Planting Milkweed To Help Save Monarch Butterflies
It is that time of year when we start thinking about what we're going to plant in our gardens. And I'd like to suggest that you consider including milkweed. What is milkweed, and what does it have to do with monarch butterflies? Isn't it a weed, you wonder. Actually there are over 100 species of milkweed and they are considered beneficial flowers!
Monarch butterflies cannot survive without milkweed; their caterpillars only eat milkweed plants (Asclepias species), and they lay their eggs in milkweed. If monarch eggs are laid on plants other than milkweed, the caterpillars cannot survive and ultimately starve to death.
Monarch extinction is just around the corner, as 90% of their population has disappeared in the last 20 years, mainly due to the lack of habitat and milkweed! Climate change isn't helping either. Monarch are amazing, exhibiting the most highly evolved migration pattern of any known species of butterfly or moth and perhaps any known insect, from from Canada to Mexico every year.
When you plant milkweed, you not only help monarchs to survive, you're also providing pollinators like bees and other butterflies with nectar. You might also consider planting a combination of early, middle and late blooming milkweed species, with overlap in flowering times. Monarch populations vary from year to year, and the good news is that last year their numbers were up! Keep planting milkweed!
You should know that milkweed can be toxic to some animals and people, but nature is smart - it apparently tastes terrible (not that I've tested!). But just in case, wear gloves when handling it, planting it in a pesticide-free area of the garden where children and animals won't easily come across it, and the caterpillars & butterflies won't be disturbed.
It is really important that you plant the RIGHT species of milkweed for your area. The Xerces Society has a milkweed seed finder page here: https://xerces.org/milkweed-seed-finder/. For Boise people, I know Zamzows carries milkweed seeds.
Xerxes.org has further details for your region here: https://xerces.org/monarch-nectar-plant-guides/
Sarah Lunstrum, owner of Dream Farm Flowers, has this advice for planting milkweed seeds: "Freeze seeds for at least 2 weeks before planting them. Then start seeds indoors 10-12 weeks before the last frost. A taproot begins at germination stage, so start them in tall pots (mine are 2" x 6"). They need dark to germinate so plant 1/4" deep into seed starting mix. Germinate and grow at 65-70 degrees. Harden and plant outside after last frost." You should read more about Dream Farm Flowers! Along with being a wonderful place to order Boise-grown flowers, Sarah includes the beautiful mission of brightening the lives of women experiencing challenging circumstances by donating and delivering flowers each week to Boise's Interfaith Sanctuary and the Ronald McDonald House of Idaho. You can order Sarah's wonderful bouquets and flowers, as well as help support her mission of bringing a little joy through flowers: https://www.
A few other interesting monarch links: https://monarchjointventure.org/get-involved/create-habitat-for-monarchs