Protecting the pollinators: Okies for Monarchs gives tips on creating habitats that attract and sustain pollinators

Drew Butler
The Daily Ardmoreite
Shoppers at the Ardmore Downtown Farmers Market browse a selection of native varieties of flowering plants and milkweed that attract monarch butterflies and other pollinators.

On Saturday morning the organization Okies for Monarchs visited the Ardmore Downtown Farmers Market to present information about monarch butterflies and other pollinators whose populations are shrinking in part because of loss of natural habitat.

One way to regain some of that habitat and in turn regrow these populations is to plant the types of flowers and milkweed these pollinators need for food.

Rebecca Snyder of the Oklahoma City Zoo discussed how to create spaces for pollinators to thrive. She explained that one of the largest contributing factors into their loss of natural habitat is the use of herbicides to kill weeds. 

Originally from Iowa, Snyder recounted that as a child she would walk through fields of soybeans to pull weeds from the crop, but now that activity is unnecessary because crops such as soybeans and corn are bred to be resistant to the use of herbicides.

“Now people can spray herbicide on the fields, and you don’t have to go out and pull weeds,” she said. “The crops are fine, and all of the weeds die — but that means all of the flowers die too.”

Snyder said Oklahoma is a particularly important location for monarch butterflies because they migrate through the state twice per year on their journey to and from Mexico. In the spring it is one of their first stopping places to get nectar from flowers, and they also lay their eggs exclusively on milkweed because it is something all their caterpillars will eat.

“Some of the monarchs stay around here through the summer, but their main breeding ground is farther north,” she said. “In the fall we start seeing more of them in August and then even more in September into early October. So it’s very important that we have fall blooming plants here for them and also milkweed because they will lay their eggs on their way back down into Mexico.”

She said the best place to create a habitat for monarchs and other pollinators is a sunny spot protected by the wind and near a source of water. The best times to plant in Oklahoma are in the spring and fall.

“You want to plant after around April 15 because that’s typically after the last frost date,” Snyder said. “You can also plant in the summer, but it’s a little harder for the plants to get established. Fall is also great time to plant in Oklahoma as well. You usually want to get your plants into the ground before November 1 because after that the frosts come back.”

When planting in the fall, Snyder suggested using seeds or perennials that will come back into bloom in the spring. She also suggested planting native varieties of nectar producing flowers and milkweed because they are adapted to live in the climate and require less care after becoming established.

The plants and flowers also need to have been raised without the use of herbicide because the herbicide will harm the pollinators.