Ann Wright: Monarch madness |

Ann Wright: Monarch madness

Ann Wright

Nevada County Master Gardeners are engaged in a number of activities in the community and one of the more recent projects involves monarch butterflies. On some days in the demonstration garden, you may find "Monarch Wranglers," an enthusiastic group of Master Gardeners committed to helping the declining monarch population. Last summer, the designation of Monarch Waystation was achieved for Nevada County's own Master Gardener demonstration garden at the NID complex in Grass Valley. (Another Waystation was established in September 2015 at a private farm whose owner is also a Master Gardener.)

The Monarch Waystation program is an element of Monarch Watch (, a nonprofit education, conservation and research program which focuses on monarch butterflies, their habitat and fall migration. Across the country, new construction, human habitation and agricultural influences have deleteriously impacted butterfly habitat. In the fall, monarch butterflies migrate from cold climates to over-winter in warmer climates. Monarchs east of the Rocky Mountains spend winters in a mountain region of central Mexico; the western monarchs migrate to locations along the central coast of California. Monarch Watch encourages the planting and care of plants critical to monarch populations. Gardens and parklands all over the country are planting and maintaining areas designated as monarch habitats. In December 2016, Monarch Watch recorded 15,357 Monarch Waystations registered in the United States, Canada, Mexico and Puerto Rico. There are over 900 registered in California.


Milkweed is essential to the life-cycle of the monarch — it is the only plant on which the monarch butterflies lay eggs. In backyard gardens, along some roadways, in fields across the county, tiny cream colored monarch eggs or a striped monarch caterpillar may be spotted on the leaves of the milkweed.

Butterflies also rely on the nectar of many other flowering plants as energy sources during the long migration to winter locations.

In our area, native milkweed includes four types of Asclepias species: A. speciosa, also known as showy milkweed; A. Fascicularis, also known as narrow leaf; A. cordifolia or heartleaf milkweed, and A. eriocarpa, or wooly pod milkweed. There may be other varieties of milkweed that will grow in Nevada County, but these four are well adapted and thrive in this native habitat. The Monarch Waystation suggests maximizing habitats by establishing two or more species of milkweed, at a minimum 10 plants of single or multiple species. As milkweeds mature and flower at different times during a season, it is a benefit to have multiple plants of different varieties in an area for the monarchs to utilize during the breeding season.

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To learn more about these beautiful creatures and the plants that support them, plan to attend the Master Gardeners workshop "Monarchs and Milkweed: How Can We Help Them," scheduled for Saturday, March 25 from 10 a.m. to noon at the Elks Lodge in Grass Valley, 109 South School St. Find out how to help the Monarchs by understanding:

what's happening to the Monarch Butterfly population;

why milkweed is important to the survival of the monarchs;

which milkweed plants are best suited to our foothill climate;

how to identify monarchs at different stages of development; and

how to attract monarchs and other pollinators to home gardens.

And let us not forget the tomatoes! Today's workshop (March 18th) from 10 am to noon is "Totally Tomatoes: From Seed to Seed." This workshop will also be held at the Grass Valley Elks Lodge. Learn everything you always wanted to know about tomatoes at this wonderful offering for early spring! Discussion will include:

how to start tomato plants from seed;

how to save seed from heirloom tomatoes;

best growing conditions here in the foothills for tomatoes;

some of our favorite cherry, beefsteak and paste tomatoes and why;

different growing strategies for healthy tomatoes, e.g., raised beds, trellising, spacing, crop rotation;

pests and diseases that plague tomato plants.

Mark your calendars! May 13 is the date for the Master Gardeners spring plant sale. Milkweed and tomatoes will be available for sale from 9 a.m. to noon at the demonstration garden. For more information about these and other Master Gardener activities, go to the website ( or call 530-273-0919. Master Gardeners are on duty at the Hotline on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9 a.m. to noon. The office is located at 255 South Auburn Street in Grass Valley.

Ann Wright is a Nevada County Master Gardener.

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