Welcome to my zone 9a habitat garden near Houston, Texas.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Monarchs are coming

To the north and east of us, the fall migration of the Monarch butterfly has already begun or very soon will. Fragile wings determinedly beat their way south, guided only by instinct.

They seek a place that, in their brief lifetime, they have never seen. But their instinct tells them it is there and that they must go. And they do, by the millions.

We've had Monarchs here for most of the year. It seems clear that the changing world climate has now made this beautiful butterfly a more or less permanent resident in our area. But most of its kind, true to their heritage, still make that long trek to the interior of Mexico in the fall and back north again in the spring. They will be arriving in our area to join our permanent residents over the next few weeks.

My stand of butterfly weed served my yard's Monarch population all last summer and through the winter and spring of this year. It was devoured again and again by generations of hungry caterpillars, but within days of being devoured, it would sprout new leaves and begin to get ready for the next hungry crew.

But finally there came a hungry crew that the butterfly weed wasn't prepared for. In the late spring, a horde of aphids completely destroyed my plants before I even fully realized that they were under attack. Where were my ladybugs when I needed them?

Following that onslaught, I did some judicious pruning of the plants and kept them watered in the hope that they would again make a comeback, and a couple of them did make some feeble efforts. In the end, though, it had all been too much for them. I finally had to admit that they weren't coming back.

Whenever I saw a Monarch nectaring on my flowers this summer, I always felt a little guilty because I knew there was nothing in my yard on which she could deposit her eggs.

Nevertheless, I was reluctant to plant more butterfly weed in the heat of the summer and, truthfully, I was distracted by other things. I consoled myself with the thought that my next door neighbor has a healthy stand of butterfly weed, so if my butterflies had the need, all they had to do was fly over there.

This week, as I idly watched a Monarch flitting around my yard, I decided I had delayed long enough. Soon, there will be migrants here as well and they will need somewhere to lay those eggs. It was time for me to venture out to the nurseries once again.

I headed on over to my favorite local nursery, sure that they would have what I needed. I found some very healthy-looking, very bushy one-gallon pots of Asclepias curassavica and also some Asclepias tuberosa, our native butterfly weed which is not always easy to find - just what the butterflies and I wanted. I bought three of each.

Late this afternoon, after the sun went behind the trees in the west, I took my three new butterfly weed plants to my butterfly/bee/hummingbird bed. I dug the holes, took the potting soil off the roots and plopped the plants into their holes. I "mudded" them in with plenty of water before I covered the roots with soil and topped it off with mulch. I'll have to continue to keep them watered to make sure they don't dry out until they get established, but with any kind of luck, in a couple of weeks, I could be seeing scenes like this once again:

Monarch on my last year's stand of butterfly weed.

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