May 13, 2021

Create a pollinator oasis

Plant native species

Editor’s Note: AgriNews published a story, “Manage caterpillars in your garden: 10 strategies to keep your plants healthy,” along with a photo of a caterpillar on March 18. After realizing the photo is of a valuable pollinator, a monarch caterpillar, AgriNews immediately deleted it online. Monarch caterpillars feed on milkweed and are not a threat to gardens.

MADISON, Wis. — A small backyard garden can serve as an oasis for pollinators, including bees and butterflies.

“My message is that you should plant gardens,” said Karen Oberhauser, director of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum, during a webinar.

“You should find the right species for your area. You should find species that include both nectar plants and host plants for monarchs and a lot of other butterflies. If you want a certain kind of butterfly, you plant the host plant for that butterfly.”

Native plants are preferable over exotic plants, Oberhauser said. They require less care, less fertilizer, less watering and fewer pesticides.

Native plants have adapted to your farm’s climate and soils. That means that if something doesn’t work, maybe it just doesn’t belong in your soil, Oberhauser said.

Native plants also support a greater number and better diversity of insects. By planting native, you’re preserving biodiversity.

“If we’re gardening for insects, we’re creating habitat for the organisms that will pollinate a lot of flowering plants and that assures seed production and food for many species, including us as humans,” Oberhauser said.

For a butterfly-friendly garden, you will need host plants for the caterpillars to eat and flowers for the adults to access nectar.

“Some caterpillars are very fussy eaters, so you need to plant specific plants for them,” Oberhauser said. “And some caterpillars are generalists.”

Milkweed is a great food source for many species of butterflies.

Monarch Watch

Chip Taylor, professor at University of Kansas and director of Monarch Watch, said that it’s imperative to create, conserve and protect monarch habitats.

The program has around 27,000 registered sites at schools and homes, where monarchs can find an oasis of food and habitat.

“It’s not difficult to create a habitat for monarch butterflies for our registration procedures,” Taylor said.

“All we need is around 100 square feet. We need exposure for at least six hours a day to full sunlight. The soil should be well drained with very little clay in them.

“We ask that people plant the plants close together to provide hiding places for the caterpillars.

“Caterpillars need some protection. They’re easily preyed upon by ants and wasps and a whole lot of other things, so we want to give the caterpillars the maximum opportunity to survive.”

There should be at least 10 milkweed plants of two or more species of milkweeds.

Nectar plants are needed to fuel flight and reproduction.

“Waystation management requires some attention,” Taylor said. “People have to be aware of the fact that when you’re starting a garden, a certain amount of watering is required.”

Mulching also may be necessary to retain moisture and limit weeds.

“Occasionally, as you develop these gardens, you’ll have to do some thinning because things get to be a little bit too robust,” Taylor said.

“Managing the garden on a long-term basis requires that you pay attention to how each plant is performing and what needs to be adjusted.

“It’s a constant sort of experimentation.”

At the end of the season, Taylor recommends removing dead stalks. This allows the plants to break through nicely in the spring without having to deal with the dead vegetation.

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Erica Quinlan

Field Editor