Help Monarch Butterflies by Safely Planting Milkweed

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In recent years, the population of monarch butterflies has declined over 80%. A lack of milkweed is one of the main causes of this decline, as the plant is the only source of food for the larvae and caterpillars of the species, and the only place where monarch butterflies lay their eggs.

Planting milkweed in your own outdoor spaces is not only a way to help butterflies, but it will also enhance your garden or windowsill with beautiful, low-maintenance wildflowers. You can get seeds from marketplaces like Amazon, but get them from nonprofits like Save our monarchs or the Live Monarch Educational Foundationwill allow you to obtain seeds while supporting conservation efforts.

Fall and spring are good times to plant milkweed, and while this plant arguably has undeserved merit bad reputation among pet ownersthere are ways to incorporate it into your garden safely.

Plant milkweed between the cement slabs

Most milkweed species are easy to grow and maintain. A native wildflower of North America, milkweed can grow and thrive in just about any environment or climate on the continent, says Charles van Rees, ecologist, conservationist and blog founder, Gulo in nature. “That means it can be a low-maintenance plant that won’t be a hassle,” he says.

Any seemingly inhospitable nook, including side yards, alleys, or patios, can harbor milkweed, even if it’s surrounded by harsh landscapes like cement slabs. And the furry inhabitants of your neighborhood shouldn’t worry if there are no walls or fences around the area. Although milkweed can be toxic to wildlife due to sap rich in cardenolides it uses as a defense mechanism, it’s only dangerous in large amounts, and insects that feed on it and become poisonous themselves (such as monarch butterflies and their offspring) have brilliant coloration that warns off predators, explains van Rees. Animals do not usually eat milkweed unless they are forced to, such as when penned and have no other food available. Nevertheless, if you are close to many pets and wildlife in general, go for variants such as Joe Pyeand get away from the most poisonous type known as Utah milkweed.

[Related: To save monarch butterflies, we need more milkweed]

To plant milkweed between cement slabs, consider the amount of rain your geographic area typically receives in a year. Most species of milkweed prefer sandy, well-drained soil, van Rees says, and soil surrounded by concrete may not drain as easily.

“If you have more waterlogged soils, look for moisture-tolerant species like the marsh milkweed,” he says. These plants “don’t mind wet feet.”

Next, think about how much sunlight your plant would receive. Most species of milkweed have evolved in open grasslands, so they have adapted to thrive in full sun. Only a few species of milkweed like partial shade, such as purple milkweed (native to eastern, southern, and midwestern United States) or whorled milkweed (native to eastern North America). North).

Regardless of the variety, plant your milkweed seeds under 1/4 inch of soil and half an inch apart. Finally, water the area frequently until the plants start to sprout to ensure they take root.

Add Milkweed to Planters or Flower Pots

Milkweed works great in a container because it can easily and safely thrive away from your dog, says Kevin Lenhart, director of design at Yardzena residential landscaping company founded in California.

“Cats can be a challenge,” he laughs.

Some species, like common milkweedbox self-propagation through underground rhizomes, allowing them to spread aggressively even without the help of pollinators. Keeping the plant in a flowerpot can protect your pets’ eyes by preventing milkweed from spreading unchecked to places where your fur babies regularly hang out. Most species of milkweed have a milky white sap that can irritate the eyes, Lenhart says. “But milkweed coming into contact with your dog’s eyes is rare” and wouldn’t have a serious impact on your pet’s health, he says.

To plant milkweed, choose a plastic container. While other materials work equally well, plastic is lighter, allowing you to easily move the plant indoors for winter storage. Size is also important. Prefer roomy, deep containers about 10 to 12 inches high and 5 inches wide, as milkweed root systems tend to get bigger. You should also make sure your pot has a drainage hole to prevent the plant from becoming waterlogged.

If you plant your milkweed in the fall, you can put the seeds directly into the pot, but if you wait until spring, gardening experts recommend starting your seeds in small cups with soil. Keep them indoors before moving them outside to a larger planter, van Rees says.

Plant your milkweed seeds by drilling shallow holes in the soil of the pot with your finger and adding the seeds. Keep watering the plant until it sprouts.

Plant milkweed in large plots

Because it is so prolific, milkweed makes an excellent ground cover and is perfect for populating large patches of soil and preventing erosion. Plus, milkweed produces lots of flowers, so you’d create a great nursery habitat for monarch butterflies and other nectar-seeking pollinators.

“Wild animals learn after one bite that milkweed is not good to eat,” says Ellen Jacquart, botanist and president of the Indiana Native Plant Society. “Most animals react the same way: this milky sap tastes awful! »

Nevertheless, you should prevent accidental ingestion of milkweed by fencing off the area. To do this, make sure that the fence or protection you install is high enough to prevent pets from entering. A 24 inch barrier will generally deter most dogs from jumping into a patch of milkweed.

Choose Native Milkweed

If you are planting a large patch of milkweed, opt for native varieties. In fact, let that be your goal, says Jacquart, because native milkweed will provide the most benefit to monarch butterflies.

“Native plants offer exponentially more value than non-native plants,” says Lenhart. Indeed, native species co-evolved with local animals, learning over time to be best friends with them as they both changed, he explains.

Variety is also a plus, as clustering different species of milkweed seems to attract more pollinators, says Jacquart. As long as all the species you choose are native to your area, you can plant as many as you want.

“It is important to realize that there are many species of milkweed. All can serve as host plants [for monarch butterflies]», explains Jacquart.

Start your planting now and hopefully come spring you will enjoy a garden full of beautiful butterflies and other helpful pollinators. You will not only get a pretty landscape, but you will also help nature to thrive.

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