By Adrian Dunn
We have all heard of the sharp decline of Monarch butterflies in the last two decades, due to habitat loss and pesticide use. Known for their beauty and for their remarkable migration from Mexico to Canada each year, Monarchs are one of the best recognized and most loved pollinators. While backyard gardens can’t substitute for the rebuilding of the Monarch super-highway that used to stretch diagonally across the country, these can help. Monarchs require milkweed for their caterpillars to feed on, and nectar-producing flowers for the adults to eat. Butterflies also need water, so leaving a patch of muddy ground or a bird bath is helpful to them.
The plight of the Monarch has highlighted the importance of pollinators in the natural environment. Pollinators in Massachusetts include honey bees, but also wild bees called solitary bees, bumble bees, wasps, butterflies and moths, pollinating flies, beetles, and ruby-throated hummingbirds. Besides providing us with a third of our vegetables and fruits, pollinators allow wild plants to reproduce.
Here are a few easy steps you can take right now to ensure a comfortable habitat for pollinators.
- Don’t use pesticides or herbicides in your backyard. These aren’t healthy for you, your pets, or the wild environment.
- Mow your grass on a higher setting, to allow low flowers like violets to bloom. If you can, leave one area of your yard unmowed and plant wild flowering plants there. If you have a large field, consider mowing just once in the autumn after the goldenrod and asters have bloomed and set seed. This assures a food supply for nectar-feeders into the fall.
- Leave dandelions in your lawn. These feed the wild bees.
- Plant a native pollinator garden. Mass Audubon recommends the following native plants to attract pollinators:
- Wild columbine (Aquilegia canadensis )
- Wild geranium (Geranium maculatum )
- Bird’s foot violet (Viola pedata )
- Smooth swamp-milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)
- Goldenrods (Solidago species)
- Wild lupine (Lupinus perennis )
- Plant a butterfly garden. Here are some suggested plants to feed the adult butterflies:
- Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa)
- Butterfly bush (Buddleia, many varieties)
- Chives (Allium schoenoprasum)
- Day lily (Hemerocallis)
- Joe Pye weed (Eutrochium)
- Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria)
- New England aster (Aster novae-angliae)
- Purple cone-flower (echinacea)
- Plant a hummingbird garden. Hummingbirds love:
- Bee balm (Monarda didyma)
- Salvia (Salvia splendens)
- Balloon flower (Platycodon grandiflorum)
- Bellflower (Campanula persicifolia)
- Phlox (Phlox paniculata)
- Lily (Lilium)
- Lupine (Lupinus)
- Penstemon (Penstemon barbatus)
Remember, butterflies and moths also need host plants for their caterpillars to hatch and feed on. Monarchs require milkweed (Asclepias species). Other butterflies may prefer other plants. For more information: http://www.butterflywebsite.com/butterflygardening.cfm and The Xerces Society, http://www.xerces.org/pollinator-conservation/plant-lists/. Locally, the team at Williamstown Rural Lands Foundation (wrlf.org) have a wealth of information to share with you. Making your backyard friendly to pollinators helps to restore the natural environment, and enhances the beauty and vitality of your yard.