BONNIE’S GARDEN – The Only Plant to Save Monarch Butterflies, and You Can Grow It!

Did you know the Monarch butterfly population has declined 90% in the last 20 years? The destruction of native prairies and grasslands, as well as the widespread use of commercial weed killers, has decimated the population of native milkweed—the only plant Monarch butterflies will lay eggs on.

You can help. By incorporating milkweed into your yards and gardens, you can not only feed Monarch butterfly caterpillars but a host of other butterflies as well.

There are a number of milkweeds to choose from so here is a quick guide of some of the more common varieties you’re likely to find.

Milkweed Varieties

Asclepias incarnata—Swamp Milkweed

This variety is native to the Central and Eastern U.S. It is a perennial that prefers part shade and slightly moist soil. I can grow up to four feet in height. It has pink or white flowers with a sweet vanilla-like fragrance. This variety is well-behaved in the garden (not invasive).

Asclepias speciosa—Showy Milkweed

This is a native species to the West Coast. It has fragrant pink flowers and prefers sun and well-draining soil. Because it prefers poor soil, fertilize sparingly. It grows between four and five feet in height and can be a vigorous spreader—so give it plenty of room.

Asclepias tuberosa—Butterfly Weed

This native to the Central and Southern U.S. has showy bright orange flowers. About two feet in height, it is well-behaved in the garden. Because it has a long taproot, it is somewhat drought tolerant. However, because of that long taproot, it does not transplant well.

Asclepias Syriaca—Common Milkweed

Common Milkweed is native to the Central and Eastern U.S. It can grow up to six feet in height and is happiest in most conditions as long as it gets plenty of sunlight. Pink flowers have a soft sweet fragrance. This is another vigorous spreader.

Asclepias currassavica—Tropical Milkweed

This one is not native but has naturalized over the Southern U.S. in zones 9 to 11. It has showy yellow and red-orange flowers all summer long. There is some concern that because it blooms all the way to frost that is can encourage Monarch butterflies to stay past the time they should be beginning their migration to Mexico. Experts recommend planting this with a native Milkweed and cutting the flowers off when the native variety stops blooming.

Let Us Help You Choose the Right Variety!

Stop by the Great Big Greenhouse and let us help you select the best milkweed plant for your yard. We have various varieties in stock and ready for your garden.

Whichever variety you choose, you’re not only decorating your yard with flowers, you’re decorating it with butterflies.

To read more from Bonnie, visit our blog

11 thoughts on “BONNIE’S GARDEN – The Only Plant to Save Monarch Butterflies, and You Can Grow It!”

  1. Deer might occasionally eat milkweed, but it it not anywhere near the top of the list of their favorites. There are many other things they’d rather eat. They don’t like the milky sap. I have had milkweed in my yard for several years and they haven’t bothered it.

  2. Everything I plant is for pollinators, even host plants. I would like to give butterfly weed a try. Last week at the store I was going to include two plants with my purchases, saw the information about aphids, saw the aphids on the plants and put them back. This intimidates me. Will they move to all the other plants I have? I might plant some at the edge of the yard but I have butterfly bush, beauty berry and summer sweet planted there.

  3. Mary, I’m glad you’re planting for pollinators. Aphids will occasionally show up on many plants–including milkweed–but it is extremely easy to deal with. Since it conveniently shows up on new growth and flower buds (where it’s so easy to spot) I simply take my garden hose and rinse it off at the same I’m using my fingers to “rub” it off. That said, I would rather take home a plant that doesn’t have it on there. However I’ve never had to resort to an actual spray for aphids since the garden hose and my fingers do a great job of keeping it under control.

  4. My milkweed was covered with little yellow aphids (I’m assuming). It never bloomed, but five monarch caterpillar showed up and ate despite the aphids. One day they were all gone. I hope they went hanging and didn’t get gobbled by a bird.

    What can I do to prevent these aphids? Ladybugs?

    • Hi Kendra. Because any product you use to kill aphids will also kill caterpillars, if aphids do show up, just rinse them off. Yes, you could use ladybugs but, remember, they only stay around while there is food. Once they clean up the aphids, they’ll take off for buggier territory.

  5. Bonnie, i also planted several pollinating flowers earlier last month on 1 side of the fence, gets sun morning & late afternoon. Half of them grew @ blossomed, the others not so. 1 orange blooming milkeeed initially grew eith flowers & then no more flowers. Don’t know if i need to move this plant to a sunnier spot or to stop watering weekly. Also 1 beautiful dark red coneflower has not grown at all. It has only recently had couple blooms but remained height as planted. Thanks for your advice .

    • Pamela, a lot depends on exactly how much sun in total these are all getting. To perform it’s best, an echinacea needs a minimum of five hours of direct sun though it would prefer six hours or more to perform its best. On the red echinacea check the tag to see which variety it is. Some only get 18 to 24 inches tall total. As for the milkweed, the orange-blooming tuberosa is a perennial and, like most perennials, has a set blooming season and when it’s finished blooming, will not bloom again until next summer.

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