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UT Gardens builds 'pit stop' for monarch butterflies

The new 5,000 square foot garden is designed to attract the butterflies as they migrate south.

Volunteers at the University of Tennessee Gardens in Knoxville are hoping to build a  "pit stop" for the monarch butterflies as they pass through East Tennesee on their migration south.

"This is the first monarch waystation on UT's campus. It's a completely new project for us," Alice Kimbrell, a horticulturist and volunteer coordinator at UT Gardens, said. 

The 5,000 square foot garden will feature over 80 species of plants that specifically attract pollinators like the monarch butterfly. Kimbrell said they've never planted a garden this big before. 

"I like to think of it kind of as a pitstop for the monarch butterflies that are traveling from Canada and Mexico. So, those butterflies will come either in the fall or in the spring, and they will have caterpillars, and those caterpillars will feed on milkweed. Then, those caterpillars will grow up into butterflies and then travel to Mexico in the fall," Kimbrell explained. 

The planning for the Monarch Waystation began several months before they began planting. 

"We've been planning the garden since before Christmas. We applied for the grant in January through the University of Tennessee's Green Fee. And, we finally received the grant a couple of weeks ago, which has been super exciting," Kimbrell said. 

Credit: WBIR
Volunteers work in the rain to help create the new Monarch Waystation at UT Gardens.

In July, they hope to see the benefits of all their hard work as the caterpillars from the passing butterflies begin to emerge from their cocoons as butterflies themselves, and the flowers bloom. That's when Kimbrell suggests visiting the garden. 

"Each year it's going to get better and better. The plants are going to get bigger and hopefully, we'll have more butterflies each year," Kimbrell said, adding that the ultimate goal of the project is to educate people about pollinators and the plants they can add in their own backyard gardens. 

The UT Gardens is currently open to visitors, but they ask that you maintain social distancing. 

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