How to Create a Monarch Waystation
When you spot a monarch butterfly, you can hardly help but smile. This is is true now more than ever since monarchs have been in decline over the past decade. Pollinator Partnership estimates that there has been a 90% decline in the monarch population in recent years. Fortunately, we can all help reverse this concerning trend.
We work with several clients to establish monarch-friendly areas in their landscapes. These run from small vignettes in existing garden beds to certified Monarch Waystations.
What is a Monarch Waystation?
Monarch Waystations are places that provide the food and habitat necessary for monarchs to produce successive generations and sustain their migration. In many regions, development of neighborhoods and retail or industrial areas have decimated the natural habitat monarchs rely on for survival. Establishing Monarch Waystations is a way to restore their habitat and preserve the ecology necessary for monarch populations to recover.
Make it official! Did you know you can have your monarch habitat certified as an official Monarch Waystation by Monarch Watch? Your habitat will be included in the Monarch Waystation Registry, an online listing of Monarch Waystations worldwide, and you will be awarded a certificate bearing your name and your habitat’s unique Monarch Waystation ID number.
Why Should I Consider Establishing a Monarch Waystation?
By creating and maintaining a Monarch Waystation you become part of a wider monarch conservation effort. It is also a wonderful way to incorporate beautiful native plants and native cultivars that will draw more than just monarchs to your garden. You can expect to see a range of pollinators, including bees and birds—all of which benefit and add interest to your landscape.
Expert Advice to Establish a Monarch Waystation
American Landscape designer, Katie Jean Fedorski shares her process for working with clients interested in establishing a Monarch Waystation.
What is the first step when considering establishing a Monarch Waystation?
I always begin with a site visit to analyze the soil, site conditions, and surrounding areas. I actually also consider the whole neighborhood and any other natural areas that surround the site. I work closely with the client to understand the scope of what they are interested in establishing. There are many ways to go about creating a Monarch Waystation. Some clients want a simple version and some want a very elaborate pollinator habitat. A Monarch Waystation doesn’t have to be a stand-alone garden, we can work them into an existing landscape and still achieve the accreditation.
We consult about options and what is possible for the conditions the landscape site offers. Monarchs need six hours of sun per day, so identifying the right location within the landscape is key. We need to consider any issues, such as drainage or proximity to outdoor living areas. For example, we might not want to locate the waystation next to a patio since it is likely to also attract bees.
What type of plants do you recommend for a Monarch Waystation?
Milkweeds are the most important plant to consider. To be certified, you must have at least 10 plants, of two different milkweed species. It’s where they lay their eggs and is their nectar source. Milkweed is the sole food source for developing caterpillars. This type of garden is built with native plants. In Wisconsin there are four different types of native milkweeds, so that is where our plant selection begins.
Other types of plants provide shelter, so we might include evergreens or large shrub or perennial. Conditions on the site (soil, sunlight) will dictate the specific plant selection.
How do design considerations factor into plant selection?
I always take into consideration the wishes of the client. Some prefer a wilder look and others want to keep their garden tidy. In that case I might use cultivars, which are usually more ornamental. For example, purple coneflower has many types we can choose. There is a native species, which is weedier looking, whereas the cultivar (echinachea purporea/sombrero) gives a range of colors (even red!) and a tidier appearance.
I can select from several perennials (e.g., coneflower, black-eyed susans, bee balm) to populate the garden. Then, depending on how much time the client enjoys spending in the garden, we can fill in space with annuals (e.g., zinnias, verbena, marigolds), which typically require a bit more effort from the homeowner.
Another consideration is to use a color palette that complements the client’s landscape and aligns with their wishes. We need to consider blooming times so we pick a plant palette that will have successions of bloom periods – a Spring, Summer, Fall look. This is aesthetically pleasing and also creates a diverse ecology for the monarchs to thrive. It has the added benefit of having a positive ecological impact by drawing birds, insects, and bees. It’s one reason why I love the monarch waystation because it gives people an easy entry to drawing all types of ecology to their yards.
Lastly, I may suggest a paver walkway through the waystation to make it more interactive.
Design is done. What is next?
We begin with site prep. We do a lot of soil amendments, with composting and natural fertilizers so the waystation starts off on the right foot. If the soil is amended properly, it is more self-sustaining. Wisconsin has a lot of clay and a lot of plants don’t do well in that type of environment. We amend the soil with compost to break up the clay. It then creates the blank canvas where we can play.
Looking beyond the specific waystation area, I also consider a client’s lawn care program to ensure it will not negatively affect the monarch habitat. It important to avoid using harmful chemicals. As a side benefit of establishing a Monarch Waystation, often the whole property evolves into using a more sustainable, natural approach, which supports the entire ecology of the property.
Once the site is ready, we install the plant material and finish it with shredded bark mulch to keep weeds out, help with hydration and protect the soil from sunlight.
How do you properly maintain a Monarch Waystation?
First, we provide thorough guidance on plant care and recommendations. Since we eliminate pesticides, maintenance revolves around weed control, thinning and dividing plants as necessary and watering.
Watering is critical. We offer suggestions on creative ways to water and keep the waystation healthy—from hand watering to soaker hoses laid underneath mulch and wrapped through the garden. I tend to steer clients away from sprinklers because those wet the leaves and can cause fungal issues. I like to set people up with timers so watering can take care of itself.
How to Get Started Creating a Monarch Waystation
To be a certified Monarch Waystation, a landscape needs 100 square feet in total. This means you can have vignettes of monarch-friendly plants throughout your landscape, provided the square footage adds up to 100. We can help you identify areas within your landscape that would be ideal for a monarch habitat. We have designs ready to go for nearly any size footprint. Get in touch today to schedule time to discuss your wishes for a Monarch Waystation in your landscape.
For more information on the certification program for Monarch Waystations, visit Monarch Watch at monarchwatch.org.