Monarch butterfly on Milkweed by John Flannery on Flickr

Monarch butterflies gain an ally as Bell Nursery brings milkweed to County residents

Jun 28, 2016

The monarch butterfly, with its striped orange-and-black wings, is an iconic symbol of nature. Monarchs are the most recognized, and beloved, butterfly because of their amazing annual migration and because they were once a familiar sight across the eastern U.S.

Over the past few decades, monarch populations have declined significantly. A prime reason? A plant called milkweed is the only place where monarchs will lay their eggs, and it’s the only thing monarch caterpillars eat. But agriculture and development mean milkweed is disappearing at a massive rate, and the monarch is disappearing along with it—up to 90 percent of their population, some studies show.

The good news is that we can all help monarchs by planting milkweed in our yards, green spaces and community gardens. And thanks to a collaboration between area businesses and civic leaders, getting milkweed will be easier than ever.

Butterfly garden display at Home Depot

Butterfly garden display at Home Depot

 

Working Together to Benefit Monarchs

Bell Nursery, a flower and plant company whose main greenhouses are based in Burtonsville, Montgomery County, is the mid-Atlantic region’s largest wholesale nursery grower, producing tens of millions of plants each year for The Home Depot. Now, Bell is adding milkweed to its roster, making them available for purchase to Home Depot customers across the region.

It all started when Montgomery County resident Barbara Ashe realized what the monarch was up against. As executive vice president of the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce, Ashe tapped into her local business network to see what could be done.

“Like many residential gardeners, I purchase plants, not seeds, when planting my backyard garden. However, the milkweed was not stocked at my local Home Depot where I often shop for my spring plantings,” Ashe said. “So, I contacted Bell Nursery which provides plants to Home Depot stores and asked if they would consider growing them and making it available to customers to buy as a plant.”

Bell Nursery is a company with a track record of forward-thinking environmental practices. Among these are keeping operations free of the neonicotinoids class of pesticides. “We’ve always worked hard to reduce the use of pesticides of our operation,” said Bell Nursery CEO Gary Mangum. “We’re one of the first in the nation to adopt integrated pest management.”

 

MIlkweed plants at Home Depot

MIlkweed plants for sale at an area Home Depot

 

More readily available milkweed plants can make an immediate impact for monarchs.

“The good thing about milkweed is that the monarch butterfly is very effective at finding it, so even small patches matter,” Ashe said. “If it’s in a backyard or a schoolyard, individual people can make a difference.”

That’s why efforts like this one, which could be expanded if successful, are critical, according to Dan Ashe, Barbara Ashe’s husband and the director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“We’ve become very good at weed control, particularly in the agricultural heartland and in urban and suburban environments, including here in Montgomery County,” Dan Ashe said. “Milkweed is a casualty of that, and without milkweed you cannot have the monarch butterfly. It’s important that we get people focused on that.”

 

Dan Ashe and Barbara Ashe at Bell Nursery

Dan Ashe, Director of the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, and Barbara Ashe, Executive Vice President of the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce,  at Bell Nursery

Get Started with Your Monarch Garden Today

Bell Nursey supplying milkweed to Home Depot means that County residents will have an easier time finding the plants needed to build a monarch friendly garden. Learn how to get started with your garden by downloading the Gardening for Monarchs guide (PDF).

 

Bell Nursery: A Green Leader

The milkweed initiative is just the latest in a line of green innovations from Bell Nursery.

“I’m always looking for ways to improve the sustainability of our operations in cost-neutral ways,” said Cole Mangum, Bell’s vice president of production. “There is a lot of opportunity to do that in the business world.”

 

Gary Mangum, President and CEO, Bell Nursery, at one of the nurseries

Gary Mangum, President and CEO, Bell Nursery, at one of the nurseries

 

For instance, everyone is familiar with the ubiquitous plastic pots, trays, and tags dotting the garden section of any home-improvement store. At local Home Depot locations, customers return those plastics to stores for recycling, courtesy of Bell. In 2015 alone, Bell recycled almost 750,000 pounds of material.

Bell Nursery LogoOther sustainability initiatives include:

  • For the seventh time, Bell has received the Veriflora Sustainably Grown certification, which certifies environmental sustainability and agricultural product quality.
  • Two of Bell Nursery’s facilities, in Elkridge and Burtonsville, run on 100 percent wind power.
  • Bell employees volunteer in Baltimore, where they recently helped install community gardens and renovate a community center, among other things.

 

600 Milkweed Plants Donated to Local Businesses

Recently, Bell was recognized as Visionary of the Year by the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce at its Annual Dinner. Gary Mangum used the platform to raise awareness about the plight of the Monarch. But he did more than that – Bell donated 600 potted milkweed plants to guests and encouraged them to do their part. The gesture put a green exclamation point to the evening giving Mangum’s sustainability message some legs (or, as the case may be, wings)!

 

State Senator Cheryl Kagan, District 17, with milkweed plants received at the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce’s annual dinner

State Senator Cheryl Kagan, District 17, with milkweed plants received at the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce’s annual dinner

 

By Scott Harris. Scott is a freelance writer who lives in Montgomery County and covers the environment and other topics. He may be reached at scottharriswriter@gmail.com.

 

National Geographic video on monarchs:

(1) Comments

  1. Gary Mangum Sep 06, 2016

    Thanks for writing and sharing this article. The vast majority of our team has taken a very keen interest in enhancing what we contribute to the environmental dialogue – particularly sustainable growing practices and how we can be part of a solution for the pollinator discussions. I was especially happy and proud to see Senator Kagan with a couple of the Milkweed in hand. Full disclosure – This was our first year growing these and we learned some things that we’ve already changed for our fall deliveries and will be using enhanced growing protocols in the spring as well.

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