Living Acres

Maintaining Migration: What Matters When Planting for Pollinators

August 26, 2016

Monarch on Milkweed

Each year, monarch butterflies take on an incredible journey in pursuit of survival. Millions of monarchs travel together to warmer regions like Mexico and California for the winter. Since many monarchs live in the Corn Belt, this trek can span across 3,000 miles. It’s easy to imagine that any monarch, that is traveling up to 100 miles per day, will build up quite the appetite along the way. Luckily, farmers can help fuel the travelers’ journey by planting nourishing pollinator plants along the route, and with a little upfront research, farmers can get a good start on supporting biodiversity in their communities.

Variety Matters

Like other pollinators, monarch butterflies count on a variety of vegetation as a source of food and shelter. A general variety ensures that monarchs receive the resources they need, but choosing the right variety is important for sustaining a specific region’s ecosystem.

Choosing native plant varieties when planting on a farmstead is important because the plants found naturally in the area are best suited for the local climate and wildlife. Non-native plants can quickly become invasive and endanger the wellbeing of other vegetation. Farmers should look up which varieties are native to their own region before planting.

Diversity Matters

Diversity in what farmers plant helps support a wide spectrum of pollinators and gives all species a range of nourishment. When choosing which plants to include in their efforts, farmers should take into account the lifecycle of each plant. A good mix of vegetation ensures that there will be plenty of plants in full bloom throughout the April to October growing season.

In addition to flowering plants, other natural resources should be considered when selecting what to include in a pollinator garden. Grasses can provide valuable ground cover that can help control weed competition and reduce soil erosion, ultimately supporting the longevity of the garden. A mix of trees, shrubs and other plants provides shelter and protection to visiting monarchs. Nutritional elements not supplied by nectar plants can be obtained by leaving fruit in the garden to rot and degrade into its core vitamins and minerals.

Methodology Matters

To establish the most impactful gardens for monarchs, certain planting techniques should be followed. Planting in tight groups rather than spread across a large area helps make it easier for monarchs to find the pit stop along their way.

Farmers should also research the best way to grow each plant. Some species can successfully emerge and develop from seed, while others require planting at a later growth stage. Research conducted in 2015 as part of the Living Acres initiative from BASF found that milkweed, a plant that provides valuable shelter for monarchs and food for their larvae, best grows from planted rootstalk.

Location Matters

Since much of the land beneath the monarch’s winter flight is a farmer’s acreage, pollinator plants can be incorporated right into the farmstead. Another research focus of Living Acres evaluates where farmers can establish supporting vegetation alongside their high-production operation. Non-cropland areas like roadways, ditches, and areas next to machine sheds and storage structures make great spaces to plant without encroaching on yield-producing real estate.

Now What?

After learning what monarchs need during their migration and how to best support their journey, it’s time to get started. There is a variety of resources available to help farmers take the first step:

  • This tool, developed by the Pollinator Partnership, generates a detailed report of plant varieties native to a region based on the zip code entered.
  • This webpage from BASF houses helpful videos, audio clips and print materials on monarch butterflies.
  • This marketplace from Monarch Watch connects farmers with milkweed varieties that are native to their region.

To learn more about the monarch butterfly population and efforts to support it, please visit


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