Thursday, August 26, 2010

Planting Natives: Monarchs & Milkweed

It was such a thrill to have seen the first Monarch butterfly! It's not the first I've ever seen, but the first that I ever remember seeing in my garden.

Since the monarch population has dwindled in recent years, it was especially encouraging to see this one fluttering around on my Agastache.

What's different in my garden this year? For one, I planted Asclepias--widely known as Milkweed. Did you know that milkweed is The Only Plant that the monarch butterfly will lay its eggs on? Additionally, it's The Only Plant that the monarch larvae will eat!

My quest to have a monarch visit me started last year when garden writer/friend Cameron, of Defining Your Home, Garden and Travel, sent me some Asclepias incarnata (Swamp milkweed) seeds that she'd collected from plants in her garden. Unfortunately, the seeds did not germinate, as I saw no signs of them this spring. So in April of this year, I decided to order some live plants online, from Lazy S'S Farm, near Charlottesville, VA.

I was very impressed with the way the boxes were labeled so well on the outside, with a note to the mailman to please leave in a shady place to keep out of direct sun.

Not only that, but the plants were packed exceptionally well, making it virtually impossible for them to move around within the box, thereby remaining stable during shipment.

Asclepias incarnata (Swamp milkweed)
Right away I planted between 10 and 15 Asclepias incarnata in various places within my gardens.

Asclepias incarnata (Swamp milkweed)
The Swamp milkweed (above) have grown upwards of 2 feet, some up to 3 feet, at this point in time. I have seen not yet seen buds or flowers on these.

Some time in May or June, I added a few other varieties of Asclepias.

Asclepias exaltata (Poke milkweed a.k.a. Tall milkweed)
The Poke milkweed (above and below) has grown to about a foot and a half and had some buds/blossoms earlier in the summer, but is no longer flowering.

Asclepias exaltata (Poke milkweed a.k.a.Tall milkweed)
The A. exaltata (above) and another milkweed, A. purpurascens (below) were ordered from another online nursery (that I won't recommend as I wasn't impressed with their packing or their plants).

Asclepias purpurascens (Purple milkweed)
The Purple milkweed plants (above) were really just tiny plugs when they arrived. Unfortunately, all 3 of them have died. They just didn't do well at all in my garden.

A. variegata (below) was a sturdy plant but has not shown significant change or growth since it was planted.

Asclepias variegata (White milkweed)
I'm hoping the White milkweed (above) will do better next year.

Also during the summer I purchased a couple of A. tuberosa from a local nursery. Known as Butterfly weed, its blooms came and went, before any monarch visitors had a chance to enjoy them.

Asclepias tuberosa (Butterfly Weed)
I tried my hand at growing Butterfly weed from seeds, as well, and have been nursing along 3 tiny plants (below) all summer. They haven't really done much BUT the summer isn't over yet!

What, you might ask, is on the stem of this A. incarnata (below), making it yellow?

The answer is Oleander aphids, also known as the Milkweed aphid. Since I don't use chemicals in the garden, I have frequently used the hose to spray a stream of water on them, trying to knock them off.

I don't recommend using a soap spray as even that will harm the monarch caterpillars, should any be developing there. I've even squished them by hand, from time to time--but there are so many of them, and they just keep coming back! The best thing is to use a quick blast of the hose. It won't hurt the plants and it will prevent the aphids from sucking the life out of your milkweed!

When I saw a ladybug last week I was hopeful there would be more, as they are natural predators to aphids. So far, though, lady bugs have been strangers to my garden this year:-(

My big hope now is that this monarch will lay eggs on my milkweed. Sure, the developing cats will eat the leaves and even the stems of the plants, but that's why I planted them in the first place.

Because natural habitats have been diminishing, it is important for as many gardeners as possible to add milkweed to their gardens.

You can visit Monarch Watch and learn about the Monarch Waystation Program. Every gardener is invited to participate and encourage monarchs to thrive!

Monarch Waystation Sign

There have been Swallowtail butterflies by the dozens this year, and believe me, I've been enjoying every minute of them! You can visit Swallowtail Butterfly Cats, My July Gardens, and August 2010: Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day to read about them. I'm hoping to be able to share photos of eggs, caterpillars and pupae of the monarch butterfly in a future post. I do hope it's not too late in the season!

Be sure to join Gail at Clay and Limestone for more natives on Wildflower Wednesday.

Today I am thankful for Milkweed and Monarchs:-)

Words and photos ©Thanks For Today, by Jan Huston Doble


  1. Congratulations Jan on your garden's first Monarch! It likes your milkweed! Beautiful pictures as always!

  2. Don't have any Milkweed except the wild kind that have big fat roots.
    You sure have a selection.
    Did try and grow Butterfly weed from seed one year and it grew but then not realizing it pulled it out thing it was just a weed.

  3. Jan, what a lovely post! You've got a milkweed banquet for the Monarchs there. Yes, the populations are down, but they are showing signs of extra population growth, so the experts say. Many of the milkweed plants you grow, grow abundantly wild here. It's nothing to see swamp milkweed alongside the road in the ditches and along creek banks. That's where I got my first one, right behind our house. This year, several types just came up wild. I've never grown common milkweed (because I really can't get past it being considered a weed here!), but it has come up in my garden this summer and I didn't have the heart to yank them out. I've seen several Monarch cats on them. :-)
    Your plants from Lazy S Farms are lovely!

  4. Jan, Wow the milkweed plants you ordered were tremendous~Monarchs are wonderful visitors and we get a few even tho we aren't on their corridor~They don't show up till September when they hang around the asters.I am so glad you joined the wildflower meme~I know you've been a fan for a long time and appreciate that! ~gail

  5. Jan,
    Great article! You'll really enjoy the Swamp Milkweed! I saw a Monarch this evening leaving from the direction our Swamp Milkweed is in. Watch out for Swamp Milkweed Beetles very cute and the will eat the milkweed just as fast as the Monarchs. Poke Milkweed is one of my favorites, it grows wild at higher elevations on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

  6. Very nice post - and thanks for the online nursery recommendation. I planted a swamp milkweed this year that I purchased at the local Master Gardeners plant sale. I thought it had died after just a couple of weeks as it was a very small seedling and the leaves fell off. But it came back and is now 2 -3 ft. tall. No flowers, but it looks very healthy. I'm hoping that next summer it may attract a Monarch.

  7. Incarnata and tuberosa do best in my garden. I've had no luck with the purple milkweed.

    There are 5 Monarch caterpillars on my milkweed right now and there were 4 Monarch butterflies this afternoon. Hope to see more!

  8. Congratulations on the Monarch sightings, Jan! I have had a few Monarchs in my garden all summer, much better than the last few years. That certainly has to be a hopeful sign. The swallowtails and other species, though,are really numerous this year.

    What a great variety of milkweeds you have. And I am definitely impressed with the nursery you ordered the first group from; they certainly did a careful job of packing. Give your Asclepias tuberosa some time. Mine didn't do much the first year, but really took off the second and third years.

  9. This is an important post Jan. You have a female and I hope you get some eggs. Seeing a Monarch for the first time in your garden is pretty special... I hope you continue to see them over the late summer and fall. I only have the wild Milkweed growing here. Good luck with your new plants. Happy Monarch sightings. ;>)

  10. Lovely photos Jan. I'm crossing my fingers that your Monarchs will mow down your milkweeds! We just added some regionally native milkweeds to the property this year, although here we're more in a Monarch wintering area, but there'll be plenty of insects that will appreciate it nonetheless. We also just recently (about two weeks ago) received our Monarch Waystation certificate too :)

  11. frumoase fotografii,bravo

  12. Hello,
    It's alway a joy for me to look at the butterfly in my garden.
    And I am so happy for you, for your first Monarch.
    Have a great day.

  13. I'm sure the Monarchs will lay eggs. I am still waiting on them to show up here....nice photos and wow those plants were packaged well.

  14. de merveilleuses photos de fleurs de menthe et de papillons

  15. wow, I'm really impressed with the way those plants were packed! I have also seen a few monarchs flitting around lately. Good things!

  16. Wonderful blog on monarchs. We're seeing them in Tidewater VA, too. I posted a photo on the GCV Hort blog of one resting in our field two days ago. She was gorgeous.

  17. How lucky to have Monarchs visit! They don't fly this far west. I finally saw them for the first time in person a few weeks ago when we were in Southern California. Good for you for adding the Milkweed to hopefully help with their population.

  18. So gorgeous, and very kind of you to plant milkweed for them. I haven't seen them in the wild for some time, I am also too far west.

  19. Congratulations! That is so exciting, I hope you'll get monarch "babies" and tell us all about it.

  20. Jan - that first photo (among others) stops traffic! Wow!

    I wanted to also stop by to let you know I put a link to your blog on my latest post - about the 'Blogosphere' and blogs that inspire me. I'd love to know what you think about the post... :D

  21. I keep losing my Asclepias plants because of lack of water. I need to plant them close to a hose where they can receive a more steady dose. Maybe if dig up and move my one ailing plant I can revive it. You inspire me. I'd love a small grove of nothing but different Asclepias species. Hmm... the wheels are a turnin'.

  22. Jan, Congratulations on your success in attracting the monarchs to your garden. Maybe next year you'll get to see some emerge from the chrysalis! -Jean

  23. Hello Jan, Thank you so much for the link to Lazy S's Farm. I am anxious to purchase some milkweed plants now. We gather seeds every year, but had no luck growing them on our property. Pam x

  24. The Monarchs are so beautiful...and you captured them so well. We don't have them in our area, but I wish we did. I haven't seen many butterflies this year, but lots and lots of bees, which is a good thing. :-)

  25. Wow - interesting post on milkweed, thanks! The Monarchs look so beautiful, don't they?

  26. Way to go, Jan! I was ready to bring swamp milkweed seedlings home with my from my son's house... but I accidentally left them there! boo. However, Mr. Shady brought home plenty of seeds, so perhaps I can start my own in time for next year? :-) I'd like to be a Waystation, too.

  27. Hi Jan,

    How wonderful that your garden has been graced by a Monarch after planting some of their favorite plants. I must consider planting some in my garden....I would love a visit as well :-)

  28. You take such beautiful photographs!

  29. Your monarch photos are stunning!

    I have a few milkweeds, and they have been blooming for a few weeks now - but I haven't seen a butterfly on them yet.

  30. by the way, love your header photo!!

  31. Hi Jan, I love your Monarch photograph! I'm sorry about your Purple Milkweed plants. Your garden is always so beautiful, thanks for sharing this post. Have a great week!

  32. Thank you for planting milkweed for the monarchs! It is February 2014 now, and the numbers from Mexico are out. Lowest ever. :-( Every monarch is important!


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