Winter hasn’t even officially begun, but there’s already reason to think about next spring and summer.

That’s when monarch butterflies will return to Indiana and breed the next generation of these gorgeous insects. But the butterflies are threatened because there’s a growing scarcity of common milkweed, the plant on which the adults lay eggs and the young caterpillars feast on until it’s time to turn into butterflies.

To help foster more host plants, federal officials want landowners in Indiana and nine other states to grow milkweed to boost the population of monarch butterflies. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is due to spend $4 million in 2016 to help farmers and others plant milkweed and other nectar-producing plants. The USDA funds also will be spent in Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas and Wisconsin.

Shannon Zezula, Indiana resource conservationist with the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, said the agency wants to re-establish habitats for monarchs and pollinators in general.

Milkweed is essential for monarchs since it is the only plant on which the butterfly will lay its eggs. It takes three to four generations for the monarchs to migrate to roosting spots in mountains of central Mexico.

But you don’t have to be a major landowner to make a difference. Even setting aside a small portion of a backyard flower or vegetable garden will make a difference. In addition, attracting monarchs will help with the pollination of other flowers, fruits and vegetables when the adults gather nectar.

If you still have milkweed pods in your garden or know someone who does, gather those pods and spread the seeds now and let them lie on the ground over the winter.

Last fall, the Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge near Seymour staged a milkweed seed-gathering event in which scores of volunteers gathered pods across the refuge. Those seeds were later sewn in open areas of the refuge in hopes of increasing the number of plants next spring and summer.

Next May, the annual Johnson County Garden Celebration will emphasize efforts to save monarchs. There will be lots of information about the insects and opportunities to obtain milkweed plants.

By starting to think about saving monarchs now, individuals can make a difference for generations to come.

At issue

A lack of common milkweed plants has led to a significant drop in monarch butterfly populations.

Our point

By planting milkweed, property owners, including backyard gardeners, can give a boost to this important and beautiful pollinator.