Consider plants that will help monarch butterflies

Gentle rains and cooler temperatures have been perfect in the past few weeks to allow for the seeding of gardens, the planting of trees and the purchase of perennials for our gardens.

While planning your yards and garden spaces, plant with purpose for 2021. Consider plants that help our monarch butterflies, which are crucial pollinators, and provide for water conservation for your homes.

Monarchs: The Illinois state insect

In December 2020, assessment of the monarch butterfly determined that the monarch is considered endangered. However, this status was precluded at this time by higher-priority listings.

In January 2021, Monarch Joint Venture said the Xerces Society determined that their results counting overwintering at 261 sites in southern California and Mexico yielded only 1,914 monarch butterflies. They continued by saying this represented a 99.9% decline in the population of monarchs since the 1980s.

The spraying of herbicides and pesticides that assist farmers for higher-yield crops has had the most deteriorating effect on the monarchs, which count on the native species of milkweed that grows near these fields. As milkweed is the only species of plants where monarch butterflies will lay eggs for the nourishment of its caterpillars, this loss equals a loss of the species. The establishment of milkweed plants in residential gardens or in natural prairies is essential.

As the monarch migrates into the Midwest, there are things we can do to assist in increasing numbers for these regal insects. Plating native milkweed and other nectar plants is helpful in supporting the monarch adults and their offspring.

According to the Chicago Botanical Society, the milkweed plants or seed that you should be growing to assist the monarch caterpillar’s development are:

• Ascelpias amplexicaulis is described as eraser pink and is fragrant.

• Asclepias exaltata, which is native to woodlands in Illinois, is white.

• Asclepias incarnata, which is native to the prairie/woodlands, is pink and fragrant. These plants also are referred to as Cinderella, ice ballet and soulmate.

• Asclepias tuberosa, which is also referred to as butterfly weed, is bright gold and orange. Common names for this milkweed include hello yellow, western gold mix and gay butterflies.

• Asclepias purpurascens, which has a pinkish purple flower, tolerates both sunny and shaded areas.

Monarch advocate groups, such as the Monarch Joint Venture based at the University of Minnesota, study the monarch and sell bulk native milkweed seeds and seed packets. If you buy seeds, you can germinate them quickly by putting the seeds in wet paper towels in a plastic bag in your refrigerator for 30 days before planting. Place the seedlings in a sunny area about 1½ inches deep into the soil and water each day for at least two weeks to ensure strong growth.

Pollinator gardens

Pollinators are some of the most important species around the world, as we rely on their work in cycle of food production. Based on the use of pesticides, we have seen the phenomenon known as colony collapse disorder for bees and how this also affects the health of the monarch as mentioned in this article.

CCD first was reported in 2006 when beekeepers noted a large number of losses of adult honeybees that disappeared from the hive, leaving the queen and immature bees that would not be able to sustain the hive. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has determined that CCD is caused by parasites, pathogens, poor nutrition, pesticide exposure, lack of genetic diversity and habitat loss. Although through the years there have been some decreases in the occurrence of CCD, what we can do to help sustain our pollinators the bees is to plant a pollinator garden, provide nesting habitat and avoid or limit pesticide use.

Creating a garden that will assist pollinators using perennial native species for our Region 5 area will provide many years of success. After a few years of care from you, these perennials are able to become nice, long-rooted plants that are hardy in the drought years that we experience.

The ideal pollinator garden is one that has flowering plants from spring to fall; a source of water, such as a shallow pool or mud puddles for butterflies; and homemaking materials for other pollinators such as bees. Some websites to help with the growing and design or pollinator gardens include Illinois Prairie: Wild Ones for design of native gardens, University of Illinois Extension Gardening with Perennials, and the Morton Arboretum for monthly care of perennials and annuals in your gardens.

Provide some nesting sites, such as an area that is small but undisturbed, well drained and bare grounds that faces south and has full sun during the day. Ground bees will use this area for nesting.

Avoid or limit pesticide use and consider removing pests with gloved hands, or just spot spray if necessary to avoid spreading the pesticide to larger areas.

As science evolves and provides solutions, the University of California, Riverside, is developing medications for sick bees and has generated molecules that make the bees more tolerant of pesticides and parasites. They also are working with beekeepers to provide them with the technology that will help the beekeepers to determine when a hive is getting sick and take steps to provide the needed medication bees will need to stay healthy.

Vegetable gardens

Growing vegetables is a great way to keep yourself healthy and also to provide additional food source for winter months as well. Canning your excess vegetables will provide the benefit of tasty stews and soups during the winter months. There are several webpages that will help to get you started on your way canning your harvest. If canning is not something you want, share your produce with neighbors and food pantries in Grundy County.

Planting of trees to celebrate a belated Arbor Day

Trees benefit our lives in more ways that we can imagine. As Arbor Day was April 30, now is the time to appreciate and plant trees.

Trees provide a multitude of benefits to all of us.

• Trees provided a calming effect by reducing blood pressure and muscle tension.

• Planting a tree on the west side of your home provides energy savings.

• Having large mature trees in your yard may increase the value of the home up to 15%.

• One acre of forest is able to absorb six tons of carbon dioxide and provides four tons of oxygen meeting the annual needs for 18 people.

• Trees properly placed around a building can reduce the amount of air conditioning needed by 30%

• Trees improve water quality by reducing runoff and erosion, which allows for better recharging of the ground water.

• Trees make great living snow fences. See the Arbor Day Foundation website for information.

July events

July 15 to 17: Tire collection for residential vehicle and light truck tires only at Olson’s Recycling located at 354 W. Jackson St., Seneca. Thursday and Friday hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Saturday hours are 9 a.m. to noon. All tires must be off rim and clean. No agricultural, semi or commercial/industrial tires will be accepted.

July 21: There will be a shredding event at the parking lot off of Lynn Road north of the Animal Control facility located at 310 E. DuPont from 10 a.m. to noon. Two-box limit. No plastic or metals should be included in any paper materials. Attendees are asked to limit the size of the box to not larger than 18 inches long by 12 inches wide, and 10 inches deep.

We thank you, Grundy County, for continuing your good works as stewards of our planet and for teaching your children the same. Feel free to contact me at any time if you need further information or have questions at or 815-941-3229.

• Heidi Miller is the director of the Grundy County Land Use Department.