Lee Valley Tools    Gardening Newsletter
   Vol. 5, Issue 2
   April 2010
   Create a Monarch Way Station

A monarch basking in the sunshine
A monarch basking in the sunshine.

Among butterflies, the monarch is the crown royal. With wings resembling orange and black stained-glass windows, it hovers lazily in our summer gardens. Come fall, it prepares for a remarkable journey not performed by any other insect on earth.

Our goal this spring was to create a certified monarch way station, a place of refuge for this dwindling insect species. This type of way station is simply a botanical butterfly inn designed to provide food, drink, rest and lodging.

Monarchs use way stations during their seasonal fall journey south from eastern North America to the Transvolcanic Range of central Mexico, where they overwinter in high-elevation oyamel fir (Abies religiosa) forests. Similarly, the butterflies frequent the way stations when they come north in spring.

Monarch Watch is a conservation program based at the University of Kansas. Its goal is to establish 10,000 certified way stations across North America. To date, 154 are registered in Canada and 3,446 in the United States. This program encourages homeowners, among others, to plant butterfly gardens to offset habitat loss caused by development and urban sprawl.

"This migration is worth saving," says Dr. Chip Taylor, biologist and director of the program. "To save it, we have to pay attention to the habitat needs of this butterfly."

It doesn't take a lot of space to create a mini-habitat for butterflies. Even a window box of annuals will suffice. An official monarch way station is more exacting. We created our way station in an abandoned vegetable garden at our farm in the Gatineau Hills, situated in west Quebec, Canada. Surrounded by meadows and forests, and being pesticide and herbicide free, it's an ideal location. Pesticides kill the monarch caterpillars and adults. Herbicides kill the plants on which they rely for food and lodging. Butterfly way stations must be built without the use of chemicals. As some North American cities move toward banning pesticides and other chemicals from home gardens, the prospects for safe butterfly havens increase.

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