FACTS FOR FAMILIES: Monarchs, Milkweed and Mowing | Health, Medicine and Fitness

CHERI BURCHAM Family Life Educator

Most people who know me know that I am passionate about protecting Monarch butterflies. I do my best to encourage people to plant milkweed seeds, and I catch monarch caterpillars and relocate them to my indoor nurseries until they transform and are ready to be released as butterflies.

Their numbers have been rapidly declining each year, mainly due to habitat loss. Many landowners cut their ditches, and I shudder to see them cut all the milkweed, the only plant on which monarch butterflies lay their eggs and eat their caterpillars.

So when I saw this article by Extension Horticulture Educator Chris Enroth, I knew I had to share it with my readers.

Chris says: There is something about mowing the lawn that brings a measure of satisfaction to many of us. What do we love about mowing lawns? The smell of cut grass? Taming a rebellious landscape? For me, it is measurable progress. It seems so prevalent that modern jobs yield few tangible results. Much of our work these days is in the digital ether. After a full day of work, I walk out of the office shutting down my computer and all my work vanishes with the click of a mouse.

When I get home I look for tasks of visual permanence working with my hands, cleaning and of course mowing the lawn. This desire to mow often extends beyond the garden, as many homeowners also mow roadside ditches and embankments.

FACTS FOR FAMILIES: Five Ways to Support Foster Parents

Unfortunately, the constant routine of mowing the lawn is hurting the monarch butterfly due to the loss of milkweed. August and September are critical months for the monarch butterfly. This time frame is when the final generation of the year develops and prepares to make its flight to its hibernation site in Mexico.

I don’t want to pop their mowing bubble, we can all jump to zero and get our fix, but there are times when we need to avoid mowing areas like ditches, roadsides, natural areas, or anywhere that harbors milkweed, the only plant they eat monarch caterpillars.

For those who live south of the 40 degree latitude line (includes Quincy and as far south as Illinois), mow before April 1 and after October 15. If necessary, you can also mow the lawn in mid-summer from July 1 to July 20.

For those who live north of the 40 degree latitude line (includes those north of Quincy and as far north as Illinois), mow before May 1 and mow after October 1. A mid-summer mowing can take place from June 30 to July 10.

These dates are based on the monarch’s breeding and migration activities. Mid-summer mowing will still cause some monarch mortality.

Other tips for mowing habitats or roadsides:

• Don’t mow the entire area. Leave unmowed swaths to recolonize cut areas.

• Avoid mowing the lawn at night when insects are inactive and cannot escape.

• Use a minimum cutting height of 8 to 12 inches. This height eliminates the seed production of many invasive plants and minimizes the impact on native plants.

• Use a wash bar and mow slowly to allow wildlife to escape before the mower passes by.

FACTS FOR FAMILIES: Meaningful Conversations with Mom

Milkweed is a nuisance species and mowing can promote milkweed growth, but can be detrimental if done during peak monarch breeding and migration times. Following the cutting guidelines listed above can help preserve vital monarch habitat.

See the Monarch Joint Venture brochure “Cutting and Handling: Best Practices for Monarch Butterflies.” at www.monarchjointventure.org.

Christopher Enroth’s Good Growing blog can be found at extension.illinois.edu/blogs/good-growing

To learn more about the University of Illinois Unit 19 schedule and read more helpful articles, visit our website at https://extension.illinois.edu/ccdms, call us at 217-345-7034, or contact Cheri Burcham at [email protected] edu Also visit the Family Files blog at https://extension.illinois.edu/blogs/family-files

Cheri Burcham is the Family Life Educator at U of I Extension.

Leave a Comment