Time to Help the Monarchs


The Shawnee News-Star Weekender May 2nd 2020

Snow of hailstones around the lighthouse

Becky Emerson Carlberg

Asteroid 1998 OR2 passed four million miles (16 Earth-Moondistances) from Earth early Wednesday morning. Could you feel the breeze?  Althoughit was about 1.25 miles wide and 2 miles long, our naked eyes could not see theslow-moving 'star.'  This asteroid makesan oval orbit around our sun every 3 years and 8 months.  Telescopes have been catching spectacularimages, right down to the asteroid's hills, ridges and Covid19 mask!? Thedeflection of atmospheric debris from the front of the rolling rock resembles amask on the asteroid!

The typical storm season in Oklahoma begins late March andlasts through August.  Our atmosphereprovided all kinds of entertainment last Tuesday.  Seven o'clock in the morning weather balloonshad been released in Oklahoma, Arkansas and Missouri.  Loaded with all kinds of instruments, thesehigh-altitude helium or hydrogen-filled sacks could soar aloft 25 miles.  Each had an attached small radiosonde whichmeasured winds, temperatures, pressures, and humidity.  Some weather balloons, minus radiosondes, arelaunched specifically to determine upper level winds and cloud heights.  This data keeps meteorologists on their toesand helps direct the storm chasers in the field.

Through much of the afternoon the cap, several thousand feet above our heads, prevented the shallow layer of warm, moist air from ascending higher. No storms. If the cap broke, severe storms could rapidly fire up. 

Approaching storm clouds to the north

Radarscope showed the first biggie storms erupted in Kansasmid-afternoon.  Bands of cloudynothingness crossed Oklahoma from north to south as temperatures increased. Soona storm line formed, concentrating much of its energy in the northeastern partof Oklahoma but its tail angled southwestward past Moore. My house was clippedby a roiling, grumbling storm that which hit after 7 pm, delivering eightminutes of pea to grape-sized hail and ¼ inch of cold rain.  The dazzling electrical show continued to thesoutheast blown by a northerly cool breeze.

Meanwhile, as the weather did its thing, I scrolled throughe-mails and noticed one from Monarch Watch. The milkweeds are ready to ship. 

I began the process of acquiring milkweeds early in 2019.  Thirty-two Asclepias tuberosa plants (Orange butterflyweed), 50 Asclepias verticillata (Whorled milkweed) and 64 Asclepias viridis (Green milkweed) were ordered from Monarch Watch.  The milkweed restoration program is about creating quality habitat for the Monarch butterfly.  Monarch Watch was supplying free milkweeds (shipping and handling extra) as part of a grant award.  This fit my non-existent budget just fine.  Two growers of native milkweeds were close: Baldwin City, KS and Georgetown, TX.  For other regions, milkweeds were being cultivated in Groveland, FL, Encinitas, CA, and Brodhead, WI.  No doubt our milkweeds would come from either Kansas or Texas. 

Native green milkweed about to bloom along the road

The attached directives included review of invoice andplanting directions.  Eight weeks after themilkweeds discover they were not in Kansas or Texas anymore, a follow-up surveywas to be completed.   

The little milkweeds were destined for the Deep Fork AudubonNative plant area of the Japanese Peace Garden (JPG).  Oklahoma Baptist University students andvolunteers had been lined up to help.  Isoon received a 'heads-up' notification saying there was a delay in milkweeddevelopment.  Cool wet weather was playinghavoc with the milkweeds.  The nextmessage stated the nursery milkweeds were not ready to ship this spring.  Plan for possible fall shipment. That didn'tpan out either. 

The milkweeds are now being prepped to travel to Shawnee.  My volunteer team is on-hold, currently sheltering-in-place somewhere. Nevertheless, the plants are coming in May.  The new Native Plant Arc will join the Deep Fork Native Plant area, making available two sites for the milkweeds. 

A new set of milkweed planting instructions have arrived.  DO NOT THROW AWAY PLANTS WITH APHIDS OR NOLEAVES.  THIS IS NORMAL. Got it.  When the milkweeds arrive, they should eachbe given a drink, but not planted since they need a few days R&R. The soilin both native gardens is composed of heavy dense clay. What lies within thesoil who knows, but pools of oil, asphalt, concrete and other unique thingshave been uncovered throughout the JPG. It was, after all, an abandoned Naval Training Airfield that had beenleveled with fill and never properly prepared as a garden. Pretty terribleground for delicate, maintenance-demanding big box store pansies, but thesenative plants might consider it a challenge and rise to the occasion.  Over the years many transplants have witheredand died in one or two seasons, even with careful tending.  Green milkweeds have volunteered in the DeepFork Audubon plot.  Maybe they knowsomething we don't.  The airport andentire Japanese Garden are located right below a main Monarch migratory route.

An exhausted Monarch butterfly found a milkweed

Milkweeds require full sun and most prefer well-drainedsoils.  We'll overlook this.  The plant hole needs to be only slightlylarger than the pot.  Use a trowel orplug bar. Plug bar?  When I googled plugbar, I discovered an assortment of power strips, surge protectors, an array ofjuice bars and something called the Dibble bar, a long metal rod with aT-handle at one end and a mini-shovel/spike at the other. Yes, the Dibble barwould be a great tool to use in the JPG. Or an auger.  Or sticks ofdynamite. 

Toss in a little compost or slow-release plant food into thehole, position crown of plant at ground level and cover with soil.  Tamp. Water.  Mulch, but don't use woodchips.  Darn it.  That's the only mulch I have at the JPG. 

Plant the milkweeds in clusters of 3 to 4 of one species andspace the plugs 12 inches apart. Intersperse with the natives. A Monarch habitat is not complete unlessit also has nectar sources for the adults: coneflowers, asters, sunflowers,native cranesbill, asters, blazing stars, compass plants, ironweeds and severalspecies of goldenrods. 

We are so set for goldenrods.  The entire arc of the new native plant siteis lined with goldenrods transplanted from two separate gardens.  Last year the goldenrods planted by SisterCity student delegates were pulled out days later by an overzealous weeder whoknew nothing about native plants.  By thetime the deed had been discovered, it was too late to transplant othergoldenrods.

With luck, a few Master Gardeners might be willing to venture out from their safe houses and help plant milkweeds.  The JPG soil has a notorious reputation for being more than difficult, but this is a worthy cause.  2019-2020 numbers of overwintering Monarchs in the forests of central Mexico dropped to 53% of the numbers the previous year.

After the storm

My green milkweeds are about to bloom.  I watched as one ragged Monarch, probablyfrom Mexico, flitted from one plant to another looking either for nectar or theright plant to lay her eggs. Monarch survival depends on us.

Chip Taylor writes for Monarch Watch Blog.  His latest entry is April 20th2020. https://monarchwatch.org/blog/