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Tuesday, May 11, 2021

In Other Words: Planting with Purpose Makes Your Garden Influential Beyond Our Borders

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Plant with purpose. That is what Jess Detrick of Capri Drive discovered.

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Jess Detrick is part of a growing group of enthusiasts and citizen scientists who are raising monarch butterflies. And, no, they do not keep them as pets. It’s part of a larger, more focused and intentional goal. 

Monarchs are in trouble. Their population has declined significantly due to habitat loss and spraying pesticides and herbicides. Their food sources were disappearing. This is the unintentional consequence to human expansion and misguided actions. It creates a domino effect with wide ranging consequences.

I asked Detrick how she began. She says, “Flowers have always been my hobby. I dabble in photography.” But after photographing birds and bugs, her interest led to butterflies that visited her garden. Then she started installing plants that attracted monarchs. One thing led to another and she started raising monarchs four years ago. “I planted milkweed in my yard and milkweed brings the monarchs and they lay eggs on your milkweed and if you bring them into an enclosure they have a better chance of surviving.” It doesn’t have be much. A simple screened box will do. “And with COVID I didn’t have much to do so I raised over 200.” 

She got her teen son involved. She laughs when she says, “We have a very intense baseball schedule so we are doing this in between all of that. He’s a boy. So he acts like it’s not cool but her really thinks it’s pretty cool.” She laughs. “I have him identifying things.”  

But she always wanted to tag monarchs. So often when we think of tagging animals, we can’t help but think of those ear tags that we see on cattle, but that’s not the case with monarchs. “The sticker tags are small, about the size of the tip of your pinky.” She tagged 50 last year. “I was shaking the first time I actually did it.” But she did and away they flew on a remarkable and dangerous journey. 

Citizen scientists upload the information to a tracking database where they can check the progress of their butterflies. Detrick gets excited when she says, “One of the males made its way to Mexico” where most of the butterflies of our region winter. That's a two-thousand mile journey. It was a proud parent kind of moment. “It was so exciting. People wait years for this. Totally worth it.” 

And now they are returning. And the cycle continues. More people are planting milkweed in their gardens. In fact, more people are planting more native species because they are so beneficial to our local environment. Detrick is making that transition too. “I used to plants things that were pretty but now I plant with a purpose. If it’s not native, it’s not helping them. I am not an expert. I learn every day. It’s just trial and error.” 

She is, like many others in the area, in the process of changing over her landscaping to primarily native plants, trees, and shrubs. Planting with a purpose gets you more involved with the cycles and beauty of nature. Sure, a landscape may be filled with pretty plants but they may not contribute anything worthwhile to the environment. Planting with a purpose changes that. 

Jess Detrick reflects, “I have learned that you do not need a big space to make a difference.  Open your eyes and soak in your surroundings there’s so much to look at and so much life around you that people miss and do not see.  You don’t even have to leave your backyard!“

Three things you can do to plant with purpose:

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1. Be intentional in planting your gardens.  Plant milkweed in your landscape as well as other beneficial plants like tickseed, coneflower, Joe Pye Weed, Sneezeweed, Blazing Star, Bergamont/Bee Balm,  Asters, Prairie Ironweed, among others. 

 2. Avoid using pesticides and herbicides. There are consequences to us, pets, and beneficial insects and animals. 

3. A quick Internet search will offer guides to planting pollinator and butterfly

gardens and will put you in contact with butterfly organizations and native plant dealers.

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