My milkweed brings all the butterflies to the yard

The swamp milkweed is one of the best to plant to encourage monarch butterfly population, but this variety of milkweed can spread out and take over the garden. (Submitted photo / Cindy Meyer)

I listened to a great presentation by Dr. Dan Potter from the University of Kentucky titled “Building A Better Monarch Butterfly Garden.” It was so full of valuable information that I felt compelled to share some of it.

Dr. Potter cited numerous studies on milkweeds and gave his findings based on his collection of research.

As of July 1, 2022, monarchs are endangered. This is due to loss of overwintering habitat and loss of breeding habitat. This calls for immediate attention to planting rich habitats for these amazing insects.

Though adults forage on the many flowers we provide for them, they lay their eggs only on milkweed plants, so these are invaluable to their life

cycle. Some are more important than others, as they may not provide as much food.

For planting milkweeds, we must look at what success for the monarchs looks like.

First, they must be in full sun. At least two species of milkweed should be planted in the area. The taller, the better. There must be three nectar plants available for the adults.

Lastly, the plants should be planted close together as “the spot” for monarchs to focus their attention. The milkweeds should be easily identifiable by the monarchs.

This can be done by mulching around the plants to make them conspicuous to the adult monarchs. Monarchs are visual searchers, so they look for plant shapes and leaf forms as their guides to the proper plants.

The perimeter of the garden should be mulched as well — making the entire garden seem like an island oasis for searching monarchs. Dr. Potter gave the statistic that with the perimeter mulched (set off), it is likely to attract up to 2.5 times the monarch count. By doing this, you are doing great things to help the endangered monarchs.

The garden must have a north / south access, as monarchs tend to travel in this pattern.

Another thing to think about is having this special monarch garden away from houses and buildings to enhance the adult monarchs’ ability to find the right plants.

The best milkweeds to plant are common milkweed, swamp milkweed, butterfly weed, whorled, spider and showy milkweeds.

Common and swamp milkweeds have rhizomes and spread out, sometimes overwhelming garden areas for those gardeners who prefer a more formal garden. Other varieties will stay where they are planted.

With this information, you are on your way to helping a dearly loved butterfly.

For more details, go to http://go.osu.edu/milkweeds.

For details on getting milkweed seeds from OSU Extension, go to http://go.osu.edu/milkweedseeds.

Hughes is an Ohio State University Extension Master Gardener Volunteer in Mahoning County.


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