How to Grow: Milkweed for Monarchs


We’ve been busy watching many different butterflies this summer in our garden. It seems they love this heat and humidity. And there’s been enough water for them to thrive. Of course, this time of year the Monarch butterflies become more noticeable. Their prized plant is the milkweed. Many insects only feed and lay eggs on a few different types of plants. That’s certainly true of monarchs. Anything in the milkweed family is fair game. Monarch caterpillars have the unique ability to eat the milkweed leaves even with the toxic, white, milky sap. It actually makes the Monarchs less appealing to birds, so it’s a protection device, too.

Before you go planting milkweed in your garden, though, be warned. Some, such as the common, Asclepias syriaca, can become invasive, spreading throughout a garden. It’s best to leave the common milkweed to wildflower meadows and grow some of the less aggressive milkweed species.

Swamp milkweed, Asclepias incarnata, has attractive pink flowers and thrives in moist to wet soils. Purple milkweed, Asclepias purpurascens, has purple flowers, loves the sun and tolerates dry soils. White milkweed, Ascpelias variegata, produces small, white blossoms and thrives in poor, dry soils. And butterfly weed, Asclepias tuberosa, has orange flowers and grows well in most garden soils.

Grow some of these milkweed in your butterfly or pollinator gardens. Match the type of milkweed species with your growing conditions and other plants that thrive there. Milkweed grows well with butterfly favorite flowers such as echinacea, salvia, Mexican sunflower, coreopsis, and bee balm. Of course, milkweed also looks great planted in groups in meadows and other naturalized areas.

Excerpted from Ct Garden Journal on Ct Public Radio

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