What to do? We are raising butterflies and suddenly they disappear. Caterpillars indoors suddenly begin vomiting bright green fluid when you feed them plants from your own yard. Oh-oh. These are signs that pesticide was sprayed or spread.
Many gardeners see butterfly caterpillars simply as worms that eat their plants. They don’t want holes in their leaves. They believe that every kind of caterpillar will eat all their plants, vegetables and all. They don’t have a clue that a Monarch or Gulf Fritillary caterpillar won’t eat their corn and tomatoes.
Most of us were in that situation at one time or another, in our distant or sometimes our recent past. We didn’t want those ‘worms’ in our gardens and yards, eating our plants. We had our yards and home sprayed with pesticide because we didn’t want roaches, spiders, and other critters in our homes, gardens, and yards.
Then we discovered the magic of butterflies. We learned that many of those ‘worms’ were child butterflies, growing up to become winged adult butterflies, a beautiful addition to any garden. Our hearts sank when we realized that the ‘worms’ we killed were actually butterflies. We do all we can to create a butterfly habitat in our yard. Instead of being dismayed to find ‘worms’ on our plants, we are are delighted, telling our butterfly friends what new treasures we find as we walk through our gardens.
But now our neighbors are where we were years ago. They are spraying their yards heavily, the chemicals drifting over into our yards, killing our butterflies. What can we do?
Basic fact: in some instances we can do nothing. In other instances we can either turn our neighbors into butterfly nuts like us or we can coax them into spraying less and working with us to protect our gardens from their sprays.
1. Talk to your neighbor. If you are friends, this is easier. If you aren’t well acquainted, ask them over for a meal, dessert, or ask them out for a meal. Take time to get to know them and for them to know you, if possible.
2. Don’t be rude. If you are rude, your neighbor will NOT be interested in listening to you. Be patient. Some people’s passion for a beautiful lawn and beautiful garden is as real and strong as your passion for butterflies. Respect their opinions and views. If possible, agree to disagree when you can. Respect their views as much as you expect them to respect yours. If you don’t respect them, they won’t respect you.
3. Share your passion. Show your neighbor a caterpillar, chrysalis, and adult butterfly. If their house isn’t heavily sprayed, give them a chrysalis to watch emerge. But remember, some people are as terrified of caterpillars as others are of rattlesnakes and alligators. Never laugh at their fears.
4. In kindness, educate your neighbor. As you share your passion, do so in a way that will educate them about butterflies, their life cycles, and their need for host plants and a safe habitat.
5. Share with your neighbor. Share plants and seed with your neighbor if your neighbor is a gardener.
6. Ask your neighbor. Make your request clearly known, kindly, and with a smile. Ask them to spray less or not at all. If they continue spraying, ask them to let you know when they are spraying so you can cover host plants with sheets. Ask them to spray when the wind is away from your yard. Again, using threats, anger, and cussing will only turn your neighbor against you.
7. Learn and educate yourself about the differences between the advantages and disadvantages of sprays vs granular vs dusting type chemicals. Learn the difference between systemic and non-systemic pesticides. If your neighbor insists on using chemicals you are unhappy with, suggest an alternative. Allow your neighbor time to think about it. Don’t become angry if he/she does not change. If you become angry and show your anger, you’ve lost the battle for future changes.
8. If you live in a subdivision, work to educate everyone in the subdivision. Share seed at the next homeowners association meeting. Create handouts for everyone, sharing butterfly garden and habitat information. One gentleman held a cookout for 60 neighbors and did a butterfly presentation, sharing about butterflies. He had seed and plants to share with his neighbors. Don’t be demanding, be kind and generous.
9. Know when to give up for a while. If you keep asking all the time, your neighbors will dread seeing your face. Make sure that when your neighbors see you or hear your voice, it brings smiles to their faces.
10. Keep your garden and yard beautiful. If a beautiful yard is your neighbors passion, your untidy yard will not coax them to quit spraying. You should show them that an yard without chemicals can be beautiful!