Fairfield Ledger

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Neighbors Growing Together | Sep 24, 2018

Saving monarchs, pollinators

By Aleta Mottet, Jefferson County Master Gardeners | Mar 07, 2018
JULIE JOHNSTON/Submitted photo A monarch butterfly rests on a flower.

NOTE: The Jefferson County Master Gardeners are providing a monthly column, named “Dear Iris,” for The Fairfield Ledger readers. “Dear Iris” is scheduled to be in the paper the first Wednesday of each month. The Master Gardeners will be providing information about horticulture and answering questions from readers. Questions can be sent to The Ledger at PO Box 110, Fairfield 52556, emailed to lifestyles@ffledger.com or dropped off at the office, 114 E. Broadway Ave. Be sure to include your name and contact information in case the Master Gardeners need more information.

The Jefferson County Master Gardeners have each completed the three-month-long core training course through Iowa State University Extension and Outreach and learned best practices for choosing plants, designing gardens and managing pests. After completing the course, Master Gardener trainees start their work as volunteers within the community, then, upon completion of 40 hours of volunteer service, their Master Gardener title becomes official.

For information about the Jefferson County Master Gardeners and how to apply to become a Master Gardener, call the Jefferson County ISU Extension office at 472-4166.


With spring here, it’s the time of the year we start thinking about planting our flowers and gardens. So let’s think about planting for our pollinator friends.

We need our butterflies and bees to help pollinate our vegetables, fruits and fruit trees. They need a food source just like humans do. Some early nectar plants and shrubs you might consider are: Serviceberry, Redbud, Flowering Dogwood, Spicebush, Pussy Willow and Wild Blueberry. Butterflies like most flowers with lots of color and fragrance like Purple Coneflower, Butterfly Weed, Wild Blue Indigo, False Sunflowers, Blackeyed Susan, Joe Pye Weed, Coreopsis, just to mention a few.

Last summer, the butterflies and bees loved my Autumn Joy Sedum.

Some fall plantings of nectar plants to consider are False Aster, Sneezeweed, Ironweed, Showy Goldenrod, and late shrub, Witchhazel.

We need to create waystations for monarchs to offer food, protection and water for their migrating each spring and autumn.

Because of the loss of monarchs’ habitat due to development, use of herbicides and unproductive roadside management, we need to conserve and protect milkweed habitats.

Why is milkweed so important? It is the only plant the monarch will lay their eggs on and they only lay three to four eggs at a time. The babies hatch into caterpillars called larvae. It takes about four days for them to hatch, then they eat 20 or more milkweed leaves to help them grow. It takes about two weeks for the caterpillar to become fully grown and then it finds a place to attach itself so that it can begin metamorphosis. It will attach to a stem or leaf using silk and transforms into chrysalis. This part takes about 10 days. The monarch will emerge from the pupa and fly away to feed on flowers and enjoy a short life of two to four weeks.

This generation will lay eggs for the second generation in May and June. Then in July and August, the second generation will lay eggs for the third generation. Then the third generation lays their eggs for the fourth generation in September and October. These are the Superman of Monarchs; they travel the 3,000 miles to Mexico to winter over in the warmer climate. They have a uncanny way, or sense, to find the same Oyamel fir trees that provide their unique mountain habitat. They will live for six to eight months and then start the northern migration all over again.

The Jefferson Master Gardeners have been going into the Fairfield Middle School for the past three years and sharing this important information with all the sixth-grade science students, then planting milkweed seeds with them. We all have to do our part to help protect and provide for the monarch butterflies and other pollinators. Wherever there is milkweed there will be monarch butterflies.

Some of the varieties to consider planting is Common Milkweed, Swamp Milkweed, Butterfly Milkweed, Purple Milkweed, Prairie Milkweed, Whorlend Milkweed and Poke Milkweed.

I will share with you: milkweed seeds are very finicky and hard to start. So you might want to buy plants that are already started. You will have to do a little investigating online to find greenhouses that carry milkweed plants.

If you have any questions, you can send them to the “Dear Iris” column at The Fairfield Ledger, and we will do our best to answer them for you.

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