top of page

  What is a Food & Fuel Garden?

img_2502.jpg

We have coined the name "Food & Fuel" because it speaks to the type of plants we use to attract and retain butterflies to your garden. Let us explain why Food & Fuel is so important.

Food Plants

Monarch butterflies are unique among butterflies worldwide. Female Monarchs will ONLY lay their eggs on milkweed. Milkweed contains the chemicals inside the leaves, stem and seedpods needed for all five of the caterpillars' instars, or phases. So, milkweed is considered the "Food" plant for Monarchs. Once the caterpillar has emerged and eaten its shell, it immediately begins to scratch the plant leaf it was laid on. Milkweed is rich in a white latex-type sap. As the caterpillar ingests the leaves of the milkweed it is also consuming the plant's sap, which is poisonous, but the Monarch is able to sequester toxins without consequences. In fact, as the caterpillar grows from 1/16th of an inch to nearly 2.5" in as little as a week, the concentration of toxin builds within the caterpillar making it highly undesirable for most predators.

 

 

 

Monarch caterpillars are ravenous eaters. This image on the right 

demonstrates why females rarely concentrate too many eggs on one

plant, much less one branch! This situation occurred late in the season

when all other sources of milkweed had been consumed. 

 

In the late season when the final generation of caterpillars are eating, 

it is not uncommon for them to completely strip bare every leaf and

stalk on a plant. This is why you should consider densely populating

their food supply by installing a Monarch Garden. However, female

Monarchs will lay fewer eggs in dense patches of milkweed. It is thought

that higher concentrations of milkweed plants will also host more

predators. A way around this is to vary the species of milkweed you plant. 

Milkweed is a durable perennial once it is established. The rate that it grows and regenerates its leaves once eaten is remarkable. Mother Nature has created this plant to be eaten by Monarchs. The milkweed does have defense systems in addition to its toxic sap. Each leaf is covered by fine hairs called trichomes making it difficult for tiny caterpillars to access the milkweed leaf tissue. Additionally, each leaf is pressure-loaded with latex sap. Once punctured, the leaf pumps enough latex to suffocate a newly hatched caterpillar. Roughly 60% of newly emerged caterpillars are drowned or get stuck in place.  

The milkweed plant regenerates into a stronger and larger plant once it has been eaten. We plant carefully; you only get one chance to plant a milkweed as they will NOT tolerate being moved. As perennials, each year they re-emerge stronger and larger than the year before. You need to be patient in Spring however as they are slow to emerge - see 'What to Expect in Your Garden'.

Milkweed is the ONLY plant a Monarch caterpillar will eat. Different milkweed species require different soil conditions and lighting requirements. Let us create a nice buffet for your Monarch caterpillars.

Monarch butterflies are large. When a female is looking to lay her eggs, she will do so only if she can navigate between plants. It is important to know how wide your milkweed plants will grow. If you plant milkweed to close together - female monarchs will not lay eggs between plants and reduce your chances of offering food for young monarch caterpillars. 

Fuel Plants

We refer to plants that offer a high yield of nectar as fuel plants. Nectar is a pure natural sugar for pollinators that provides energy we refer to as fuel. Unlike the caterpillars that have mouth parts to chew through leaves to grow, adult butterflies, including Monarchs, do not have mouth parts and can not chew. Monarch butterflies have a mouth part like a straw called a proboscis. Monarch butterflies, male and female, use a tremendous amount of energy during their short life span. Plants that provide high levels of nectar are an instant attractant for butterflies and a must for your Monarch Garden.

Unfortunately, few if any plants offer nectar during the Monarch season of April through October. This is where we provide expertise in selecting the best plants for a continuous supply of high energy fuel plants. Each garden is unique and takes into consideration soil type, sunlight and exposure. Offering high nectar yielding plants for seven months increases the likelihood that each generation of Monarch butterflies will choose to spend their life near your garden. 

Your Food & Fuel garden will accomplish the following:

  • Attract male and female Monarch butterflies

  • Provide a variety of milkweed (Food) offering different leaf shapes, flower colors and densities satisfy hundreds of baby Monarch caterpillars

  • Your plants will regenerate new leaves as they are eaten. New leaves serve as food for the next generation of Monarch caterpillars

  • Provide nectar (fuel) through the Spring, Summer and Fall

The most important goal of your Monarch garden is to attract AND keep each of the 4 or 5 generations of Monarchs in your garden. It's our philosophy that when constructed properly, there will be no need for your Monarchs to look elsewhere. 

Days old A.jpg
1 day old monarch caterpillar B.jpg
1 day old monarch caterpillar A.jpg
Ravenous, Milton, 2018.jpg
Emerging milkweed, April 25, 2021, yellow .jpg

Milkweed is one of the latest plants to emerge in spring. The soil temperature must warm and remain at 65 F or higher. Most other perennials and annuals are well into leafing out when milkweed breaks through the soil. Be patient, in colder springs, milkweed may not emerge until Mother's Day.

Milkweed foliage regeneration after pruining A.jpg

New leaves take about 4-6 weeks to emerge following aggressive foraging from Monarch caterpillars. In doing so, the new leaves are lighter in color and more tender attracting female Monarchs to lay their eggs on them. More tender leaves increase the chance of survival for tiny caterpillars with small, weaker mouthparts. 

bottom of page