The creation of monarch butterfly habitat

February 3, 2016 7:52 AM

Last fall, I collected common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) seed to establish some plots on a farmer cooperator's land over the winter. My plan was to seed directly into a standing cool-season grass adjacent to a crop field and determine the effectiveness of this method for plant establishment. If this seeding method proves to be effective, it would be a relatively simple way for landowners to provide habitat for monarch butterflies in non-crop areas.

 

I waited for a moderately pleasant winter day to disperse it. Last Wednesday was the perfect day.

You may wonder why I seeded this species in January. Late fall or winter is a common timing for seeding native species that require exposure to a cold period to improve seed germination. Without a winter outdoors or being artificially chilled, seed will germinate but at a much slower pace. To learn more about collecting seed and milkweed seed germination, check out this Xerces Society document called Milkweeds: A Conservation Practitioner's Guide.

 

In order to disperse my two seeding rates as evenly as possible, seed was mixed with sawdust.

 

After seeding, it was difficult to find the seed as most had already spread through the grass canopy.

 

Our remaining snow and rain storms through the winter and spring will help move seed to the soil and improve seed germination. I'll update this summer on the progress of plant establishment. For now, I wait.

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Meaghan Anderson Field Agronomist in EC Iowa

Meaghan Anderson is a field agronomist in east central Iowa and an extension program specialist at Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. Educational programming is available for farmers, agribusinesses, pesticide applicators, certified crop advisors, and other individuals intere...