Plant seeds now to help monarchs, pollinators next year

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
Now is the time to plant native seeds that pollinators can depend on for food and shelter next year.

MADISON - As temperatures begin to drop throughout Wisconsin, state conservation biologists urge people to keep monarchs and other pollinators in mind by taking steps now to benefit pollinators.

"Fall is the perfect time of year to maintain habitat and plant native seeds that pollinators can depend on for food and shelter next year," says Eva Lewandowski, a conservation biologist for the Department of Natural Resources' Natural Heritage Conservation program. "While many of our butterflies, bees, and other native pollinators have migrated out of the state or hunkered down for the winter, we can still help them."

The seeds of most plants native to Wisconsin need to go through cold stratification, meaning a period of prolonged cold, to grow successfully in the spring. The simplest way to accomplish that is for the seeds to be planted in the fall and exposed to cold winter weather, Lewandowski says. By planting native seeds this fall, people will be creating habitat in the spring for species like the monarch butterfly and the endangered rusty patched bumble bee, she says.

April through October is when most pollinators are active in Wisconsin, so planting native plants that bloom at different times can ensure that food is available when the pollinators need it, says Jay Watson, NHC conservation biologist and insect expert. Native milkweed species are the only plants monarch caterpillars can eat, while adult monarchs can use a variety of nectar plants like Joe-Pye-weed, coneflowers and asters.

Wisconsin residents also can help pollinator populations by leaving some fallen leaves in place, rather than raking or leaf-blowing and then disposing of all the leaves, Watson says.

Fallen leaves form a layer of leaf litter to house and protect pollinators during the winter. Some butterflies, bumble bees, and other beneficial pollinators burrow into the leaf litter or a few inches into the ground below it, and are insulated and sheltered until spring, he says.

"Pollinators play a critical role in supporting our native landscapes, agricultural systems, and gardens," Watson says. "Landowners can help ensure they have food and shelter here in Wisconsin."

Find a list of native plant nurseries, guides to native plants, and other useful information by searching the DNR website,, for keyword, "pollinators," where people also can sign up to receive periodic email or text updates about monarch or other pollinator conservation news in Wisconsin.