by OCMGA Master Gardener Rob Zimmer
There are many great reasons to keep your gardens blooming well into fall, besides the obvious goal of wanting to have a beautiful and colorful garden as long as possible without back-breaking work. Knowing that your efforts to keep the color coming through October is helping to save threatened monarch butterflies is inspiration enough.
While many gardeners will begin to clean up the garden in September, even cutting down annual plants such as cosmos, zinnias and others that have not even begun to fully blossom, the season can be extended even longer, often past first frost. It is possible to have blooming flowers often into December, depending on the weather.
Allowing your garden to continue to bloom as long as possible is a great way to help out monarch butterflies on their long journey south.
Monarchs from our area, as well as those from further north, are passing through during fall and need our help to continue to fuel up for the long journey to Mexico. By providing a combination of late blooming annuals and perennials, we can help sustain the monarch population by giving them the energy boost they need to continue to wing south.
Planting late blooming annuals such as zinnias, cosmos, marigolds, heliotrope, lantana, salvias, as well as bulbs such as dahlias give monarchs the choices they need in abundant nectar plants to help them on their journey. Incorporating late-season perennials such as meadow blazing star, Joe-pye weed, goldenrod, boneset, false sunflowers and others in the garden provides an even greater variety of nectar sources.
Herbs, especially the many variety of flowering sages and mints, also attract migrating monarchs.
To be even more effective, planting these nectar sources in large masses or drifts serves as a beacon to monarch butterflies passing through our area.
If every gardener in our area dedicated space in the garden to planting late-season flowers, a virtual corridor of food sources would be available to migrating butterflies throughout the state throughout the fall season.