Saving the Monarchs, One Weed at a Time


Submitted a year ago
Created by
Henry Homeyer

Growing Milkweed for Monarchs

I’m doing my best to help the Monarch butterflies. Until recently, my property had no milkweed, a necessary food for Monarchs. Last year I got some seeds and planted them, but with poor results. This year I have one plant from that effort. But I bought more seed, did more research, and tried again.

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It turns out that common milkweed (Ascelepias syriaca) needs a cold period (called vernalization) before it will germinate. So this year I planted seeds in a flat and covered them with plastic wrap and placed the flat in a spare fridge that I keep in the basement. Per the instructions, I kept them cold for 6 weeks, then brought them out on June 1. Then I put them on a heat mat I have for starting seeds and within a few days virtually every seed germinated. They grow slowly when small, and only now, a month later, are the seedlings big enough growth to transplant into the soil.

Milkweed I started from seed

Meanwhile, impatient as ever, I dug some milkweed seedlings from the gardens of Monarch-friendly friends (most gardeners consider milkweed a weed, and root it out mercilessly). Milkweed roots tend to go down fairly deep and are quite breakable, so transplanting is not easy. Still, most of the plants survived their move and are doing well.

Milkweed I transplanted

Instead of just fitting the milkweed into other garden beds, I have made 2 beds just for the milkweed. I extended 2 flower beds by a foot or more, clearing out the phlox growing there, and planting the milkweed. I figure a big patch all in one place will be found by any passing Monarchs more easily than plants scattered around.

I realize that my efforts will not, on their own, change the fate of the Monarchs. But I am an optimist and will do whatever little things I can to help. And if you do, too … maybe we can save them. 

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