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.


  1. Exciting to see that you have butterflies emerging already. Here at 4562 ft we still have frost at night so I will hang tight for another month or so.

    I did go to Desert Survivors and bought some A subulata, linaria, and angustifolia plants. I wish they would have had more, but at least I was assured of some plants before the rush on sales (it is a bit difficult when you live "on the other side of nowhere"). I am looking forward to planting and seeing some monarchs.

    1. Desert Survivors said they would have more milkweed available by their Spring Plant Sale in 10 days. There are several varieties that would likely grow very well for you. Plus it is fun to experiment and see what attracts the monarchs the most. Soon the monarchs will be on their way back from Mexico, so keep your eyes open!