GardenSmart :: EPISODES :: 2023 show27
GardenSMART Newsletter Signup
 
Visit our Sponsors! encore azalea Dramm
Visit our Sponsors and win.
Past Shows:

GardenSMART Episode

Show #27/7301. Monarch Butterflies & Pollinator Gardens

Summary of Show

Dr. Andy Davis
DR. ANDY thinks that's a great question. He kind of started his career as an ornithologist of all things and studied bird migrations way up north in Canada. And when he came to the States to work he realized that monarch butterflies have a very similar migration system as birds where they have a long distance journey in the fall to selected wintering sites in Mexico and then they come back north again in the spring.
For More Information Click here

Lifecycle Of The Monarch
Eric would like to talk a little about the LIFECYCLE of the monarch butterfly. Dr. Andy just happens to have one with him. It is a monarch butterfly. And this butterfly lays its eggs only on one type of plant, the milkweed plant, which is in the genus Asclepias. There are about 100 different species of milkweeds in North America. This monarch butterfly will lay her eggs on the milkweed plant. The eggs will hatch, turn into little caterpillars, the caterpillars will stay on the plant, eat the plant until they develop into a pupae, and then after they're done transforming, they turn into the adult butterfly and fly away.
For More Information Click here

Parasites
Eric knows Dr. Andy studies a lot of fascinating things, and one of the more interesting aspects of his education and research is with PARASITES that also affect these insects. Eric knows there's an issue with a non-native milkweed that's related to parasite populations that affect monarchs. Dr. Andy concurs, there is a parasite that lives on monarchs. It's probably a naturally evolved parasite. All monarch populations around the world have this parasite to some degree. In places where they don't migrate, like in South Florida, their parasite levels are really, really high.
For More Information Click here

Migration
Eric would like to talk about the MIGRATION because that is something that is also really, really fascinating. When we think that small creature travels how many miles? It's at least 3,000 miles depending on where they start. They can fly all the way from as far north as Canada, then travel all the way through the States, through Northern Mexico until they reach their wintering sites in the mountains of Central Mexico. And that journey is probably one of the most fascinating things about this butterfly. Most other butterfly species that we have in North America don't do that at all. The monarch butterfly travels all the way down to Mexico to survive the winter. They then hang out in Mexico, spending their months on trees down there.
For More Information Click here

Help Monarchs With Their Journey
Eric wonders - Dr. Davis are there things that as gardeners that we can do to HELP THE MONARCHS WITH THEIR JOURNEY? Dr. Andy says as gardeners one thing we can do is try to help the monarchs during that journey north, the spring migration is to have some native milkweeds, especially if you live along the migration flyway going north, Texas, Arkansas, places like that. Those monarchs really do need to have access to ample native milkweed in order for for the population to rebuild itself every year.
For More Information Click here

Monarch’s Anatomy
Eric thinks monarchs are such beautiful creatures and of course it's that iconic orange and black that everyone knows. He would like for Dr. Andy to talk a little bit about the ANATOMY of the butterfly. For example, how do we tell the males from the females? And as well, please talk a little bit about the patterning. Dr. Andy explains - males and females look a little bit different. But, it does take a trained eye. If you see them from a distance on your flower, then you won't really see the difference.
For More Information Click here

Monarch’s Orange Color
Eric wonders about their the ORANGE COLOR? Does that help protect them from certain predators? Yes. The orange color itself has long been known as a signal to tell predators not to eat them because the milkweed plants have a toxin inside them.
For More Information Click here

Jim Gibbs
Eric next meets world-renowned gardener, JIM GIBBS. Jim has a wealth of knowledge designing gardens for pollinators. We catch up with him and take a look at the incredible pollinator garden Jim has recently built to aid the monarchs on their migration.
For More Information Click here

Attracting Pollinators From A Cyclical Sense
Eric digs right in, today we're talking about a topic that's near and dear to his heart and the heart of so many gardeners. And that is pollinators. What do we need to do to attract them into the garden and then think about the garden in a CYCLICAL SENSE. Throughout the course of the year, how do we plan a garden to attract bees and butterflies and then eventually the birds that are going to come in later and eat all the seeds?
For More Information Click here

Insects And Birds
Eric would like for Jim to talk about some of the INSECTS AND BIRDS in his garden that he's able to attract every year. Well, of course butterflies, there are 20 species of butterflies here at all times. And they have bees, he loves honeybees. They have beehives producing honey, so bees are everywhere.
For More Information Click here

Perennial Flower Seeds
Eric would like for Jim to expand on the thought about the seeds Jim looks at from a standpoint of planning a good pollinator garden. Jim works with Gary Seed Company and together they've designed a pollinator mix, a wildflower seed mix. What he does is mix nine varieties of PERENNIAL flowers. So, in the mix they have four kinds of Coreopsis varieties. Those are all in yellow colors, beautiful. And they make a big display. The Lance-leaved Coreopsis is the first to bloom in the spring, followed by the Plains Coreopsis. And then you have the narrow leaf sunflowers that would be blooming, as well as the bee balm, which is the spotted bee balm.
For More Information Click here

Annual Wildflower Seed
At Gibbs Gardens they have perennial seed, just mentioned but additionally they have ANNUAL wildflower seed. And they plant that every year. What they do is in November, the 15th of November, they plant larkspur and red poppies, they will bloom in the spring during the months of April and May. The larkspur has beautiful lavender blue, purple, pink and white flowers. Then the red poppies, the monarchs can see them from up above and the color draws them down, they then get the nectar and all from those flowers. In April, they are planting zinnias and the butterflies love, love, love zinnias. And not only that, the ladies love to cut the flowers, so they're great in your garden.
For More Information Click here

LINKS:

Andy Davis, Phd. University of Georgia
Andy Davis’ Website

Gibbs Gardens
World-Class Garden | North GA Destinations | Gibbs Gardens

Plant List

Show #27/7301. Monarch Butterflies & Pollinator Gardens

Transcript of Show

One of the true delights of the garden is attracting pollinators. In this episode GardenSMART explores the fascinating world of monarchs and how to make them feel at home in our garden.

Pollinator gardens are both beautiful and serve to attract wildlife. A particularly fascinating pollinator is the regal monarch, who travels thousands of miles each year from Canada to Mexico, finding their beloved milkweed along the way to deposit their eggs, giving rise to the next generation. We meet with Andy Davis, Phd., a wildlife ecologist at the University of Georgia who's been fascinated with monarchs his entire life and learn from him what we can do as gardeners to encourage pollinators and help sustain the monarchs for their long journey.

Eric next meets Dr. Davis and thanks him for joining GardenSMART. Welcome to the show. Dr. Andy is glad to join the show.

Eric reminisces, we've done many shows on pollinators, but we've not yet spoken with an expert in butterflies and he's fascinated to have this conversation. You're someone who's been passionate about monarchs as well as butterflies, frogs, beetles, many, many, many things. But you've studied butterflies for a long time, and just wants to ask - What sparked your interest and this passion in butterflies?

DR. ANDY thinks that's a great question. He kind of started his career as an ornithologist of all things and studied bird migrations way up north in Canada. And when he came to the States to work he realized that monarch butterflies have a very similar migration system as birds where they have a long distance journey in the fall to selected wintering sites in Mexico and then they come back north again in the spring. And that kind of journey fascinated him and sort of started him on his journey to study the monarch butterfly migration. And that is where a lot of his expertise is these days. He does study a lot of critters, but has been studying monarch butterflies the longest.

Eric would like to talk a little about the LIFECYCLE of the monarch butterfly. Dr. Andy just happens to have one with him. It is a monarch butterfly. And this butterfly lays its eggs only on one type of plant, the milkweed plant, which is in the genus Asclepias. There are about 100 different species of milkweeds in North America. This monarch butterfly will lay her eggs on the milkweed plant. The eggs will hatch, turn into little caterpillars, the caterpillars will stay on the plant, eat the plant until they develop into a pupae, and then after they're done transforming, they turn into the adult butterfly and fly away. If Eric understands correctly, the monarch will lay, what, three to 500 eggs? At least, yes. And just one egg per leaf on the Asclepias? Dr. Andy thinks that's a good question. If there's a lot of milkweed in the area, she'll kind of lay one egg and then sort of fly off and lay another egg 100 yards away. If there's not as much milkweed in an area, then she'll kind of lay a lot of eggs on one plant. But that's not really the greatest thing because sometimes those eggs when they become caterpillars will start to crowd each other out. So, in theory, she wants to lay one egg per plant so that way there's enough milkweed resource for that one offspring. And that process takes what, days or weeks? From egg to adulthood, it's about a month. It's very temperature dependent, so it depends on where you live in the country, what the temperature is, what the season is. But in general, it's about a month. And this is the only plant the monarch caterpillar wants to eat? Correct, every butterfly has its own specific host plant. The monarch butterflies only use milkweed. Eric concludes, as gardeners if we want to help the monarchs out then plant some Asclepias in our garden. But we can't just plant any milkweed, right? That is a good point because there are 100’s of different species of milkweed in North America, all native. If you go to your local garden center, sometimes what you'll find is a non-native species of milkweed. A plant that's non-native to your area. Some are being brought up from Central America, some coming from Africa. We have to make sure we're getting a native species for our garden because the monarchs have evolved to live with those native species. The non-native milkweeds can actually interfere with the monarch's migration because they stay in leaf longer than they should and that actually confuses the monarch and tells them it's not time to migrate, when it actually is.

Eric knows Dr. Andy studies a lot of fascinating things, and one of the more interesting aspects of his education and research is with PARASITES that also affect these insects. Eric knows there's an issue with a non-native milkweed that's related to parasite populations that affect monarchs. Dr. Andy concurs, there is a parasite that lives on monarchs. It's probably a naturally evolved parasite. All monarch populations around the world have this parasite to some degree. In places where they don't migrate, like in South Florida, their parasite levels are really, really high. They think that the migration itself actually cleanses the entire population of diseased individuals. Because it's such a long distance flight, any butterfly that actually tries to migrate while they have this parasite, simply perish during the journey. And what that does is cleanses the population every year and that's why he thinks that with migratory populations, the migration itself is actually a really good thing for the population because it keeps the population healthy and free of diseases. But if you have this non-native milkweed you're convincing monarchs to not migrate or to prolong their breeding phase and this actually helps the parasite to actually replicate more and that can cause some further damage to the monarch population.

Eric would like to talk about the MIGRATION because that is something that is also really, really fascinating. When we think that small creature travels how many miles? It's at least 3,000 miles depending on where they start. They can fly all the way from as far north as Canada, then travel all the way through the States, through Northern Mexico until they reach their wintering sites in the mountains of Central Mexico. And that journey is probably one of the most fascinating things about this butterfly. Most other butterfly species that we have in North America don't do that at all. The monarch butterfly travels all the way down to Mexico to survive the winter. They then hang out in Mexico, spending their months on trees down there. They wait until it's spring and then re-migrate north again. As they're migrating north, by that time, they're, like, seven months old, they're really geriatric for a butterfly. And they're laying eggs as they migrate north and then they perish. But then those eggs hatch and then once those offspring turn into adults they then continue the migration northward. There are like two or three generations moving northward in the spring where they sort of recolonize the entire North American breeding range. But in the fall it's that one long distance flight that takes two months where the entire generation attempts to make it to Mexico. But really only the select few hardy ones ever do reach their wintering colonies and those that survive pass on their genes to the next generation.

Eric wonders - Dr. Davis are there things that as gardeners that we can do to HELP THE MONARCHS WITH THEIR JOURNEY? Dr. Andy says as gardeners one thing we can do is try to help the monarchs during that journey north, the spring migration is to have some native milkweeds, especially if you live along the migration flyway going north, Texas, Arkansas, places like that. Those monarchs really do need to have access to ample native milkweed in order for for the population to rebuild itself every year. During the fall migration monarchs don't really need milkweed at all. But they do really need nectar sources. So, one of the things we can do as a gardener is to ensure that there's plenty of flowering plants in the fall when the monarchs are timed to go through your particular state. Having plants like zinnia and cosmos are good. Golden rod is also a great plant. It's a plant that a lot of people don't put in their garden specifically but if you have a field in the back of your house you can plant your golden rod back there. It's actually a really, really good plant for not just monarchs but a lot of other insect species. Keep the butterflies happy in the fall by providing them with lots of nectar sources. That's his advice.

Eric thinks monarchs are such beautiful creatures and of course it's that iconic orange and black that everyone knows. He would like for Dr. Andy to talk a little bit about the ANATOMY of the butterfly. For example, how do we tell the males from the females? And as well, please talk a little bit about the patterning. Dr. Andy explains - males and females look a little bit different. But, it does take a trained eye. If you see them from a distance on your flower, then you won't really see the difference. But if you have them up close, perhaps if you caught one of them for a research project, or if you have them in your hand, you can actually see the difference. He shows us a female monarch. You can tell because the females have thicker black pigmentation on their wing veins. And the females also are missing two little spots on their hind wings. It's very subtle and you have to see the butterflies up close. But there are some differences between males and females.

One of the things that's really fascinating to Andy is the wings themselves. He was actually just part of a team of researchers who just published a really cool project showing how the wing colors themselves, the white spots in particular, happen to be really, really important for the fall migration. He and his team found that the size of the little white spots all along the edge of their fore and hind wings seem to be really important for aerodynamic purposes. They actually affect the aerodynamics of the wings as they're flying through the air because of the cooling affect that the white actually has for the butterflies. And so, it's really a fascinating study, and only just now realizing the importance of these colors for actually helping the butterflies for that long distance migration.

Eric wonders about their the ORANGE COLOR? Does that help protect them from certain predators? Yes. The orange color itself has long been known as a signal to tell predators not to eat them because the milkweed plants have a toxin inside them. The monarch caterpillars, when they eat the milkweed, actually ingest that toxin and it stays with them throughout most of their life and that actually makes the butterflies themselves toxic to predators.

Eric thanks Dr. Andy, we've learned so much. What a fascinating conversation. Dr. Davis, thank you so much for being with us today. He in turn thanks GardenSMART, thanks again, for having me.

Eric next meets world-renowned gardener, JIM GIBBS. Jim has a wealth of knowledge designing gardens for pollinators. We catch up with him and take a look at the incredible pollinator garden Jim has recently built to aid the monarchs on their migration. Jim, thanks so much for joining us. It's always a pleasure to see you sir. Jim in turn thanks Eric, it’s great to see you again.

Eric digs right in, today we're talking about a topic that's near and dear to his heart and the heart of so many gardeners. And that is pollinators. What do we need to do to attract them into the garden and then think about the garden in a CYCLICAL SENSE. Throughout the course of the year, how do we plan a garden to attract bees and butterflies and then eventually the birds that are going to come in later and eat all the seeds? There's a lot of thought that we can put into structuring our garden in such a way to gain the advantage of all of these different wonderful species of wildlife. Jim explains to Eric and GardenSMART what he had to do was plan his garden. As Eric mentioned the seeds that they plant attract the birds into the garden. So then he had to decide what kind of seeds to use. Of course he wanted the flowers for color, but mainly wanted to attract pollinators, which of course were the butterflies and the bees. Of course the wildflower seeds attract thousands of birds into the gardens.

Eric would like for Jim to talk about some of the INSECTS AND BIRDS in his garden that he's able to attract every year. Well, of course butterflies, there are 20 species of butterflies here at all times. And they have bees, he loves honeybees. They have beehives producing honey, so bees are everywhere. They also have other kind of bees. The pollinators feed on the flowers to get the nectar and the pollen, then use the nectar for their nourishment and the pollen is usually transferred on their feet, their legs or their mouth from one flower to the other to pollinate all of the flowers that are here. But the pollinator population is going down. It's decreasing, not increasing, which concerns Jim greatly. And of course, we want to build a habitat in the gardens that attracts more and more butterflies and bees. Don't forget Gibbs gardens has all of these different floral gardens, color fence they call it and they are attracting bees, butterflies, insects, birds to the garden.

This particular garden was one big, huge addition of 15 acres to do just that. Eric adds, the plight of the pollinators is so critically important even beyond flowers. Without pollinators there's no food. Thinking about how we create habitats for pollinators, how do we help rebuild their populations, it's important just for the survival of humanity. Jim agrees, you're correct, very much so.

Eric would like for Jim to expand on the thought about the seeds Jim looks at from a standpoint of planning a good pollinator garden. Jim works with Garrett Seed Company and together they've designed a pollinator mix, a wildflower seed mix. What he does is mix nine varieties of PERENNIAL FLOWERS. So, in the mix they have four kinds of Coreopsis varieties. Those are all in yellow colors, beautiful. And they make a big display. The Lance-leaved Coreopsis is the first to bloom in the spring, followed by the Plains Coreopsis. And then you have the narrow leaf sunflowers that would be blooming, as well as the bee balm, which is the spotted bee balm. Black-eyed Susans and Coneflowers are great, and you're also going to have burr marigolds that work well. He wanted a design, starting in April, then every three or four weeks would have new flowers blooming for their beauty and to attract pollinators. Then you go into the next month. From April through November, eight months, all these flowers are blooming and attract most all of the bees and butterflies here, except for the monarch but you know they're coming in as they travel north, coming through North Georgia to visit. And then when they're returning from the north coming back south, they visit again. Some of Jim's favorites as a child were the large Yellow Tiger Swallowtail and the large Eastern Black Swallowtail. They're big and showy. And the thing about them, they are here for five months and during that time they make a big show. Children love them and the families love them, too. The monarchs are only here about two weeks in the spring then two to three weeks in the fall so they make a big difference then. Eric opines, thinking about the monarch that's a very, very long trip that they're making so it's super important that there are large plots for pollinators, places for them to pause and refuel so that they can continue making the journey. And with land under cultivation disappearing there are fewer and fewer places for these butterflies to refuel and that can impact their population.

Jim adds, one thing a lot of people don't realize is butterflies don't drink water and they don't sleep at night. They rest their eyes at night, they're always leaving the meadow, going over to the shrubs and the trees usually to hang there and rest. Now, they receive their water through the nectar which also nourishes them and then there is the pollen they're moving with their feet and hands.

At Gibbs Gardens they have perennial seed, just mentioned but additionally they have ANNUAL wildflower seed. And they plant that every year. What they do is in November, the 15th of November, they plant larkspur and red poppies, they will bloom in the spring during the months of April and May. The larkspur has beautiful lavender blue, purple, pink and white flowers. Then the red poppies, the monarchs can see them from up above and the color draws them down, they then get the nectar and all from those flowers. In April, they are planting zinnias and the butterflies love, love, love zinnias. And not only that, the ladies love to cut the flowers, so they're great in your garden. The zinnias they plant in May and have 10 groups they plant. But the largest ones are the California giants, which have three to four inch size blooms. Then they have the Lilliput, which is the little dwarf zinnias and they're multicolored also. They’re great for cut flowers. The zinnias flower from usually June all the way through November. Then the third annual seed they plant is cosmos. The cosmos is planted on July the 15th to August 1. And what the cosmos does is it flowers all during the months of September, October and November. The sulfurous cosmos is bright yellow and orange and attracts the monarchs and other butterflies. So, masses of monarchs will flutter down. It will seem like orange and yellow clouds coming down into the fields to get the nectar and the pollen. Then some cosmos have pink flowers, three shades of pink, plus the red flower and the white flower that gives us a lot of color.

Eric makes a point - from a MAINTENANCE standpoint, it may seem like a lot, but once it's established it’s somewhat self-sustaining and if thinking about it in terms of what we might need to put out some annuals, having a nice foundation of perennials is kind of a self-sustaining garden. Jim agrees, it definitely is. We do have to plant the annual seed for those annual wildflowers. But other than that, it's very low maintenance. You just let it be wild.

Eric thinks it's worth while to point out that not all of us have 15 acres for pollinators but so many of these plants, cosmos, zinnias even all these perennials do great in containers as well. And if you plant them in containers with other plants, they will bloom for many, many months, and all you do is deadhead them to keep them blooming and that works out well for containers. Eric agrees it's such a rewarding way to garden having all of these different elements of wildlife. They're taking advantage of it and we can take pride in knowing we're doing something great for the pollinators too. Jim agrees, he feels good about what he's doing. And, Eric thinks he should. The symbiosis between pollinators and the flowers they are attracted to is truly fascinating and learning how to garden with them in mind makes everything just that much more fun.

Our time has come to a close, Eric thanks Jim. It’s always a pleasure spending the day with him. Thank you so much for being with us. Jim reciprocates, thank you, Eric. I enjoy meeting with you.

LINKS:

Andy Davis, Phd. University of Georgia
Andy Davis’ Website

Gibbs Gardens
World-Class Garden | North GA Destinations | Gibbs Gardens

Plant List

Top


   
 
FEATURED ARTICLE
GardenSMART Featured Article

Photos and story by Monrovia Nursery Company

Lavender is the on-trend plant for gardeners this year. Click here for an article that details a top-tier selection of lavender that ensures success.

  Click here to sign up for our monthly NEWSLETTER packed with great articles and helpful tips for your home, garden and pets!  
   
   
 
   
   
Copyright © 1998-2012 GSPC. All Rights Reserved.