarch and queen butterflies this year.

Desert Milkweed, Asclepias subulata

Instead, water all milkweeds more frequently for the next month to encourage fresh growth after our dry winter. Female monarchs frequently lay eggs on fresh new "leaves" and this is the perfect food for the tiny caterpillars. They usually cannot chew the thicker milkweed stalks until they are 4th and 5th instar larvae. More water will encourage a quicker bloom and females will often lay their eggs on the flowers as well.

Monarch larvae
In case you are wondering if there are many monarchs around to visit your yard, rest assured there are plenty! After our warm spell in early January a female came through and laid over 100 eggs in my yard. With the gusty, high winds this week I brought a few inside.

First monarch of spring!
Earlier just over 20 monarchs eclosed and today alone ten new butterflies did also. So, yes, there will be plenty of monarchs around town this spring based on what I am seeing!

Get your garden ready and enjoy the butterflies that visit. Join us (Southwest Monarch Study) on a Field Trip this Saturday to Desert Survivor's Plant Nursery in Tucson. The tour will be led by Nursery Director Jim Verrier and you'll learn how to grow the best Monarch Waystation and Butterfly Garden in the desert. Meet in the parking lot (1020 West Starr Pass Boulevard) at 9:30. We'll have Monarch Waystation brochures and planting information available to start your list. We will also have a carpool from the Phoenix area meeting at Papago Buttes Church of the Brethren, 2450 N. 64th Street in Scottsdale. (Northwest corner of 64th St & Oak.) Meet at 7:15 a.m. - we leave promptly at 7:30 a.m. Bring a sack lunch, water and snacks.

You can also plan ahead and download our SW Monarch Study publication: Low Desert Monarch Waystations. We'll be creating publications for other elevations in Arizona soon. Jim Verrier will share information at Desert Survivors about milkweeds he has for higher elevations as well.