Post by: Jonathan Léger
Prepare Your Milkweed for the Monarchs Arrival
The word is out that the population of Monarch butterflies is decreasing. These insects have delighted legions of children on the North American continent for generations and the thought of their demise is distressing to many. Since the caterpillars require milkweed to thrive, residents of cities, suburbs, and rural areas are concentrating their efforts on propagating the species to ensure the survival of this wondrous species. If you have never grown milkweed before, here are some tips that will help your plants grow to be strong and healthy to nurture the Monarch caterpillars long enough for them to reach their butterfly adulthood.
Prepare a garden space that will accommodate at least six plants. When Monarch caterpillars start eating, they are very, very hungry. By giving them access to multiple plants, you create a better opportunity for more of them to survive to adulthood and, after all, isn't that the whole point of growing milkweed in the first place?
Diversify Your Milkweed Garden
To really increase your odds of successfully creating a habitat for these lovely butterflies, begin preparing more than one garden plot for them in the spring. Keep in mind that not every plant thrives, so if you grow your milkweed in multiple locations around your yard, you will increase your odds of success. Even if a storm blows through your area, it might destroy one of your milkweed patches, but it won't destroy your chances.
If you do choose to grow your milkweed in a container garden, you can overwinter them and place them back outside in the springtime for bigger plants that season. Overwintering works for most milkweed varieties, but not all. Move them indoors once they have stopped producing flowers or fruits. Once indoors, remember that they will still need to be watered all winter long. Perennial milkweed will go dormant in the winter and can remain potted outdoors throughout the winter.
Plan Ahead for Next Seasons Monarchs
After you have placed your plants into the soil, remember to put mulch around them. The protective layer of mulch will help to keep moisture in and help your plants to thrive. Leave some open space around the seedlings and check on them after a rain storm to make sure they don't get covered. You can buy a commercial mulch specially made for this purpose or you can use grass clippings. Both work very well.
Once you begin growing your milkweed plants, you can either wait for wild milkweed butterflies to show up to lay their eggs or collect caterpillars from nearby milkweed and place them on your plants. Watching these caterpillars grow to adulthood makes it worth all the work in the spring.
Jonathan Leger is a member of the Garden Writer's Association and a gardening enthusiast.
He runs a site dedicated to the history, education and care of knockout roses at
On July 12th, 2015 I visited an area where mexican whorled milkweed plants are growing. The plants have attracted monarch's and swallowtail butterflies over the last week. Today I took my camera with the goal of photographing a few of the bugs. I was only at the truck stop where the flowers are blooming for no more then 10 minutes and I saw 10 different kinds of bugs. If you can help me identify any of the insects leave a comment below.
Lady bugs, July 2:11 PM
Not just one lady bug but two lady bugs!
Wasp, JULY 2:12 PM
The yellow jacket sometimes appears to be a threatening menace at your backyard BBQ. Here in the milkweed meadow the yellow jacket is a gentle bug searching for pollen.
Bee, JULY 2:13 PM
This bee appears to be a honey bee. It is loading up on pollen. If you look very closely on the bees legs you may be able to see the pollinia packets attached. The bee is fertilizing the blossom and these flowers will most certainly become fruit in the form of seed pods in the next few weeks.
Wasp, JULY 2:14 PM
I could use a bit of help with this wasp identification. Perhaps a Mud Dauber?
Butterfly, JULY 2:15 PM
Cabbage white butterfly seen here is finding an outstanding source of nectar on the mexican whorled milkweed flowers.
Skipper, JULY 2:16 PM
This skipper butterfly is feeding on the milkweed while waiting for the additional blooms to open.
Milkweed Beetle, JULY 2:17 PM
Large milkweed bug. These bugs are pretty common on milkweed. Its a good idea to try and keep the large milkweed bug away from your milkweed when the seed pods form. The large milkweed bug will feed on the seeds. When they do feed on the milkweed seeds the seeds will not grow due to the damage this bug has caused to the seed.
Fly, JULY 2:18 PM
Big fly may be taking a break from flying in the hot sun.
Fly, July 2:19 PM
Small fly. This fly seemed pretty engaged in searching for something on the milkweed flowers.
Beetle, JULY 2:20 PM
I don't have the identification for this beetle. It may be visiting the milkweed while on its way thru the area.
That's 10 bugs in 10 minutes on milkweed
It's not hard to see all the value that milkweed has for pollinators and other insects. My favorite two kinds of bugs today are the butterflies and the bees. I try to pet a bee every day in the summer. Today was no exception. The bees were very friendly, even the yellow jacket.
If I had more time to stay at the milkweed it is very likely that I would have seen a monarch butterfly visit the plants. On a few visits here earlier in the summer I had seen a few different monarchs flying over and landing on these flowers.
If you are interested in growing mexican whorled milkweed in your yard or garden then you can pre-order the seeds now and expect delivery before the end of November. Visit the store to order milkweed seeds.
Monarch's are now all over North America. Mexico has monarchs. America has monarchs. Canada has monarchs. Summertime is primetime for monarchs to migrate. Use the milkweed locater to see which type of milkweed is native to your state.
Monarchs are not on My Milkweed, Why?
The distribution of monarchs can appear to be uneven at times. I am happy to have seen a total of three monarchs in my yard this year. It is still early in the monarch's migration season. No eggs have been laid on my milkweed yet.
The milkweed patch is a busy habitat for hundreds of animals that visit the plant throughout the summer. Bees are actively pollinating the blooms. Spiders are laying in wait for tiny bugs. Tiny bugs are striving to survive on the milkweed plants. One of the smallest animals on milkweed is the monarch caterpillar.
Caterpillars can be very difficult to see when they are small. A newly hatched caterpillar is only 2-6mm in length (source: Monarch Watch) and nearly transparent. The day after my latest caterpillar hatched I didn't see it on the milkweed until two days later. They could be hiding out in the open.
Monarchs need time to reproduce
The monarch lifecycle is an amazing process. Metamorphosis is incredibly complex and requires that many steps in the process goes well for the monarch to take flight. An entire metamorphosis from egg to butterfly occurs in about 30 days.
As monarchs enter your region of N. America they may be at the end of their short life. An egg laying female is likely to lay as many as 500 eggs on the milkweed plants in her lifetime. Those eggs take about a week to hatch the tiny caterpillar. It may be another week before you notice the leaves being chewed up by the hungry caterpillars.
Once the caterpillars have grown thru five instars they may have crawled away from the milkweed to form the chrysalis. The chrysalis is the last step in metamorphosis before the butterfly takes flight. As fun as looking for monarchs in flight can be, we may be looking in the wrong place.
Egg, caterpillar and chrysalis are also monarchs that haven't gotten ready to fly. Take some time to look at the milkweed throughly. Eggs are small, oblong and have a light gold color. You may find an egg before you see a monarch.
Monarch eggs in Twin Falls, Idaho
While traveling to attend a wedding visited a park that I went to in 2014. There was milkweed in the park in 2014 so I was hopeful to find monarchs in 2015. While I did not see any monarchs, I did see a viceroy butterfly.
Raising monarchs at home
In one month a monarch can be raised in your home. With a little preparation and a lot of patience you can contribute to the monarch butterfly population explosion that is overdue. I have a goal to raise and release twenty-five healthy monarch butterflies in 2015.
The most natural approach to supporting monarchs is to grow milkweed on your property. Monarch waystations and pollinator gardens are hugely successful and provide wonderful habitats for monarchs and other beneficial insects.
Currently I am growing milkweed in a monarch waystation. The name of my way station is "The Biggest Little Butterfly Garden In The World" Monarch waystation #8269 as registered with the Monarch Watch Waystation Program. Registering your garden is not necessary. I chose to register and even ordered the cool sign. I consider it a donation to a good cause.
The monarchs habitat is a cruel unforgiving place to grow up. Spending a month outside in the elements is dangerous, even in the summer, for a monarch larvae. Eggs get eaten, caterpillars become meals. Chrysalids can become damaged. Any one of these events will kill that monarch larvae.
To control the process I am trying to raise this years 25 monarchs indoors. By preventing eggs from being eaten. Keeping caterpillars from becoming meals. And by hosting the chrysalids in a safe place I plan to increase the survival rate from a dismal 5% to above 75%. Some folks raising monarchs report successful rearing of above 95%. By removing a few variable from the environment the monarchs stand a better chance of completing their metamorphosis.
From One to Twenty-Five in only One Year
Monarch Season is in Full Bloom
Winter monarchs have entirely disbanded from their clusters and are crossing all international boarders. Canada has seen the arrival of the the first flying flowers. A few weeks behind these northern flyers are their offspring. As the monarchs are flying around pollinating they are also in search of milkweed.
Milkweed is in full bloom. Most of the milkweed is ready for monarch caterpillars. Milkweed is rapidly growing all over North America. The monarchs are doing what they do best. Monarchs are laying their tiny eggs and a new generation is emerging to continue the migration.
Current Monarch Butterfly Activity in Reno
Nevada monarchs are believed to be a part of the western population of monarchs. The western monarchs are identical to the eastern monarchs in almost every way. The only difference is where they go during the winter. Western monarchs go west to over 200 locations in central and southern California.
Warm weather is becoming more common across America. Monarchs love the warm weather. Have you been outdoors observing monarch activity? Its truly incredible. Monarchs have become very active in the northern Nevada area around Reno.
Beginning in June monarch sightings become much more frequent. To spot a monarch I find that looking toward the nearest milkweed plant is a good place to begin. Monarch butterflies flutter all around the milkweed. They know it is home. The female monarch will lay her eggs on the plant.
June, July and August are the peak season for Monarch butterflies in most places. If you have milkweed in your garden then you may have monarchs as guests in your garden. Another option to find monarchs is to go out looking for them. Maybe a park or field edge has milkweed? It will certainly be a good place to begin looking.
How are the Monarch's where you are?
Tell about your experience seeing monarchs, eggs, caterpillars or chrysalis this year. Was it in your yard or were you traveling? Do you raise the butterflies and release them? Leave a link to your favorite monarch resource to help others conserve this insect.
Seed starting in Spring requires a plan
My plan was to start early and with very low cost items that are commonly found around the house. The example I am using is for a very tiny window sill greenhouse seed starter. You could use a larger clear container and expand the capacity very easily.
The one material that I did spend money on was the soil. For about $10 I grabbed a bag of Jiffy Natural and Organic Seed Starting Mix. Using a seed starting mix has proven, in my experience, to be a good value. The small roots do better growing unrestricted in the loose mixture.
2015 is an exciting year for milkweed. There are many private organizations and public nurseries that are working very hard to bring milkweed plants to local stores. Until their network is able to support the massive demand for milkweed you can use readily available milkweed seeds to begin growing asclepias plants in your home today.
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Make milkweed your friend. Your friends will love your milkweed. My name is Brad. Learn more about me now.
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