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Spreading seeds of hope - help Monarch butterflies by planting common milkweed

Pollinator Prairie Patch <>Mon, Oct 25, 7:26 PM (18 hours ago) to Pollinator Monarch butterflies are beautiful and charismatic insects and their migration from Michoacán, Mexico to Southern Canada is a marvelous spectacle rarely found in the world. Simple steps on how to help them will be included at the end. You might have heard that monarchs are in trouble. The Western population, found in California, is down from millions to thousands. And our Eastern population found in Northern Illinois has decreased more than 80% in the last 20 years. Things are so bad that the butterfly is now a candidate for listing as an endangered species. The monarch butterfly needs different things at different stages of its life. As an adult, the butterfly needs nectar from flowering plants. As a caterpillar it needs plants in the genus Asclepias also known as milkweed plants. Milkweed plants are the only thing the caterpillar will eat. There are many efforts underway in Mexico, United States, and Canada to help the monarch butterfly population. In Mexico the sanctuaries - areas where the monarchs overwinter - are protected. Many Community scientist try to improve the areas to help this butterfly that local people have a very strong cultural connection to. In the United States and Canada we are increasing efforts to plant more milkweeds along the roads in state and national parks as well as in urban areas. We also try to support the butterfly by planting late blooming species likes asters and goldenrods. All in all we have to plant 1.8 billion (yes BILLION) stems of milkweed to keep the population stable. Good news is urban areas can provide almost a third of all the milkweed needed to help the monarch butterfly. Planting the milkweed seeds will literally grow monarch caterpillars without which there are no monarch butterflies. To get the seeds to germinate spread them before mid February in an area where you would like the milkweed to grow. Common milkweed can spread quite easily once it establishes so experiment with the right areas in your garden where you might have a lot of space, the space between your garage and the fence or even back in the alley or along the fence. If you are interested in other species of milkweed that stay confined to where they are planted please contact us. You might also try to germinate the seeds at home or in the container before placing it in the given spot in the garden (that helps you control where the plant grows a little better).

Many of our native plants need to be stratified before their seeds germinate. Think of stratification as conditioning to let the seed know that winter has passed and it's safe to germinate because spring has arrived. (Pretty much the seed needs to freeze and thaw a couple of times before it gets moist and warm in spring and germinates). In order to simulate the stratification process you can mix the seeds with clean sand. Add enough water so that when you squeeze the seed and sand mix in a bag, no water comes up on top. Leave the seeds in your refrigerator for 30 days. After that put the seeds in a pot and cover with tiny bit of soil and watch them germinate and grow. Another method is The Milk Jug method and there are many YouTube videos that teach you how to do it including this one. There are many other things you can do to help the monarch butterfly and other pollinators such as

- do not to use insecticides in your garden

- plant flowers so that you have something blooming from Spring to Fall

- leave habitat for pollinators, meaning let your garden be a little messy. Rake fewer leaves, leave stems and some open soil Thank you for creating habitat for monarch butterflies and contributing to the urban oasis in Chicago region.

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