Bringing Monarch Population Back From The Brink

Why Gardeners Hold The Key To
Saving Monarch Butterflies

It was recently announced that the 2014 monarch population overwintering in Mexico was the second lowest in count history. No one knows why the decline was so steep, but these are the prime suspects in this disturbing monarch massacre:
  • The Drought from Hell- The USDA refers to the 2012 drought as “the most severe and extensive drought in the past 25 years.” Considering a large percentage of the migration typically occurs over some of the most drought stricken regions, it’s easy to understand how the sizzling summer heat depleted much of the available milkweed supply, while cooking defenseless eggs and caterpillars.
  • Pesticides- The use of genetically modified seeds in farming have allowed farmers to use herbicides that largely wipe out the milkweed plants inside their fields. These “milkweed fields” have traditionally been popular laying grounds for the monarchs. The use of these seeds (and herbicides) will not stop anytime soon, if ever!
    When large seed companies and farmers are faced with a choice between lucrative crops and more monarchs, what do you think most of them are going to choose? I’m not sure how effective monarch proponents can be in waging this war. I have serious doubts it’s a battle we can win until people come to grasp with what the loss of pollinators could mean to our future food supply.
  • Loss of Habitat- As more people inhabit the earth, it’s inevitable that more land will be developed and more milkweed lost. Again, it’s a losing battle to argue the needs of monarch butterflies against mankind. It’s beneficial to have parks and protected prairie land, but many of these will be slowly lost over time barring the second coming of Noah’s ark.
Monarch caterpillars need more milkweed to survive
Please help Us!

The best way for us to help the monarch population now is to make use of the land we own, or integrate milkweed and nectar flowers on to public and private properties where owners are willing to lend a hand to the struggling monarch butterfly. People are much more willing to help when it doesn’t negatively impact their livelihood! (eg: schools, public buildings, malls, libraries, golf courses, malls, and many other possibilities…)

Communities are even more willing to help when it’s mutually beneficial. A butterfly garden can add wonder, beauty, educational opportunities, a sense of peace, and value to your property. By revealing several milkweed options, I’m hoping you can find something that excites you and…saves more monarchs!

If you tend a garden, you can start helping the monarchs this spring. But planting one milkweed in your garden is not enough to sustain them over the season. Monarch caterpillars have voracious appetites and you can best serve them (and preserve your garden) by planting in bunches of 6-10 milkweed plants per species.

Also, try planting 3 species that “peak” at different times so your garden sustain monarchs over the entire season. Why is this important? I received a large monarch deposit in late August, but none of those eggs were layed on our fading common milkweed. Without tropical milkweed, the monarchs would have passed over our garden…

5 Monarch Eggs One Tropical Milkweed Leaf
Late August Tropical Storm

Most of us are familiar with ‘wild’ milkweed species that grow in local parks, ditches, and fields, but there are over 100 species of milkweed that can be grown in North America. Some of these species don’t attract many monarchs, while others can take over yards and gardens, making them bad choices for a residential setting.

The list below includes some of the species that can work well in gardens. While some species on the list might not be right for your particular situation, some options will probably work great in your garden.

Here are some milkweed options that could work well in your garden while saving more precious monarch butterflies:

Spring Milkweed Ideas

Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) is a hardy perennial milkweed that can sustain lots of early generation monarch caterpillars.

Asclepias syriaca (common milkweed)

Before you rule out ‘common’ variety as an invasive garden pest, see how to effectively control it so it doesn’t take over your yard and garden.

Summer Milkweed Ideas

Swamp Milkweed Flowers

Asclepias incarnata (swamp milkweed)

A long blooming summer milkweed popular with monarch butterflies. Swamp cuttings are also ideal for raising caterpillars.

Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa) attracts a variety of nectar loving butterflies

Asclepias tuberosa (butterfly weed)

You never know who might drop in for a drink when you’ve got nectar-rich butterfly weed planted in your garden.

Giant Milkweed is a fast growing garden or container plant with brilliant star blooms and a host plant for monarch caterpillars.

Calotropis gigantea (giant milkweed)

The crown flower is not commonly grown in North America. It is a perennial to zone 10 and up (possibly lower) but a fast growing annual from stem cuttings. Did I mention it blooms all summer?

Migration Milkweed Ideas

Tropical Milkweed for monarch caterpillars

Asclepias curassavica (tropical milkweed)

A beautiful, well-behaved option that can be grown as an annual in northern gardens. It’s viable the entire season if you start with plants or cuttings.

Goose Plant Milkweed Seed Pods

Gomphocarpus physocarpus (balloon plant)

The goose plant is best known for its distinctive seed pods. This milkweed pods are sometimes used in expensive floral centerpieces.

Gomphocarpus fruticosus (swan milkweed)

You can now find a list of 25+ milkweed varieties for your butterfly garden on this page
Share the Joy of Butterflies

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  1. I am an avid gardener & try to plant or introduce new flowers/plants for my bees & butterflies BUT I am also a farm wife & our livelihood depends on our crop & fields that are free of weeds so….. please do not point blame on us or companies- we only try to comply with guidelines in selling of our crops that do not have FM(foreign material) in which some cases reduced the amount per bushel we receive for our crop- if for some reason your paycheck had deductions each week(ours each load of crop) I think you would not make such a statement & not point fingers at farmers or the companies that sell seed with such modifications! Please look at both sides of the coin P.S. I do love your products but let’s all work together to save our insects, love of the earth & show respect for others’ situations

    1. Hi Theresa, thank you for your comment. I am not someone who believes it’s the farming community’s responsibility to leave habitat for butterflies at the expense of their crop yield…I think time would be better spent looking for alternative habitat solutions that aren’t directly affecting someone’s livelihood.

      However, I do believe that harmful pesticides that are being shown to kill bees and butterflies in mass need to be banned from all commercial and private use. Losing pollinators is detrimental to our planet and our future food supply. The government needs to step up and make these types of pesticides unavailable so that farm families don’t feel forced to use them to stay competitive.

  2. Hi Tony..

    Thank you for so much information on the Monarch Butterfly…
    There use to be a lot of Milkweed plants in the field behind our house..I have only found one patch with a few plants…I will try to grow some in my yard…Acton ON…
    Shopping on Oct. 3 .. I spotted a Monarch (the first I had seen All summer)…in a parking lot…I told him/her to fly away from all the cars…and…it did..
    I am wondering if he was lost or was coming from Northern ON and was on his way south..Hope he made it…

    Thanks again for the information..

    I will be taking up the MILKWEED CHALLENGE…!!


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