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Want to see more butterflies in your yard? Lazy gardening may be the answer

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

If you want to see more butterflies in the yard, lazy gardening might be the key. NPR's Paige Waterhouse has the story.

PAIGE WATERHOUSE, BYLINE: It's a sunny May afternoon, and Susan Parker is showing me around her front yard.

SUSAN PARKER: We have maybe five or six different milkweeds in the yard, some blue-eyed grass. I have a number of asters because the...

WATERHOUSE: Parker lives just down the street from my parents' house in Virginia Beach. Surrounded by homes with neatly trimmed green lawns, Parker's yard stands out.

PARKER: And when we moved into the yard, we had a ton of grass. I knew the pesticides weren't good, but we were also getting weeds. So we decided to turn a very large portion of our yard into a native garden.

WATERHOUSE: Among a hodgepodge of tall grasses, weeds, and flowers, a little sign pokes out of the ground. It reads, why native plants? and displays a QR code.

JACK MONSTED: Native plants are a lot of times the only plants that can serve as foods for a lot of these different pollinators and insects, and then that in turn moves up the food chain.

WATERHOUSE: That's Jack Monsted, an assistant curator at the State Arboretum of Virginia. He says not only are native plants crucial for supporting local ecosystems, they're also much easier to maintain.

MONSTED: You don't want to clean up your garden. You want things to flower. You want them to go to seed, turn brown, fall back into the ground, decompose.

WATERHOUSE: Monsted says that taking a step back from yard work can really help local pollinators, like butterflies. Simply leaving a patch of your lawn uncut can provide a safe haven for young caterpillars to feast and grow.

MAURICE CULLEN: What you want to look for is this little, tiny, creamy-colored little dot there. And there's your monarch egg

WATERHOUSE: They're so small.

CULLEN: Yeah, they're - yeah. But once you train your eye and the more you start kind of peeking around - there's one.

WATERHOUSE: Maurice Cullen is a middle school biology teacher and member of the Butterfly Society of Virginia. Kneeling in the dirt, he shows me how to spot the egg of a monarch stuck to the leaves of a milkweed plant.

CULLEN: It's not just about flowers. It's about host plants. That's the importance of natives. Because the caterpillars - that's what they have to have. A butterfly - nectar is nectar.

WATERHOUSE: We're in a rain garden tucked behind Virginia Beach Middle School, a plot of land Cullen started filling with native plants about 10 years ago. Cullen says the garden has attracted a dozen different species of butterflies.

CULLEN: If you plant it, they will come.

WATERHOUSE: Paige Waterhouse, NPR News, Virginia Beach, Va. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Paige Waterhouse
Paige Waterhouse is a producer for Morning Edition and Up First. She got her start in media working for a community radio station and podcast collective in Charlottesville, VA.
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