Plant Milkweed For Monarchs

Original poster showing Monarch Butterfly life cycle-available at TheGardenDiaries Etsy shop

Milkweed Options

More and more people are realizing the importance of milkweed to the Monarch Butterfly and looking for sources of plants and seeds. Buying large transplants at a local nursery is the easiest way, but can get expensive, over $7 a plant. At Monarch Watch  you can order a minimum of 4 flats of 50 plugs, small rooted seedlings, for any restoration project free of charge, if you pay shipping of between $40 to $60. Monsanto is providing the funding for this initiative.  Monsanto is pulling out all the stops to improve their public image and is partnering with non-profits like Monarch Watch and providing funding for programs that are committed to help the Monarch.

Monarch butterfly

I am restoring a field around my beehives and have ordered some of these flats. For my area of Maryland, the native plants that will be shipped is Asclepias syriaca or Common Milkweed. Go to Got Milk….Weed? to check out the importance of this plant to the Monarch as well as a whole array of other creatures.

Common Milkweed
Common Milkweed
Gomphocarpus fruticosus (syn. Asclepias fruticosa) is an interesting variety of Milkweed native to South Africa
Gomphocarpus fruticosus (syn. Asclepias fruticosa) is an interesting variety of Milkweed native to South Africa

Monarch Way Station

Creating a Monarch Way Station, which are plantings specific to Monarchs, is a great way to help the Monarch. Providing shelter and food for Monarchs on their long migration journey, Monarch Way Stations are popping up everywhere and Milkweed is the only food source that the caterpillars will eat to produce those beautiful butterflies. Helping Monarchs in this way helps many other species of insects and animals providing them with pollen and food sources.


Monarch Waystation Sign available at
Monarch Way station Sign
Tropical milkweed provides habitat for all kinds of butterflies and other insects
Tropical milkweed provides habitat for all kinds of butterflies and other insects

Starting Milkweed

Different types of Milkweed;left is Gomphocarpus fruticosus, top Asclepias tuberosa, bottom Asclepas curassavica
Different types of Milkweed; left is Gomphocarpus fruticosus, top Asclepias tuberosa, bottom Asclepias curassavica

Reading that the Tropical Milkweed was easy to start from seed and was a favorite of the caterpillars, I decided to start them inside this year. Stratification, which is soaking and chilling the seeds for at least 6 weeks, was recommended for most other varieties, so I instead chose growing the Tropical variety and sowed the seeds in peat pots last week.

Sowing seeds in peat pots
Sowing seeds in peat pots

Readily available from Joyful Butterfly for $2.95 for 100 seeds, the seedlings quickly emerged and I put them under grow lights.

Milkweed seedlings emerged quickly
Milkweed seedlings emerged quickly


Available at TheGardenDiaries Etsy Shop

16 Replies to “Plant Milkweed For Monarchs”

  1. I’m ashamed to admit that I dig up a large milkweed plant…7′ tall at least, as it was overtaking my blackberry patch. I have several wild butterfly weed plants. Does the monarch get the same benefits from them?

  2. Claire, I would love some milkweed if you have any extra. I never knew the green puff ball was milkweed. I have grown the tropical version in pots and have lots of it in my garden in Bermuda. It is amazing because the caterpillars strip all the plants bear about 4 or 5 times a year and then they come right back. Of course, I love the seed pods to play with and photograph. I am holding my breath for spring. I pray we have an early one this year. Hope you have had a good winter. Take care. P

  3. Loved your pictures. Can’t wait for spring…come on warm weather. We have a swamp area in between where we keep our bee apiary and a flowing small river. There is loads of milkweed there and a large variety of other wildflowers. We are keeping our fingers crossed that our little ladies have weathered the cold without too much harm and the queens will be producing in great form this year! Thanks for this informative blog!

  4. Butterfly experts are advising against planting tropical milkweed, Asclepias curassavica. They don’t go dormant like native milkweeds, so the butterflies tend to stick around rather than migrate, which is detrimental. In addition, tropical milkweeds can be infected with a protozoan, Ophryocystis elektroscirrha, or OE, which causes wing and other deformities in the butterflies. (See Dr, Jaret Daniels, of the University of Florida, advises that if you can’t bring yourself to pull out and destroy your tropical milkweeds, at least break off the stems in the fall so your monarchs will move on as they should. This past fall, I had so many caterpillars I dragged my feet on destroying my tropical milkweed. I noticed the baby butterflies devoured the native milkweed plants but hardly touched the tropicals. They were smarter than I was!

    1. Yes, I am aware of this controversy. I read this article at Since gardeners don’t have easy access to native milkweed plants at this time, I think the tropical which is easy to start from seed is an option, especially for me in MD where it dies when the weather gets cold. I have ordered my native species also, and have other varieties already growing, like Ascelpias tubersoa, so the tropical is complementing my other species. I am all for planting natives, but don’t like to rule out non-natives which fill a butterfly need, especially when it is so hard to find native milkweed for most gardeners. I hate demonizing non-natives and think it discourages people from getting involved at all. Thanks for pointing this out!

  5. Claire, I enjoyed this post and look forward to seeing photos later this year of your restoration project. Weed management in agriculture is a factor in the decline of milkweed habitat. As a home gardener and Monsanto employee, I’m glad that the company is looking for solutions to improve and protect monarch habitat. As my small home garden grows from a hobby to a passion, I’m trying to do my part by planting more native plants that are sources of nectar and pollen. There’s also been some optimistic news regarding the Monarch, as reported by a recent New York Times article

  6. Hello
    I have three hairy balls and they were blooming splendidly. Recently the leaves have turned yellow and fallen off. The caterpillars have also eaten most of the leaves as well. Will leaves grow back? They are quite near right now. Thank you

    1. They should, but caterpillars will eat them as well again. I always grow a lot so they don’t become completely defoliated.

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