#WorldWednesday-Save the Monarch

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Hi!  Thanks for returning to the blog and #worldwednesday.  Our focus today is on one of my favorite creatures--the monarch butterfly.  The monarch butterfly is one of the most recognizable and well studied butterflies on the planet.  I am including a video on our social media sites which you can watch.  It gives a nice visual of this beautiful creature's life cycle.   The female monarch butterfly lays each of her eggs individually on the leaf of a milkweed plant, attaching it with a bit of glue she secretes.  A female lays between 300 and 500 eggs over a two-to-five week period.  A couple of years ago, we planted a few milkweed plants in our garden, and watched with delight as monarchs visited our home.  And, during their visit-they left their eggs behind.  

After only a few days, the eggs hatched into larvae, otherwise known as caterpillars in the moth and butterfly world.  A caterpillars' main job is to grow, so they spent most of their time eating.  And, they only eat milkweed, so we were really glad to have planted multiple plants. We named one of the caterpillars "crunch munchy".  All the caterpillars ate their fill for about two weeks, and then they spun protective cases around themselves and entered the pupa stage, which is also called a "chrysalis."  About a week or two later they finished their metamorphosis and emerged as fully formed, black-and-orange, adult monarch butterflies.  I was filled with wonder at the site of the adult monarchs as they appeared.  It was an amazing experience!  

Since monarch butterflies only eat milkweed, it is a vital plant for their survival.  And, you can help by growing milkweed in your home garden.

Growing Milkweed:

Where to plant-Most milkweeds require full sun (at least 6 to 8 hours a day).  Because they self-seed readily, locate your plants in a part of the garden where you can better control their rampant spread, such as the back of the border or in a corner.  A spot that's protected from the wind will also help prevent the spread of seeds while providing a more hospitable environment for butterflies.  

When to plant-If you're planting milkweed from seed, sow the seeds outdoors in the fall, which will give them the period of stratification (exposure to cold, moist conditions) they need to encourage spring germination and ensure a good display of flowers the following summer.  

How to plant-To ensure successful germination of milkweed seeds, plant them in a smooth, clump-free soil bed worked to a fine consistency using a rake or rototiller.  After you've sown the seeds, compact them into the soil (but don't cover them) to provide good soil-to-seed contact.  Keep the planting bed moist until the seedlings become established.  As your plants begin to take off, thin out any plants that are spaced too closely together so they don't compete for sun and soil nutrients.

Spacing-To attract multitudes of monarchs to your garden, plant milkweed in groups of six or more, spacing plants or thinning seedlings to about 6 to 24 inches apart, depending on the species.  "Monarchs are very good at finding a milkweed plant, but the more you have in your yard, the more likely they will find it and lay their little eggs all over it.  Plant as many plants as you have room for," recommends Kelly Ballard of Joyful Butterfly, a supplier of butterfly plants and seeds.  

And, if you don't have a garden currently-we can help.  Sign up today to begin searching for your own butterfly garden.  See you soon!  Warmly, Susan