Add Milkweed to Attract Monarchs to Your Garden
Perhaps you’ve read about and noticed the declining numbers of monarch butterflies? If you’d like to help, and you want to attract more monarchs to your garden, consider adding milkweed (Asclepias spp).
In the past, many people considered milkweed undesirable and removed it from their property. The problem is that monarchs need milkweed. It’s the only type of plant that their caterpillars can eat.
The good news is that many municipalities are removing milkweeds from their “noxious weeds” lists. And if you don’t like the look of some milkweeds, there are plenty of garden-worthy options. Fourteen species of milkweed are native to Wisconsin, according to the UW–Stevens Point Robert W. Freckmann Herbarium. A few that many home gardeners enjoy include:
Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa): The bright orange or yellow blooms on this plant make it a favorite of butterfly gardeners. It prefers full sun and dry to moderate moisture, and grows to one to three feet tall.
Marsh, Rose or Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata): The common names of this milkweed can be misleading. While it prefers moist soil, it does not require a marsh or a swamp, and performs well in healthy garden soils. Sun or partial sun are preferred, and height is four to five feet.
Purple Milkweed (Asclepias purpurascens): As the name describes, the flowers on this plant are a lovely purple hue. This plant is endangered in Wisconsin, so many encourage reintroducing it and planting it in gardens from seed or nursery starts. This one prefers shade and moist soil, and grows two to four feet tall.
Whorled Milkweed (Asclepias verticillata): This milkweed has linear, feathery leaves and delicate white blooms. It prefers dry, sandy soil and a sunny location. When mature, it reaches a height of about two feet.
Note: Most milkweeds are toxic when ingested, so you’ll want to prevent pets and children from eating them. Fortunately, they taste bad, too, so most mammals (including rabbits and deer) won’t like them.
To find milkweed plants suitable for your garden, check with your local garden center or greenhouse. Other great sources are native plant sellers, including Agrecol, Prairie Moon Nursery and Prairie Nursery. You can order seeds or plants through their websites or their catalogs.
Beth Stetenfeld is a McFarland-based editor, writer, master naturalist and creator of the gardening blog PlantPostings.com.