In 4″ peat pots, many with emergent roots, 400 healthy plants arrived at South Fork Nature Center ready for their home in the glades. Nearly half were Asclepias tuberosa (orange butterfly milkweed), A. verticillata (white whorled milkweed) filling in most of the rest of the flats of young plants. And with growth of 6-8″ from seeds that Mary Ann King of Pine Ridge Gardens had planted late in the winter, these plants were ready for setting out in the rich glade soil, where many cedars and a few hardwoods had recently been removed. (Several plants of A. hirtella (tall green milkweed), A. amplexicualis (curly milkweed), A. viridiflora (green-flower milkweed), and A. purpurascens (purple milkweed) were also planted in the glade in small numbers due to poor seed germination.) Spring rains and unseasonably cool weather had not favored rapid growth until May which allowed for healthy plants to be set into the glades in late June. Is it possible that this year of unusual weather will be favorable with scattered days of rain and temperatures a bit cooler?
Master Gardeners in the area had been alerted of the milkweed project last fall (as had South Fork personnel); a few calls and e-mails brought folks on three days to do the planting (9 Master Gardeners and 11 South Fork folks); the job was completed in three mornings. Spade the hole, trim off the top edge of the peat pot to prevent wicking up of soil moisture, set the plant and pat in the surrounding soil, mulch with pine needles, mark each plant with an orange flag for easy location (hopefully not by some grazing deer, rabbit, or hungry, grub seeking armadillo) water with a quart cup…and 400 milkweed plants were in.
Barring sufficient summer rainfall, the 23 populations planted in the three South Fork glades will get water by teams using 5 gallon buckets on a wagon or backpack sprayer tanks that can deliver the artificial rain…practice has already shown that 400 plants can be watered one quart each in three hours.
Come on, you monarchs! Your table is set for egg laying and feasting!
This project is part of a nationwide program to enhance monarch habitat, since their numbers have diminished greatly in recent years. The SFNC grant is through the US Fish and Wildlife Service which paid for seed and plant care producing the plants.
Why not come to South Fork and see the plant populations for yourself? The trails are always open beginning at the kiosk beside the iron gate…adjacent parking is available.