From the reports I received this week, a wave of monarchs was apparently migrating through Middle Georgia. In addition, it was encouraging to hear that most of those reporting the appearance of these large orange and black butterflies were seeing more monarch than they had seen in years.
For example, my wife and I saw no fewer than seven monarchs at one time in our yard. While that might not seem remarkable, during the fall, in recent years, we have not seen more than two or three at time visiting our flowers. A friend that lives in Lamar County said she was thrilled to discover 15 monarchs nectaring on ageratum late one afternoon. She went on to say this was far more than she had seen on her property in years. In another instance, a friend that lives in McDonough reported seeing many monarchs flying along the highway while driving from his home to Jonesboro. He was excited that this was more monarchs that he had seen in long time. Yet another friend reported larger than normal numbers of monarchs showing up in his Monroe County yard.
The appearance of monarchs in Georgia backyards in autumn points out the need for all of us to ensure that these iconic butterflies have plenty to eat on their epic journey to the Sierra Madre Mountains in Mexico. This extremely long migration can take as long as two months. During this flight, monarchs touchdown in many places as they travel anywhere from 25 to 100 miles a day. At each stop they need to be able find enough food (nectar) to restore their fat reserves that fuel their long journey to their winter home, survive the winter, and then return to the United States.
Some researchers feel that the ability of monarchs to find enough nectar along the fall migration pathway is extremely critical to the survival of the species. As such, we all need to put out the welcome mat to America’s favorite butterfly as it moves south. The best way this goal can be accomplished is to grow a variety of fall-blooming nectar plants in our backyards. If we all offer a helping hand, we can create a series of stepping stones monarchs can use as they cross the state each autumn.
The problem is the nectar plants in many backyard gardens across the state are pretty ragged by this time of the year. As such, they do not provide monarchs with nearly as much nectar as they could.
When the monarchs arrived in my yard this year they were greeted to a mix of flowers including butterfly bush, zinnia, cosmos, scarlet sage, Turk’s cap, mountain mint, liatris, ageratum, goldenrod, and lantana. By far, the monarchs most often fed at butterfly bush blossoms. The next most popular plant visited was lantana. Interestingly, while monarchs preferred ageratum at my friend’s house in Lamar County, they never visited it in my yard. In addition, while they have fed at Georgia mint growing in my yard in past years, they did not visit it this year.
This points out the fact that we need to provide migrating monarchs with a variety of nectar plants. When this is done, chances are the butterflies will find one or more plants in just the right stage of blooming to provide them with much-needed nectar.
If you are interested in adding some autumn bloomers to your landscape to help southbound migrating monarchs, here are a few of the other nectar plants reported to attract monarchs in fall: Mexican sunflower, ironweed, aster, marigold, blanket flower, and petunia.
If you have noticed monarchs feeding at other flowers in your yard at this time of the year, I would appreciate knowing about it.