How To Plant Milkweed for Monarchs

This is part of a series of posts on our Monarch Butterfly Restoration Project.

Monarch Butterfly on Milkweed A monarch butterfly on it's favorite source of food and habitat. Learn how to plant milkweed & save the monarch from extinction. Photo by Elizabeth Howard, founder of Journey North.
Calling all nature nuts and monarch butterfly enthusiasts! You can help save the beautiful orange & black monarch butterfly from extinction. It's easy and you can do it no matter where you live, whether that's a Manhattan apartment, a suburban ranch or an organic horse farm in Vermont.

Milkweed: If You Plant It, They Will Come

Milkweed is the monarch's elixir of life. Adult butterflies drink nectar from the milkweed flower and lay their eggs ONLY on milkweed plants. Monarch caterpillars have but one source of food & habitat: milkweed. Milkweed has nearly been wiped off the landscape of North America by the widespread use of the herbicide Round Up (aka glyphosphate) on farms and in yards and gardens. Without these previous locations of food/habitat, the butterflies are looking desperately for alternate sources of milkweed. So if you plant it, they will come.
Separating milkweed seeds from the pods We harvested milkweed pods from a neighbor's field and Pepper helped us separate out the seeds.

Get the Right Milkweed Seeds

There are about 100 species of milkweed throughout North America and it's extremely important to get seeds that are indigenous to your location. The Xerces Society has a Milkweed Seed Finder to help you. If you live in Vermont, NH or anywhere common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) is indigenous, you can contact us through Facebook and we'll send you some of our seeds.
how-to-plant-milkweed Mike, Nina and I planting a batch of milkweed seeds.

Prepare & Plant the Seeds

Last year we planted about 100 milkweed seedlings using this vernalization method (scroll to bottom of page) and nearly every seed germinated. Highly recommended if you have time (and room in your fridge). This year we're planting 1000 seedlings so we're trying a few other methods as well (including scarification and shocking the seeds by putting them in the fridge and then soaking them in warm water). It's probably worth noting that, unlike Mother Nature I have had little success by just scattering the seeds.
You don't have to plant 100 or 1000 seeds but plant a patch (at least a dozen). A monarch butterfly can lay hundreds of eggs but typically only 1 egg/milkweed plant. So if she's going to stop at your place, make it worth her while.

Nurture & Transplant the Seedlings

If you have a nursery that stocks milkweed plants, you can skip the seed part. Make sure you get organic seedlings though as many nurseries are selling plants grown and/or treated with pesticides that will kill monarchs. When the seedlings are 3-6" tall and the risk of frost is gone, you can transplant outside to your garden or some pots. Plant the milkweed in full sun next to nectar flowers so your butterflies will have something to eat after they emerge from the chrysalis. Check out Monarch Watch's tips for growing milkweed.
Harvesting milkweed pods Harvesting milkweed pods. Kelsey, Nina, Dennis and I used this as a great excuse to skip out of work early on a nice day last Fall.

Harvest Seeds From Your Milkweed Plants & Give Them Away

In the fall, after your butterflies have migrated south to Mexico, harvest next years seeds from your milkweed plants. Give them to all your friends.

Rinse & Repeat

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Peggy Farabaugh

She is a CEO who brakes for salamanders, has bottle-fed rescued squirrels and spent her vacation building furniture for a rural school in Costa Rica. She believes in the future and in the people who will build it. A former distance-learning professor at Tulane University with a master’s in environmental health & safety, she turned an interest in forest conservation and endangered species into a growing, local business. She delivers rainforest statistics at breakneck speed, but knows how to slow down and appreciate the beauty of a newly finished piece of heirloom furniture.

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