What Can You Do – Today – to Help the Monarchs?

Most of us remember when monarch butterflies were common. Some of us even found a chrysalis and saved it in a jar to watch the butterfly emerge. I never thought monarchs would become endangered. Yet this year I only saw 3 of these orange and black beauties.

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For the past 2 years I have been introducing milkweed plants to my property. The milkweed family has several species of plants that are favored by monarchs, and contain alkaloids that make them taste bad to birds. Now is the time to plant a few seeds outdoors.

Milkweed pods are full of seeds right now.

Right now wild milkweed plants have seed pods that are ripe and are opening up to release their seeds – which float away on silky parachutes. Walk past a field of wild grasses and flowers, and you will probably see some tall stems that have long seed pods at their tops. Go pick one, preferably one that is brown and dry, and open it up.

Milweed seeds fresh from the pod

The ground is starting to freeze where I am, but today it is raining and the ground shouldn’t be frozen. I will pull out weeds and grasses in a 12 inch circle and plant a dozen seeds or so. Later I can pull some of the plants if they all germinate and seem crowded.

Milkweed seeds need 6 weeks of cold weather (or more) before theywill germinate. That’s why it is good to plant now, in the fall. Last spring I had no seeds, but bought some, and had to keep a flat of planted seeds in the fridge in order to get them to germinate. But it worked!

Red milkweed is attractive bumblebees and other polllinators, too.

First year milkweed plants don’t get big, or didn’t for me. But my red milkweed that I planted 2 years ago developed into a nice tall plant – 6 feet tall – in a 12 inch clump.

Wild milkweed is a handsome plant.

We can’t do much to influence what happens to the monarchs when they get to their wintering grounds in Mexico, or even to influence farmers in the mid-West that spray herbicides to kill “weeds” like milkweed. But we can create a nice environment for a few in our own backyards. 

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