Gardeners can make a difference for monarch butterflies

Maureen Gilmer
Tribune News Service
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"It is now within the power of individual gardeners to do something that we all dream of doing: to make a difference." This quote by Douglas Tallamy, in his book "Bringing Nature Home," speaks to the growing problem of habitat loss. He verifies that all gardeners have an opportunity to help with the current concern: dwindling populations of monarch butterflies. These amazing insects carry on a great migration each year, resting at "waystations" along the way to feed.

The problem is waystations are growing fewer and further between. The loss of prairie, replacement of open space with housing developments and invasion of exotic plants are some causes of this decline.

Prairie Moon Nursery offers a fabulous catalog full of the most beautiful native perennials and grasses to re-establish habitat. Their approach to planting is not based on the gardening model, but one developed for revegetating damaged sites. This process used by ecologists, botanists and wildlife biologists blends large numbers of individual plants overseeded with grasses and other ground covering species. The system can also include native trees and shrubs, which naturalize just as well to survive on rainfall and eliminate the need for irrigation. Revegetative plantings return habitat to disturbed sites or those stripped by mass grading, but this system is equally suited to smaller spaces in front or backyards as monarch waystations that support dozens of other wildlife species. Unlike static landscapes, these plant communities are awesome reflections of each season bringing an ever-changing visual appeal to your landscape.

This year the Prairie Moon folks have done something really important for those who live in tree-shrouded home sites. While prairie and meadow plant communities are fine for full sun open space, they don't do well in woodlands. Now the catalog is focusing on natives that naturally reside beneath the shade of tree canopies.

Plant communities naturally adapted to live beneath our nation's woodlands are composed of understory species. These can be smaller trees like dogwood, plus a host of ferns, perennial wildflowers such as bleeding hearts and grass-like sedges. The young plants sold by Prairie Moon as bare root, which allow you to buy many more for less money than the same species container grown. Bare root also allows the plants to immediately root deeply into native soils in order to maximize early drought resistance.

The seed mixes are collections of native plants and can be hand sown or hydroseeded where tree roots crowd the surface soil and sun penetrates only enough to dapple the earth. Here the Shady Woodland Seed Mix includes Solomon's Plume, Columbine, Wild Geranium and early Meadow Rue. Around the sunnier edges, switch to the Shortgrass Woods Edge Savanna Seed Mix to create the ideal transitional community.

Prairie Moon's publications are easy for novices to use and detailed enough to appeal to more seasoned gardeners. They offer two, free, full-color publications, the 2015 Catalog and Cultural Guide and the informative magazine Native Gardener's Companion. Request yours by visiting, the best resource for gardeners who dream of making a difference by replacing lost habitat one backyard at a time.

Maureen Gilmer is an author, horticulturist and landscape designer. Learn more at Contact her at or P.O. Box 891, Morongo Valley, CA 92256.

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