As fall arrives each year, we look forward to the annual spectacle of migrating monarch butterflies passing through our region. These remarkable creatures, with their distinctive orange and black wings, are on an incredible journey. Gardeners in East Texas have a unique opportunity to support our designated Texas State Insect by providing nectar-rich flowers that sustain them on their fall migration.
Each year, monarch butterflies undertake a phenomenal migration from their breeding grounds in North America to their wintering site in a unique forest in Mexico. Unlike their journey north which occurred in multiple generations, their journey south is accomplished by a single generation of delicate but durable creatures. During this fall trip, monarchs depend heavily on nectar-rich flowers for sustenance.
For migrating monarch butterflies, the need for nectar is critical. They rely on this sugary substance for the energy required to complete their long journey. To support these travelers, we need to provide an abundance of nectar-rich flowers in gardens and along roadways and pastures.
When choosing nectar plants for your garden, consider these fall blooming options and keep them sheared with the hedge clippers until Labor Day to keep them dense and full of blooms each October.
Cigar Plant (Cuphea micropetala): This Mexican native provide spikes of candy corn-like flowers as the days shorten each fall.
Fall Aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium): This native, Texas-tough perennial produces lavender, daisy-like flowers that are irresistible to butterflies.
Goldenrod (Solidago sp.): Goldenrod’s golden-yellow blooms offer a late-season feast for migrating monarchs and hungry bees as well.
Mexican Bush Sage (Salvia leucantha): This striking purple and white standout was designated a Texas Superstar by Texas A&M AgriLife for good reason.
Perennial Ageratums (Conoclinium sp.): Both mistflower and Gregg’s mistflower are native Texas perennials that provide loads of frothy lavender blooms for migrating monarchs each autumn. The related white bonesets (Eupatorium sp.) are also winners for pollinators.
Perennial Garden Mums (Dendranthema x rubella): True perennial chrysanthemums such as ‘Clara Curtis,’ ‘Country Girl,’ and ‘Mildred Golden’ provide fall flowers year after year without replanting.
Perennial Sunflowers (Helianthus sp.): Fall blooming, vigorous perennials like giant sunflower, Jerusalem artichoke, and swamp sunflower provide a yellow brick road for monarchs each autumn.
To create a welcoming habitat for migrating monarchs, follow these steps:
- Sunny Spots: Plant nectar-rich flowers in sunny locations within your garden. Monarchs love basking in the sun as they sip nectar.
- Water Source: Provide a water source, such as a birdbath or shallow dish, for butterflies to drink from.
- Avoid Pesticides: Refrain from using pesticides in your garden. These chemicals can harm not only monarchs but also other pollinators and beneficial insects.
- Pocket Prairies: Consider creating beds, borders, or blocks of native prairie plants to support migrating monarchs and other struggling birds, bees, and butterflies.
- Mowing Mismanagement: Do not mow pastures, prairies, vacant lots, roadsides, and rights-of-way until after the first hard freeze (generally around Thanksgiving here) to give the monarchs time to pass through.
Fall in East Texas is a time of transformation, with the migration of monarch butterflies being one of the most miraculous spectacles. Sadly, their numbers have declined as much as 80% in the last few decades. As gardeners, we can play a significant role in supporting them by providing nectar-rich flowers that sustain them during their journey.
Planting and maintaining nectar-rich flowers like aster, goldenrod, mistflowers, salvias, and sunflowers creates a monarch-friendly environment. As these iconic butterflies pass through, your garden can be a vital pit stop for them. Your efforts not only enhance the beauty of your garden but also contribute to the conservation of this extraordinary species.
With Texas being “the gate keeper” for both the spring and fall migration of miracle monarchs into and out of Mexico, let’s plan to make our gardens and properties more welcoming and sustaining for these wonders of nature.