How often do you get a chance to accomplish something good by doing nothing? By taking it easy on lawn mowing for at least a few weeks in spring, we can help provide a favorable habitat for pollinators like bees and butterflies.
The Village of Westmont has taken a formal step toward encouraging this behavior with its “No Mow Till Mother’s Day” program. The Environmental Improvement Commission (EIC) proposed, the Public Works Committee recently recommended, and the Village Board approved, a resolution to launch the program.
Westmont residents are invited to register online. Once enrolled, they will not be subject to lawn-mowing code enforcement through Mother’s Day, May 9. After that date, regular enforcement resumes.
People may even choose to designate a specific small section of their yard for the no-mow event. The village will provide and deliver yard signs to explain the reason for the taller grass and “weedy” species like white clover, violets and dandelions.
“Pollinators are essential to the success of our environment,” said Jon Yeater, who helped launch the program. Many species of pollinators live on lawns after they emerge from hibernation in the spring, he said. By not mowing during this critical time, pollinator habitat is left mostly undisturbed, which allows the flowers that pollinators rely on to grow at a time when resources might otherwise be scarce.
The first initiative of its kind in the DuPage area, the program was inspired by a similar one in Appleton, Wisconsin, which focused on giving bees a boost. Appleton’s 2020 “No Mow May” lawns found a fivefold increase in bee abundance and a threefold increase in bee diversity in June, compared to nearby parkland that was mowed regularly.
Pollinator- and butterfly-friendly lawn and garden practices help replace habitat lost to development, and provide a way for people and pollinators to happily thrive together. Timing lawn mowing for the benefit of early spring pollinators is an important step in promoting their recovery.
Who can argue with being lazy if not doing something will help the butterflies and bees?
The Darien Garden Club took its first step to save monarch butterflies a few years ago when a butterfly garden was planted at St. John Lutheran Church, the location for its monthly meeting. By 2020, the club was ready to link their educational outreach and monarch habitat projects to the county wide conservation effort by becoming an associate member of the DuPage Monarch Project. DuPage Monarch Project is a collaboration of the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County, River Prairie Group of the Illinois Sierra Club, The Conservation Foundation and Wild Ones Greater DuPage Chapter with a goal of supporting and fostering monarch conservation throughout the county by connecting public and private landowners managing land in pollinator friendly ways.
“While enjoying the rewards of maintaining monarch and pollinator habitat many of us were following the exciting progress and inspirational goals set by organizations such as DuPage Monarch Project,” said Cathy Streett, Darien Garden Club Community Outreach/Service Project Chair. “We look forward to working together as an associate member of DMP to advocate for monarch butterflies and in turn all native insects and wildlife. We hope that our energy and progress in these areas will serve as an example and filter down to others in our community to bring yet more support to struggling insects.”
Conservation education has been a part of the club’s mission from its inception 20 years ago and has been regularly included as a component of their annual Spring Gardening Inspiration event. Conservation education turned into action when the club learned about the dramatic decrease in the number of eastern monarch butterflies. Gardeners are uniquely equipped to help butterflies and pollinators as gardens are part of the solution to reversing their decline. The loss of native trees, shrubs and flowers through urban development and the ongoing conversion of natural areas to farmland is a contributing factor to the dwindling populations of butterflies and native bees. Yards can replace lost habitat by shrinking the amount of lawn and increasing areas planted with native species, especially milkweed, an essential plant for monarch butterflies.
Last year, the club provided every member with two native plants to increase the habitat value of their gardens. Several members’ gardens qualify as native landscaping and have been certified by Conservation@Home, a program of The Conservation Foundation. The original butterfly garden was also enhanced in 2020 through the addition of 25 new plants.
Saving milkweed is as important as planting it. A few years ago, Claudia Borowski, the garden club’s president, walked past a patch of milkweed growing in an easement along a sidewalk near the Darien Police Station and City Hall and noticed evidence of spraying. The milkweed leaves were dried and curling up, the plants were dying. Resolved to save them, Borowski learned the land was owned by DuPage County but managed through a contractual agreement with Darien. She decided the best way to protect the patch of over 80 milkweed plants was by getting permission from the City of Darien to post a Do Not Mow or Spray sign. She reached out to Dan Gombac, Director of Municipal Services and was granted permission to post the sign.
Borowski continues to be involved with the rescued milkweed, weeding the patch in summer and removing dead stalks in spring. The healthy, thriving plants are now providing seeds for members’ gardens and to IDOT for future roadside habitat projects.
“As you can see, it only takes one person’s effort to make a big step in helping one endangered butterfly to reproduce and prosper,” said Claudia Borowski. “So, think of how much you can do to help save a species. Look around and act.”
DGC’s Community Service Committee has recently attended several summits hosted by the Illinois Monarch Project and is exploring opportunities for working with diverse landowners to improve existing landscaping for monarchs and promote consideration of pollinators and monarchs in the planning of new projects.
“We are excited to support Illinois Monarch Project’s action plan and especially the Route 66 Monarch Flyway initiative. We plan to provide resources and encourage businesses, public parks, IDOT right of way, and other landowners near local sections of Route 66 to add habitat to extend the flyway throughout the state,” said Streett.
The Illinois Monarch Project’s conservation plan extends to 2038. Its long-range goal of saving the monarch butterfly is well matched to the commitment and enthusiasm of the Darien Garden Club.
This year winter brought snow and a spell of bitter temperatures that kept us indoors planning gardens and dreaming of butterflies. Bridge the gap between February and May by spending four minutes with the glorious colors of flowers and butterflies filmed in DuPage parks and cities last summer.
Butterflies need gardens in the same way gardens need pollinators, they rely on each other to survive. The rapid and alarming decline of monarch butterflies has energized Wheaton Garden Club members to add healthy habitat to their landscaping and integrate pollinator conservation into their mission. Wheaton Garden Club has also gone one step further by joining the DuPage Monarch Project as an Associate Member.
Wheaton Garden Club’s involvement in monarch conservation began in early 2017 when interested members formed a committee to determine the steps the club would undertake to help save the vanishing butterfly. Two goals were established, planting 10 monarch waystations and asking Mayor Gresk, Wheaton’s mayor at that time, to sign a proclamation of support for monarchs. The proclamation was signed in May 2017.
While gardeners were adding milkweed to their gardens, a series of educational initiatives at the Wheaton Public Library was launched. The club sponsored and created displays in 2017 and 2018, including providing the “Bee a Pollinator Champion” poster designed by Therese Davis, a DuPage Monarch Project volunteer.
Pollinators became the theme for the club’s annual flower show in 2019. The show, titled Pollinator Power, was a subtle reference to “flower power,” the popular hippie slogan, cleverly linking the fate of flowers to pollinators. Jane Kellenberger, a member of the Wheaton Garden Club and Nature Artists’ Guild of the Morton Arboretum, artistically reinforced the idea of the mutual benefits between pollinators and flowers by accurately referencing the colors and style of 1960’s art in the poster she designed for the show.
By the close of 2020, club members have planted ten monarch gardens and five are registered with Monarch Watch.
The organizations leading the effort to save monarch butterflies from extinction have issued a call for “all hands on deck.” Wheaton Garden Club has heard that call and stepped up to the challenge.
The DuPage Monarch Project recognized the Fox Valley and Naperville Park Districts for their outstanding commitments to the recovery of monarchs and pollinations at a virtual awards ceremony on January 19th. While many things came to a standstill during the corona virus pandemic, the Fox Valley and Naperville Park Districts continued on with their mission of providing islands of nature where both people and pollinators find safe refuge from the challenges they’re facing.
Fox Valley Park District is the recipient of the Jane Foulser Habitat Award for the addition of over 19 acres of habitat during the past year. The District has been developing additional pollinator habitat within the 548 acres classified and managed as natural areas since 2016 when they joined the DuPage Monarch Project. As the evidence of pollinator decline grows and the critical role they play in ecological and human health becomes clear, Fox Valley Park District is to be commended for steadily increasing the amount and quality of suitable habitat available to bees, butterflies and the many species of pollinating insects.
“This award validates the commitment of the Fox Valley Park District and our staff to pollinator habitat. Expansion, enhancement and management of pollinator habitat remain a top priority of our Board of Commissioners. It directly supports our pillar of conservation and environmental stewardship and we appreciate the DuPage Monarch Project’s collaborative approach in addressing monarch decline,” said Jeff Palmquist, Director of Planning, Research and Grants for the Fox Valley Park District.
Naperville Park District is the recipient of the Pat Miller Community Engagement Award for their longstanding commitment to involving residents in the District’s natural areas development and enhancement. While habitat projects are in the planning stage, residents are offered an opportunity to comment and provide input. Scouts, corporate, church and service groups regularly volunteer for weeding, seeding, planting and removing invasive species. In 2018 and 2019, volunteers participated in a Dandelion Pull, cosponsored by Midwest Grows Green, as part of the natural land maintenance approach used at Knoch Knolls Park. The extensive community participation spreads awareness of the problems facing pollinators and provides ways for concerned residents to be directly involved in the solutions.
“We thank the DuPage Monarch Project for this award which recognizes our efforts to not only increase monarch habitat but educate the public about this important issue. Each year we display monarch butterflies in our nature center, allowing visitors to view the stages of a monarch’s life. Since 2016 we have added 5 Monarch Waystations to our parks and hosted a Monarch Festival that was attended by 700 people. At the Naperville Park District, we are committed to taking care of the environment by expanding pollinator habitat and involving the community each step of the way,” said Angelique Harshman, Nature Center Manager at the Knoch Knolls Nature Center.
“DuPage Monarch Project is proud of the Fox Valley and Naperville Park Districts for integrating pollinator preservation into the vision for their parks,” said Lonnie Morris, Coordinator, DuPage Monarch Project. “Excellent progress is being made on achieving our shared vision of a pollinator friendly county.”