Pollinator Health

We need pollinators…and they need us!

In the United States, pollinators like bees, butterflies, and birds are responsible for 75 percent of our food supply. That is one of every three bites of food we eat! Pollinators are critical to our food supply and the plant diversity we find in nature, yet across the nation, they are disappearing.  

This is the case for bees – like the hundreds of species of native bees that pollinate so many of our food crops – as well as iconic species like the monarch butterfly. The good news is, we can help! Creating habitat for pollinators in your yard or school garden is one important action you can take to help them thrive.

Below is some information about our Milkweed for Monarchs program, as well as collaborative work we are involved with to support pollinator health.  

Milkweed for Monarchs

The RCD’s Milkweed for Monarchs program is all about creating more habitat for monarch butterflies and other pollinators by planting milkweed. Planting milkweed provides essential habitat for Monarchs, and also provides the opportunity to observe the life cycle of these fascinating insects.

Milkweed is the host plant for monarchs. Female butterflies lay their eggs on milkweed leaves, and it is the sole food source of monarch caterpillars. The number of monarch butterflies counted at overwintering sites in California and Mexico has decreased by about 95% since the 1980s! We also are experiencing a major loss of milkweed plants in monarchs’ spring and summer breeding areas, due to factors like urban and agricultural development and the use of herbicides in farming, pastures, and along roadways.  

By planting butterfly host plants such as milkweeds and a diverse array of flowering plants in school gardens, community gardens, and front and back yards, we create new habitat for Monarch butterflies and other pollinators.  

The RCD has narrowleaf milkweed seeds to share with schools and residents in San Diego County who want to create pollinator habitat. We can also sometimes offer narrowleaf milkweed plants to schools, as well as other information and resources to assist with pollinator gardens.   

Sign up for our school garden email newsletter to receive announcements about available resources!

San Diego Pollinator Alliance

The RCD is a founding member of the San Diego Pollinator Alliance (SDPA), a group of organizations and agencies working together to protect pollinators in San Diego County. Other members include Butterfly Farms, Sky Mountain Permaculture, the California Native Plant Society – San Diego Chapter, US Fish & Wildlife Partners for Fish & Wildlife Program, and the Natural Resources Conservation Service.  The SDPA aims to increase native pollinator habitat and awareness about pollinator-friendly practices throughout San Diego County through outreach, education, and on-the-ground programs.

Do you want to find out how to attract beneficial pollinators like bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds into your garden? The San Diego Pollinator Alliance is developing a series of native demonstration pollinator gardens across the county to give residents ideas on how to create pollinator habitat at home. Demonstration pollinator habitats have been planted a Sike’s Adobe within the San Dieguito River Park and the Los Jilgueros Preserve in Fallbrook. In addition, we have recently worked with Lafayette Elementary and Scripps Ranch High School to build pollinator gardens. We are always open to hearing from schools or other sites that would like to host a demonstration habitat – please get in touch if you would like to get involved.  

Other pollinator gardens to check out around San Diego County include:
– A native plant garden at the edge of the Zoro Garden in Balboa Park
– The pollinator garden at Lindo Lake Park in Lakeside
– The pollinator garden at Living Coast Discovery Center in Chula Vista

We get questions about where to buy native plants and milkweed. Here are some suggestions:
Luca Micaela Nursery in Encinitas sells pesticide free native and tropical milkweed, as well as other pollinator plants.
The California Native Plant Society has created a comprehensive list of nurseries that sell native plants in San Diego County. 

The Pollinator Pathway

The SDPA hosts a thriving demonstration pollinator habitat at the San Diego County Fair called the Pollinator Pathway.  Built in 2015, it is now a permanent feature within the Fair’s Infield Farm. The Pollinator Pathway is open every day of the Fair (May 31 – July 4, 2019). If you are visiting the Fair, stop by and learn about low water use, California native plants that provide essential habitat for our hardworking pollinators. The exhibit also features a butterfly free-flight house and a honey bee display. We will also be offering a free talk each day of the Fair at 1pm on how to create gardens to support pollinators and other wildlife. The talk will include a guided tour of the Pollinator Pathway. 

Pollinator Alliance members and volunteers act as docents to give garden tours and talk with visitors about plant choices to support pollinators and beautify your yard. Please contact us if you are interested in participating as a docent. 



Pollinator Health Resources

Monarch and pollinator conservation:  

  • Butterfly Farms: education and conservation organization and nursery all on one site. Come visit their butterfly free flight house and buy pollinator plants for your garden.  
  • Monarch Joint Venture: a national partnership of federal and state agencies, non-governmental organizations, businesses, and academic programs working together to conserve the monarch butterfly migration.  
  • Monarch Watch: a wealth of information about monarchs – creating habitat, citizen science, migration, biology, and more. 
  • The Xerces Society: an organization dedicated to the protection of wildlife through supporting invertebrates.  They offer information and resources about issues affecting monarchs and other pollinators and what you can do to help these vital insects. 

Native plant resources

  • California Native Plant Society – San Diego Chapter: organization dedicated to increasing understanding, appreciation and conservation of California’s fascinating variety of native plants in their natural environment and in horticultural settings. “Gardening with Natives” and “How-To Brochures” links on their website have lots of info on native plants and butterflies.  
  • Recon Native Plants: a wholesale nursery specializing in growing California native plants. The nursery holds public plant sales four times per year.

Milkweed seed sowing and plant care instructions:

Creating pollinator habitat:

Citizen science programs:

  • Journey North: a country-wide monarch monitoring program. Report your monarch sightings and check out their interactive map of sightings so far this year!  
  • Xerces Society: offers two citizen science opportunities. Help collect data to monitor the status of overwintering monarchs along the California coast by participating in the West Monarch Count that takes place over Thanksgiving and the New Year. You can also contribute to efforts to better understand the breeding habitat of monarchs by entering your monarch and milkweed sightings through the Western Monarch Milkweed Mapper
  • Monarch Citizen Science programs: an overview of monarch citizen science contributions and programs across the United States, including information on how to get involved.  (link to document title Monarch citizen science overview)
  • RCD Milkweed for Monarchs iNaturalist project: join this project and contribute observations of monarchs in your gardens. 


Monarch Butterfly Tag and Release Event

Monarch Butterfly “Tag-and-Release” Event: North County students and elected officials enjoy a chance to get up close with Monarch Butterflies at this fun and informative event hosted by Butterfly Farms, the RCD, and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.