The Vital Role of Milkweed for Butterflies and Pollinators

Monarch on Milkweed

As the warm summer days gradually give way to crisp autumn mornings, a remarkable transformation takes place in our natural world. It is during this time that milkweed emerges as an unsung hero, providing sustenance and shelter for butterflies and other pollinators before they embark on their long journey southward.

In these late summer months, when vibrant blooms start to fade away, it can be easy to overlook the importance of milkweed. But let me tell you why this humble plant deserves our attention – not just because it adds beauty to our landscapes but also because its presence directly impacts the survival of some truly extraordinary creatures.

Monarchs rely solely on milkweed throughout their lifecycle; without it, they simply cannot exist. Their story begins when adult females lay tiny eggs exclusively on milkweed leaves – each one carefully chosen as if by divine intuition. Once hatched into caterpillars (or larvae), these voracious eaters feast upon nothing but tender young shoots until they grow plump enough for their next miraculous metamorphosis.

Butterfly enthusiasts may already know about this incredible relationship between monarchs and milkweeds; however, what many don’t realize is that numerous other pollinator species depend on these resilient plants too! From bees buzzing busily among clusters of flowers seeking nectar-rich rewards to graceful hummingbirds darting swiftly in search of energy-packed meals—milkweeds provide vital nourishment at precisely the right moment in time.

The benefits extend beyond mere sustenance though; milkweed also offers a safe haven for pollinators. Its tall stems and broad leaves create an ideal habitat, shielding these delicate creatures from predators while providing ample space to rest their weary wings.


How We Can Help

So how can we support these fascinating insects during late summer when they need it most? One way is by cultivating milkweed in our own gardens or even dedicating small patches of land specifically for its growth. By doing so, not only are we creating havens for monarchs but also contributing to the overall health of local ecosystems.

By embracing environmentally conscious practices like planting milkweed or donating time or resources towards initiatives aimed at preserving natural habitats—whether big or small—we become active participants in shaping a brighter future filled with thriving butterfly populations dancing through sunlit meadows once more!

As autumn approaches on tiptoes bringing cooler breezes tinged with anticipation let’s remember: every seed planted today holds within it the promise of tomorrow’s flourishing landscapes teeming with life! Together let’s ensure that generations yet unborn will witness nature’s symphony play out year after year—a testament to humanity’s commitment toward coexistence rather than mere existence.

No Mow May: A Bee City Canada Perspective

No Mow May: A Bee City Canada Perspective

No Mow May

No Mow May is an initiative that was first popularized by Plantlife, a UK-based conservation charity, and it is now widely known about and participated in throughout North America. The goal of No Mow May is simple: to discourage people from mowing lawns in May, when spontaneous perennial flowers occurring in lawns provide important food and habitat for pollinators. Variations on this concept, such as the ‘Dandelion Challenge’ in Quebec, may seem different, but encourage the same core principle of reduced spring mowing.

However, with growing popularity, there has been uncertainty around No Mow May’s effectiveness to support pollinators, as well as concern that No Mow May could be drawing attention away from more beneficial and intentional actions, such as actively planting native plants for pollinators. In this article, we provide Bee City Canada’s perspective on No Mow May, including its benefits, where it falls short, and our recommendations about how to support pollinators and ecosystems through reduced mowing, thoughtful management, and intentionally introducing native plants. 


Benefits of No Mow May

No Mow May has been an incredible tool for promoting the lack of ecological value associated with the conventional manicured turf lawn, which has been encouraged as a social norm for far too long. Conventional lawns are close to dead zones for pollinators, providing little to no food and nesting opportunities. No Mow May has not only educated people about this fact, but it has also provided people with a narrative that has empowered them to break the social norm of the conventional lawn, and experiment with inviting nature back into their yards, however imperfect the approach may be. Beyond individuals, No Mow May has had systemic benefits, encouraging many municipalities to endorse the concept of reduced mowing, at least during May. Bit by bit, the narrative of No Mow May has encouraged individuals and governments to shift away from the conventional lawn as the way to manage a yard, and to welcome management approaches that are more ecologically beneficial.  

At Bee City Canada, we see No Mow May as a step in the right direction, and not a destination. The concept can act as a gateway to learning about the actions that can be taken to support pollinators and ecosystems.

Of course, by not constantly mowing a lawn, it is more likely that some spontaneously occurring  flowers will survive and have the opportunity to bloom and provide food for pollinators. This, of course, is something – more than what is offered by a manicured lawn. But many of the flowers that spontaneously appear are non-native in Canada, such as dandelions, crocuses, and white clover. In the UK, where No Mow May originated, dandelions and white clover are native and pollinators have had the opportunity to co-evolve with them, but in North America, that is not the case. These plants do still provide pollen and nectar, which is beneficial, but they are not ideal food sources for native pollinators in North America; for example, dandelion pollen can help to supplement bees’ diets, but on its own, it is a relatively poor protein source. 

Despite the benefits of No Mow May to pollinators having limitations in terms of food and shelter, No Mow May does have some other important benefits. For example, by simply encouraging people to leave mowers in the shed, No Mow May is reducing greenhouse gas emissions associated with mowing – a step toward climate change mitigation. This benefit can be especially powerful when mowing is reduced at a large scale, such as in the case of municipal land management. By encouraging a more natural aesthetic, No Mow May also reduces the motivation for some people to use chemicals, such as pesticides and herbicides, and excessive amounts of water for yard maintenance. 


Where No Mow May falls short

As we began to discuss, spontaneously occurring plants are often non-native and not ideal food sources for bees and other pollinators. In some cases, the approach of allowing spontaneously occurring plants to grow could even contribute to the spread of invasive species, which is something that should be avoided. The more intentional approach of actively planting native plants in your yard and nurturing a diverse plant community will always be the best choice if your goal is to support pollinators, and we will explore this more in the section that follows. 

Another area where No Mow May falls short is the time window. May is indeed a critical time for pollinators in need of food sources, but so is March and April, when some pollinators emerge from hibernation, and later from August to October, when many pollinators are reproducing and preparing for hibernation. Though No Mow May is a catchy title that helps to spread the word, limiting action to such a brief window is not ideal if your goal is to support pollinators. 

Perhaps most importantly, while No Mow May brings people into the conversation, it may leave some people with a limited understanding of how to most effectively support pollinators and ecosystems in their yard. While the initiative was clearly designed to get people in the door, and not across the finish line, there is some risk that No Mow May could be giving some people the feeling that they are taking a significant step to support pollinators, when more realistically they are taking a first step. In the section that follows, we will provide more nuanced recommendations to support pollinators and ecosystems. 


Our recommendation

Once you have opened your mind to the possibilities of what a yard beyond manicured turf can look like, there is no reason to limit yourself to reducing mowing during May. We encourage the active management of yards for pollinators throughout the growing season, from early spring to fall. The best way to do this is by actively planting and managing native plant pollinator gardens. You may wish to start small and plant a few native plants in your yard. Perhaps you would like to plant a larger native plant garden along the sides of your backyard while keeping some turfgrass for recreation. Maybe you would even like to go as far as converting the entire yard into a native plant pollinator garden, as many of us at Bee City Canada have done! Regardless of how much space you would like to devote to gardening for pollinators, here is how we recommend that you go about creating these spaces:

  • Prioritize plants that are native to your region. Native plants have evolved with native pollinators to provide valuable pollen and nectar resources, and to thrive in your climate without the need for excessive watering and chemical inputs. Native plants will support the wonderful diversity of native pollinators that are indigenous to your area. Check out Pollinator Partnership Canada’s Ecoregional Planting Guides and Find Your Roots plant selection tool to learn which plants to plant where you live. 
  • Incorporate a range of plants that provide food for pollinators from spring to fall. Early spring and late fall can be difficult times for pollinators to find blooming plants, despite being critical periods in many pollinators’ lifecycles. For example, most bumble bee species emerge from hibernation in early spring and produce new queens in late fall, and therefore these are critical times in their lifecycle where they need floral resources in order to initiate colonies (spring) and produce reproductive bees (late summer and fall) that will initiate colonies the next year. 
  • Include pollinator host plants. Many pollinators have evolved specialized relationships with particular plant species, and depend on them to lay their eggs. A well known example of this is the reliance of monarch butterfly larvae on milkweed. But many other native flowers, trees, and grasses provide larval food for hundreds of other types of butterflies, like the tiger swallowtails.
  • Leave bare soil patches, stems, and dead stalks as nesting space. While managed honeybees live in human-made hives, the vast majority of bee species (>90%) nest underground, in plant stems, in old beetle burrows in wood, and in other natural cavities. Be inspired by nature to include some of these elements in your garden. 
  • Avoid insecticides. Some insecticides can harm pollinators when they come into contact with them. Always read pesticide labels, follow pesticide restrictions, and look for warnings that they may be harmful to bees.


No Mow May: Some final thoughts

No Mow May has had a profound positive impact across Canada, primarily by opening up the hearts and minds of people to the idea that yards can be havens for nature. Reduced mowing, when done right (check out the Canadian Wildlife Federation’s Rethinking Mowing document for some tips!), has many benefits, including increased food availability for pollinators. But it is important to view reduced mowing as a first step, not a major leap, when it comes to supporting pollinators. To best support pollinators, we highly recommend actively planting and managing native plant pollinator gardens; by doing this, you can be certain that you are providing critical food and shelter for local pollinators. 

How a college student advocated for her town of New Glasgow in Nova Scotia to become a Bee City

Written by Keeley Shipley

NAPPC Award Canada

From left to right; Rachel Mitchell, Ashley Kenney, Keeley Shipley, Brooke Barsness, Lilah Ross! 


My whole life I have enjoyed being outside and being immersed in nature, this is what ultimately sparked my passion for the environment and keeping it safe. In high school I was highly involved in the student council, in grade 11 I was the co-head of my school’s environmental club and in grade 12 I was a co-president of my school. During my time as co-head of the environmental club one of my friends introduced me to Bee City Canada.

Our school’s environmental team immediately hopped on board and decided to become a Bee School! However, my passion for the environment did not stop in my school, I also co-founded Pictou County Fridays for Future, a youth led organisation that educated and empowered the youth in my community to take a stand against climate change and work together to advocate for climate action! While working with my community through Pictou County Fridays for Future I was able to make connections within New Glasgow’s town
council, this is where I met Rachel Mitchell, the Climate Change Coordinator for the town of New Glasgow.

Shelly Candel Pollinator Partnership Award
Rachel and I along with other Fridays for Future members worked closely together and eventually we created the New Glasgow Youth Climate Council. Through this council I proposed that we make New Glasgow a Bee City. I had such a great experience working with Bee City in my high school and I thought it would be a great idea to get New Glasgow on board as well. Myself and four other members of Pictou County Fridays for Future/ New Glasgow’s Youth Climate Council, Tess Murray, Lilah Ross, Brooke Barsness and Ashley Kenney, planned a presentation to give at a town council meeting.
At this town council meeting we presented the benefits of becoming a pollinator friendly town and how important our bees are to our ecosystem, here we also proposed that New Glasgow should commit to becoming a pollinator friendly town by joining Bee City Canada. We had an amazing response from the town council and every single member raised their hands in agreement to join Bee City Canada and become a pollinator friendly town! It was such an amazing feeling to see so many people excited to create a healthier eco-system for our pollinators. I was definitely not expecting such a remarkable response from the council but it is very evident that my community is also very environmentally aware.
In Pictou County we have great recycling systems as well as education programs throughout communities and schools to teach the importance of recycling, composting and sustainability. I am definitely very lucky to have grown up in this community where the environment is cared for and many people make efforts to keep our green spaces healthy. One thing that I am extremely grateful for is Pictou County Solid Waste and Divert Nova Scotia. Without having grown up with these organisations’ involvement in my schools and community I would not be as educated and environmentally aware as I am today! I always thought there could be more ways for my community to take more action against climate change but after moving to a different province for University I have seen just how different recycling and climate action can look in different communities and overall I am very happy to say that my home town has some of the best ways of taking care of the environment.
I was shocked when I came to university and my school did not have a composting system nor did my residence have paper or bottle recycling options. After talking with my school’s climate change officer I found out that the new city I live in does not have composting and that is why my school cannot compost as well. I believe that Pictou County is in a good spot to continue to create the change needed to keep our environment healthy and combat climate change. As long as organisations such as Pictou County Fridays for Future, Pictou County Solid waste and the Youth Climate Council continue to educate others I believe that the county can make great progress in building an eco-friendly mindset among everyone in the community.
When I was 15 I helped start these movements within my community and now I am just weeks away from turning 19 and I am so proud of all of the youth who I have seen follow in my footsteps and spark change within their schools and communities. I truly believe that one person can make a huge difference and I am confident that Bee City has added another great chapter to Pictou County’s climate action plans!
It’s Time to #LeaveTheLeaves

It’s Time to #LeaveTheLeaves

One of the most valuable things you can do to support pollinators and other invertebrates is to provide them with the winter cover they need.

It may be habitual, a matter of social conditioning, or a holdover of outdated gardening practices from yesteryear—but for whatever reason, we just can’t seem to help ourselves from wanting to tidy up the garden at the end of the season—raking, mowing, and blowing away a bit of nature that is essential to the survival of native bees, moths, butterflies and dozens of other species.

Plenty of beneficial pollinators overwinter in gardens, using plants and debris that are left behind to survive. If you have a pollinator garden or have a garden filled with native flowering species that help pollinators during the summer and fall, leave them standing to provide cover through the winter.

Many native solitary bees spend the winter by nesting in the dry hollow stems of dormant plants. Others overwinter by burrowing into the ground or small holes in wood or make use of man-made bee hotels. Various species of butterflies and moths survive winter by hiding under garden debris such as dried leaves and twigs.

  • Leave the leaves where they fall. Leaf litter provides habitat, insulation, and protection for insect pollinators. It’s also a natural fertilizer for grass as leaves break down during the winter.
  • If you can’t leave all the leaves, rake lightly without disturbing the soil. Avoiding soil disturbance or rough handling of leaves will ensure that any hibernating insects stay buried and any butterflies or larvae sheltering under leaves are not killed.
  • Pile leaves over garden beds, around trees and shrubs, or in the corner of the yard. Keeping leaves intact will still provide pollinators like butterflies with shelter and overwintering sites.
  • Keep the leaves where they are until the weather warms and any pollinators using the leaves have emerged to start foraging. Bonus: leaves serve as natural mulch for your garden, so you can save pollinators AND money!
  • Explain to your neighbors how leaving the leaves is an easy way to do your part in pollinator conservation—maybe they will want to join you!

Wait until April to rid your flower beds of wilted plants and debris. The pollinators that live there will thank you by ridding your garden of pests and ensuring beautiful blooms in the spring.

Bee City Canada is merging with Pollinator Partnership Canada

Bee City Canada is merging with Pollinator Partnership Canada

NAPPC Award Canada

By the end of this year, Bee City Canada will come under Pollinator Partnership Canada’s guidance as a signature initiative.

Pollinator Partnership Canada (P2C) is a registered charity dedicated to the protection and promotion of pollinators and their ecosystems through conservation, education, and research. Bee City Canada will continue to offer our programs and reach more communities across the country.

What does this means?
Shelly Candel, Bee City Canada’s founder and Director is passing the torch on to Vicki Wojcik, Director of P2C to continue Bee City Canada’s important work.

Our current Bee City Canada programs and our website at will remain the same as we continue our mission to protect Canada’s pollinators through education and community action. Most of the changes are behind the scenes. Expect the same enthusiasm and commitment to serve and support our Bee City Partners.

A Message From Shelly Candel, Founder & Director of Bee City Canada.

A Message From Vicki Wojcik, Director of Pollinator Partnership Canada.