How To Control Aphids On Milkweed Plants
12 Good Ideas for Keeping Milkweed Aphid-free…and 1 Bad One!
One problem that plagues almost all gardeners across North America is the relentless attack of oleander aphids. They suck the life from milkweed like little orange vampires.
The degree to which their infestations effect plant health is debatable, but the ugliness they unleash upon your butterfly garden is not!
In 2011, they showed up in droves on our tropical milkweed. I cringed every time I walked by those plants and wondered if I should replace the tropical milkweed to cut down their numbers?
A couple gardeners assured me the milkweed would be OK. Miraculously, I even found two 5th instar caterpillars crawling over the orange-covered leaves!
However, the seeds I collected that season gave me a better indicator of milkweed health…only 20% of those seeds sprouted the next season! Every other year without heavy aphid infestations, seed viability has been about 90%.
Keep in mind expectant monarch mothers will also avoid laying eggs on aphid-infested milkweed leaves…and if they did, would you ever be able to find them?
Little did I realize, I could have stopped our infestation from getting so out of control. Over the years I’ve learned more about treating aphids and preventing infestations, so I’m here to help you avoid our aphid-blanketed milkweed debacle of 2011.
Of all the questions I receive about butterfly gardening, “how can I control aphids on my milkweed?” is probably the most frequent. A good idea for all gardeners is to check your plants regularly. Below, you might see two harmless aphids sitting under tropical milkweed flowers…
…but I see the potential beginnings of an aphid army!
Here’s are 12 tips to keep that aphid army from ever forming, so you can save your precious milkweed plants for monarchs:
1. RUB THEM OUT: some people simply get rid of aphids by rubbing them off with their fingers and thumbs . This can be effective when the numbers are low if you’re not afraid to get your hands (or gloves) dirty.
2. HOSE THEM DOWN: a steady stream of water on the aphids can also displace them. You’ll need to hold the milkweed plant with your other hand to avoid stem breakage. Using a spray bottle on stream is also effective.
3. ALCOHOL OVERDOSE: This was reported in the LA Times as the secret to killing milkweed aphids and not monarch eggs
Please note that if isopropyl alcohol is applied directly to monarch eggs or caterpillars it will kill them.
UPDATE: Community Member Joe G. says he uses a small spray bottle filled with isopropyl alcohol to spray the aphids on his plants. After about 5 seconds, he hoses the plant down with water and those pesky milkweed invaders are dead. This sounds like a great idea, but I would only recommend this for heavy infestations…don’t destroy your local ecosystem with an aphid-free garden!
4. WASH THEIR MOUTHS OUT: a little soap never hurt anybody, but it can kill those pesky aphids. Add 2 Tablespoons of dish soap to 1 gallon of water and spray the aphids directly, rinse, and repeat. Get more details here:
How to Use Dish Soap to Conquer Aphids
5. BRUSH THEM ASIDE: Use a detail brush to brush them off the milkweed plants and get in those nooks and crannies without damaging the plants:
Find a Detail Brush to Sweep Away Aphids
6. GROUND THEM: Those naughty aphids need a time out, so keep them away from their favorite milkweed plants by sprinkling coffee grounds around them. There are conflicting reports as to how effective this is, but it can’t hurt to try.
7. DIVERSIFY and SCRAMBLE: This preventative measure can become very effective as your milkweed patches start to mature. Try planting several species of milkweed, and put them in several areas of your yard and garden. The aphids will likely have a favorite area and you can sacrifice one small patch to the angry aphid gods.
More milkweed varieties could attract more aphid predators too. Could it also attract more monarch predators? Yes, but that’s a good excuse to bring a few eggs/caterpillars inside to watch the amazing process of monarch metamorphosis.
Still have aphids? You have a couple options left to regain aphid control. Unfortunately, this next option option is unpredictable and could have unintended consequences…
8. WHO’S BUGGING WHO NOW?!: Introducing beneficial insects to eat the aphids sounds like a great natural solution, but beneficial bugs like ladybugs and mantids also feed on monarch eggs and larvae.
In some regions, parasitic wasps have been released to control unwanted pests. Unfortunately, these wasps are also targeting beneficial species, including monarchs! ?
There are already enough monarch predators in your garden…what will happen if you unleash thousands more?
On the other end of the spectrum, I’ve heard reports of mass ladybug releases, only to have them all leave without making a dent in the aphid population.
9. REPEL WITH PLANTS: Some plants, including onions and marigolds, have been shown to repel aphids and naturally reduce their numbers. Planting these repellents close to milkweed can attract more butterflies while keeping aphid numbers down to reasonable levels.
California Butterfly Lady, Monika Moore, takes thin strips of banana peels and places them on milkweed stems near buds/blooms where aphids like to congregate…not appealing to aphids!
10. CUT IT OUT: If it’s come to the point where aphids have completely engulfed your milkweed, cut back all areas of moderate to heavy infestation and throw out. Make sure to discard the cuttings far away from the garden to avoid a touching aphid-family reunion. I suggest using a yard waste can if you have one.
Then, try options #2 , #3, or #4 on less crowded areas so they can’t start another infestation.
It’s not fully understood if/how oleander aphids overwinter, but cutting back infested milkweed plants in late summer/early fall might help you avoid an aphid Gardageddon next season!
11. STICK ‘EM UP: this seems like a good option for indoor plants if you discover the aphids before a serious infestation. Community member Micha B. also suggests wrapping the tape around a pencil to increase the sticky surface area:
12. SUCK THEM UP: This aphid-control strategy was recently shared with me and it eliminates the aphids without using any harsh chemicals or hurting the milkweed.
Patrick attached a micro attachment for his full-sized vacuum cleaner, but you could also try a mini keyboard vacuum cleaner.
How effective is this strategy? Video doesn’t lie:
13. A BAD IDEA: You could also apply a professional grade pesticide like
malathion, but it’s likely that monarchs, other wildlife, and the environment could suffer injury (or worse) from using harsh chemicals. There’s a reason butterfly gardeners use organic pest control…it won’t kill the butterflies!
Whatever solution you choose to control aphids, remember that early intervention is your best chance for for defeating these sap sucking pests.
Info about Organic Pest Control for Other Milkweed Pests
The butterflies takes awhile to pump blood into his wings . They will straighten out. Kudos to you for supporting Monarchs 🙂
Hi Tony. This is my 1sr year growing milkweed & I’m so excited to say I’ve had several monarch caterpillars on 3 of the 5 plants. ? I also have an intense aphid problem. Usually I make an onion spray to evict them & it works phenomenally! But! I’m afraid to use it on the milkweed because I don’t know how it will affect my caterpillars. Do you have any input about onion spray?
Hi Carole, we don’t spray any substances on milkweed during the season. While we plant several allium spp. near milkweed, we don’t use any onion spray which would probably repel monarchs if left on the plant. You could always try an experiment with one plant…
I haven’t seen any monarch eggs since I first planted my milkweed back in May. I raised the cats in and enclosure and set the butterflies free. No eggs since. It’s my first time doing this. Would a monarch pass over my milkweed if it doesn’t look nice, because of all the aphids? Or are other insects eating them? I check my garden at least twice a day in hopes of seeing eggs, but no, nothing. Any suggestions?
Hi Tammy, check out this info:
Not Seeing Butterflies?
What about the Diatomaceous Earth? I put it early in the season and it seemed to help and I do have a chrysalis currently and I saw another caterpillar preparing his. This is my first year! I am so excited! Those dots on the chrysalis look like liquid GOLD!
I have a couple fo questions actually: The chrysalis I found just as I was yanking some bean vine was attached to one of the that may or may not make it but I hung it up safely on a hook up against my garage. I can send a photo. A bit of sun but plenty of shade from towering Sunflowers. I prefer to do this naturally and not bring her inside. I think raising them outside of their environment does them a disservice. No doubt the caterpillar and the developing butterfly are learning about their environment while in there. Sounds, smells, orientation, patterns, and will use this knowledge upon emerging. In essence, coding those stimuli for a successful journey and return.
Anyway, I understand the dangers. I thought of painting a pair of eyes above it on the garage exterior wall where the hook is (to emulate that moth), then worried about the chemicals. So, a compelling argument could be made for me to bring her inside.
Also, would like to leave the other guy outside once he is done. I do have five outdoor cats that do police the rodents and birds quite well and the occasional insect skirmish.
Hello Ria, DE will kill caterpillars if they crawl over it…I would not use this by any host plants. I’m not sure why raising does them a disservice if you are raising just a few (and raising them well). Indoor survival rate is 90%+ higher than out. if you think the chrysalis is in peril, you could bring it in and rehang:
Monarch Chrysalis Problems
Hi. I just planted 5 milkweed plants….1 plant around mother’s day and the other 4 around June 30th. I went outside on Sunday and saw a big fat caterpillar! I was stoked!! Then I started looking at all of my plants. I found 7 total. However I sadly realized that 2 days prior to finding them, that I had sprayed insecticidal soap on one of them. Would the soap harm the caterpullar?
Also it is now Wednesday and I went out looking and I only found 2.
My fear is that they were eaten by birds…or I accidentally killed them.
I have been looking for chrysallis though with high hopes.
Another question/thought…..how can I get rid of aphids and ants on my milkweed without harming the caterpillars and eggs?
Thank you for your time.
Hi Kami, if the soap was rinsed off thoroughly after applying the caterpillars should be ok. Otherwise, not a good idea to leave on milkweed and host plants. There’s not a lot you can do when eggs/caterpillars are on the plants besides remove them to raise indoors (or move them to less occupied milkweed outdoors). More raising info here
I found planting society garlic near my milkweed is helping with the control of aphids this year 2018. My husband had a bunch and planted it in my butterfly garden without my knowledge. I noticed that the dreaded aphids are down this year as are the milkweed bugs. So it’s a win win for me. Society garlic is a natural repellent for aphids, I’ve been able to keep them in check with these wonderful plants and by squishing any that I find when inspecting.
Hi Nancy, we’re also convinced of the repelling qualities of garlic…no aphid infestations since 2011. However, we also don’t squish because we want to attract some aphid predators as back up.
I’m interested in buying a book “How to raise Monarch butterfly’s”. Can i get an actual book or does it have to be a download? Also u list the cost of the book but not the cost of the bundle.
Hi Marcia, currently the books are only available as digital downloads. You can see the gardening book, raising book, and bundle listed here:
Monarch Butterfly Digital Guides
I find that if I plant Milkweed in different areas of my back yard, the aphids don’t ruin them all at the same time. So I have about 15 plants of milkweed and some are in pots that I move around. The good bugs generally take care of aphids eventually. Buy some ladybugs ? too.
I have found that just squishing Oleander aphids with my fingers is sufficient, provided that you catch them early enough on their first occurrence in the spring/summer.
I used to be puzzled because as soon as I eradicated them they would appear again.
What I discovered is that it is not sufficient to just protect the milkweed plants – there are weeds that can also harbor the Oleander aphids so I began to destroy those plants – they were mainly weeds. This year I followed that plan and have had very few issues.
So my advice is to look at all the plants in your garden you may find as I did that the aphids have strongholds on the weeds in your garden and will come back if they are not eliminated from those plants also. Of course this is not a perfect solution – but it has worked quite well for me.
Periodically my various varieties of milkweeds here in S FL become absolutely overrun with aphids. There are two ways we’ve found to be very effective in controlling them if you have the time, without the use of any chemicals, “organic” or not. A moderate stream of water from a hose nozzle will knock out the aphids without dislodging monarch eggs. It usually requires one hand supporting the leaf with the other spaying the rascals off. Be sure to check the underside of the leaf and the center of new growth. You have to spray each leaf and check the stalk as well. While this takes some time, it is very effective and if done every couple of days during an infestation, after a week or so, the aphid population stops returning for some time.
The second method that my wife prefers is to use her thumb and fingers to crush and sweep off the aphids. Again, it must be done on every leaf and turns your fingers orange! I prefer using the hose and nozzle. We have large plantings of milkweed and have raised many hundreds of monarchs so effective and non chemical control of aphids is essential to providing egg habitat and food for the caterpillars.
Oh, and don’t ever use “roundup” or any herbicide containing glyphosate. It is deadly to milkweeds and is largely responsible for the near elimination of Mexico to US monarch migration as glyphosate has killed much of the milkweed adjacent to farmland.
I just learned of the monarchs plight this year so I have started down the milkweed path. I have butterfly weed planted. I read about sprinkling coffee grounds around the plants can help. Does it matter if it’s used grounds vs not? I have caterpillars now and I believe more eggs. I want to get rid of these aphids without harming them.
Hi Edia, I have not tried the coffee grounds before, but doubtful it will work if you already have an infestation. There’s not a lot you can do when there’s eggs/caterpillars on the plants unless you want to remove them to raise indoors.
After reading about overwintering MW and spraying with peroxide to kill fungus gnats, I decided to try killing the aphids with that. I wet a paper towel with water then poured on the peroxide and rubbed the stems and leaves with the towel. It turned orange, there were so many. Must have missed a couple cause I saw another group starting but they’re manageable.
Hi Carol, the hydrogen peroxide kills fungus gnat EGGS in the soil, but not adult fungus gnats or aphids. Isopropyl alcohol will kill aphids on contact.
Okay, so I’m new to this whole milkweed growing. Today I noticed yellow spots on my 3 month old plant that when photographed and zoomed in on proved to be aphids, which led me to this site learning to deal with them. As my plant is so young would there be any eggs or larvae on it or do Monarchs only lay eggs in Spring and early Summer? Also do eggs and larvae compare size wise to the aphids? Should I get a magnifying glass to find them?
Hi Terri, monarchs are still laying eggs in southern regions, but it’s getting too late for most…monarchs have to migrate before it gets too cold. Yes, some people use magnifying glasses to help locate eggs/baby caterpillars. People sometimes confuse aphids for monarch eggs, but full grown caterpillars are much larger than aphids…grow to about 2 inches. If you are interested in caring for monarchs next season:
21 Tips for Raising Monarch Butterflies
A warning about the vacuum method. I tried it and it does have the instant gratification reward. However, on my Mexican butterfly weeds, a suction strong enough to pull off the aphids also tears apart or tears off the tender leaves near the terminal where the aphids most love to cluster. I started on the older, tougher leaves and it was OK but when I moved up on the plant, yikes! I wound up doing more damage to my plants than the aphids were doing. The detergent method worked much better, just had to wait to see the results.
Hi Rob, it depends on the type of attachment you use, and how powerful the suction of your vacuum is…
Correct me if I’m wrong but those yellow “aphids” look exactly like the emerging nymph stage of the Milkweed Bugs that move in on my milkweed each year about this time. Are we talking about the same things and this is just a difference of terminology?
after posting my question i did a little more reading and clearly there are Oleander Aphids that look like what i see annually on my milkweed. the odd thing is that mine “magically” evolve into clumps of orange milkweed nymps within days and eventually adult milkweed bugs and zero yellow aphids remain. am i just seeing the milkweed bugs gradually replace the aphids as they are gobbled up by predators perhaps?
hi Fred, milkweed bugs eat milkweed pods/seeds…there are other aphid predators in the garden like lady bugs and lacewings.
Hi Fred, aphids look much different than milkweed bug nymphs:
I was wondering if I clip the affected branches of milkweed and soak in water and rinse off, is that effective in killing the aphids and can I then feed those milkweed branches to my caterpillars if the branches still look relatively healthy?
Hi Becky, that’s a way to cut down infestations…I usually throw them out, but if you’re short on milkweed rinsing and feeding to caterpillars is definitely an option.
I’m starting the learn about raising Monarch Butterflies. I got one Milkweed plant, and in two months, 10 cats showed up. (also lots of aphids). I only have two left hanging around. I was able to remove the aphids with a handheld vacuum cleaner. Easy and no chemicals.
Will buy more milkweed plants and go from here.
make sure to check for any monarch caterpillar eggs before you vacuum them up.
Re the aphids: Check daily. If seen, I take a wet washcloth and gently wipe them off. Rinse and repeat as necessary!
I see a lot of people here have planted Tropical Milkweed. There is a lot of evidence out there that Tropical Milkweed is not the best choice for your Monarch garden. This link explains why: http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2015/01/plan-save-monarch-butterflies-backfires
Tropical milkweed does far more good than harm in most regions:
Is tropical milkweed Killing Monarchs?
So I started my milkweed garden at the end of summer last year after learning about the decline in the monarch population and had great success with the monarchs. This year, we had about 15 outside and it seems like they are slowly disappearing. They aren’t big enough to pupate yet, and for some I can’t find their bodies anywhere. Would this be due to birds? I’m not sure what kind of birds in Southern California eat them?
Also this morning I found two caterpillars that were limp and squishy, but they have not turned black so i wasn’t sure if it was that RV disease? I put them in a bag to see what happens.
In addition, I found this creepy looking mushroom right next to my milkweed plant base and found out it was a stinkhorn fungus. Does this mean I am overwatering or the roots are rotting? I water about once to twice a week depending on how hot it is.
Hi Nicole, your questions cover a few different topics. Check out these posts for more info:
I had cats in my rearing containers indoors. and some turned into healthy chrysalis and a few turned into orange on the top & dark green on the bottom needless to say these ones turned black and never did hatch . I flushed them down the toilet to prevent spreading of what ever happened, then washes the containers with chlorox What do you suppose happened to them. I never had this happen before and I have been raising Monarchs for 8 years. if you have an answer I would love to hear it as I am worried that this might happen again
Hi Shirley, here are some of the most common disease issues that monarchs face:
Monarch Diseases Info and Prevention (turning completely black is most likely a virus or bacterial issue)
Hi all, I recently tried using “FIT Organic Fruit and Vegetable Wash” that I purchased at Costco.
I figured if it was not harmful to humans it probably wouldn’t hurt my milkweed plants.
Of course I follow Tony’s advice first, checking for butterfly eggs and baby caterpillars first.
Then I simply spray the Aphids directly with the wash and wipe them off the leaves and stems with a paper towel and then thoroughly rise the plant with water.
The wash has a very silky, oily consistency and makes the “orange vampires” very easy to wipe off.
I don’t want this to seem like an advertisement for FIT wash, it’s just what I had available and I thought I’d share the idea with all of you.
Here’s the ingredients:
Organic Sunflower Oil
Organic Ethyl Alcohol
Organic Grapefruit Oil.
The leaves may become a little limp after application, but seem to bounce back after rinsing.
I have seen this same devastation with black and squishy dead catapillars. I have found the culprit, a large golden brown wasp. The wasp lands on caterpillar and injects a egg in the caterpillar. When the egg hatches it eats its way out. I have also seen these same wasps eating the catapillars. There is a black squishy mess left behind. I saw another post where someone said lizards were eating their catalpillars. I have tons of Cuban lizards here in Fl. And I have never seen one eat a catapillar. I wonder what kind of lizards they were.
Be careful in suggesting that “organic pest control” is inherently safe for desirable insects: Many organically-approved pesticides exist that will kill all insects, including monarchs.
Hi Tony. I planted some alium around the milkweed this year, but it didn’t seem to do much. Even though they’re late Spring bloomers, they were long gone by the time the milkweed started blooming.
One new thing I’ve been trying is to sprinkle garlic powder on the affected areas and around the bases of the plants. I’ve done this after first going through and squishing as many aphids as I could. So far, the results seem positive. After a couple of days, I noticed many aphids had returned, but upon checking a week or so later, I noticed there were very few. I can’t categorically say it’s the garlic powder, but my previous experience was that infestations only get worse without intervention. I’d be curious to know if others have had success with this method, and whether the garlic powder might repel or make the milkweed unappealing to monarchs.
Tony. I am getting red and black bugs all over my milkweed. What is this?
Hi Jane, check out our pests page for more info:
Milkweed Pest Info
Hi Tony, I have had luck keeping the aphids off of my Tropical Milkweed for the most part, by pinching the bloom buds off as soon as they begin to appear. Once the plants bloom, I have been doomed to have serious invasions for the remainder of the growing season.
Hello, about pinching off the buds of the flowers, will that impact the butterfly or caterpillar in any way? Is it part of what attracts the butterfly to the milkweed, or is it a food source in any phase? Thanks for the help!
Hi CeeCe, buds are often a preferred egg laying spot for monarchs.
I have spotted only two Monarchs this year so far, not alot of eggs. It’s been a real rainy year, the gypsy moths don’t even like it. But on a good note I read on facebook instead of using pesticides try baby powder on roses and aphids and other pests. Just a little sprinkle and so far so good, even the worms on the bee balm are at bay.
I have a major issue with the dark purple spots on my milkweed leaves. Internet says it is a fungus . I pluck the leaves off as soon as I see the purple spots, but now my milkweed is sparse and it still has more fungus showing up.
I moved it’s location last year since I thought it had to do with the dirt but that’s not the case.
Someone also said to pour hydrogen peroxide on the roots and it would kill the fungus, but all that did was cause my plant to turn yellowish and I believe it is dying.
Added to this I have the aphids.
Hi Cindy, hydrogen peroxide diluted with water can kill pathogens that affect milkweed. Please check out this post for more info:
Milkweed Fungus and Diseases
I have 5 small milkweed plants that popped up in my periwinkle that had aphids all over them. I got them off with alcohol after I saw a tiny monarch caterpillar on one but am concerned about leaving him on them with the alcohol. I have 4 four foot tall milkweed plants out back but they have ants crawling all over them. Should I move the caterpillar to the back or leave him out front. He’s only the size of a fingernail. I’ve never dealt with caterpillars before but my daughter (who’s 8) is a big fan of monarchs and we want to help it.
Hi Dannette, isopropyl alcohol kills on contact so if you didn’t spray or dab the caterpillar it should be fine. If you need to move it, you could always cut a small square around the caterpillar and move the caterpillar/leaf piece to a new plant. good luck!
I have a problem I haven’t seen addressed here. I live in southeast GA and have a thriving lizard population. They seem to be eating all the monarch caterpillars. They may also be eating some aphids, as the plants most accessible to the lizards seem to have fewer aphids. I am currently putting some milkweed in pots in my birdbath (removing the water of course). I have’t seen any lizards on the birdbath milkweed. However birdbaths aren’t cheap. Does anyone have lizard control strategies?
Hi Margaret, lizards are a common issue in warm regions. Some people put potted milkweed in protected outdoor enclosures and bring caterpillars inside for safe keeping. Others raise them indoors. You could also put paint strainers or bird netting around plant leaves or foliage, but lizards can probably chew through those fairly easily. Here’s more info on monarch predators:
Monarch predators and solutions to save more monarchs
New to all of this – growing milkweed in my yard (S.Calif) to aid the Monarchs and just like the plant – have a couple in pots on our back patio that I can readily watch up-close-and-personal.
Question: are the ants on my yard plants going to be an issue /problem? And, if so, how do I combat them? No aphids on any of my plants…. yet. I’m a squasher advocate.
Thanks for any help!
Hi DJ, some ant species will eat monarch eggs and caterpillars. Here’s more info on how to stop them:
Ants in the Butterfly Garden
For the life of me I can’t figure out how to post a comment!
I just want to say that this is the first year I have used marigolds and onion plants (like the kind you can eat) in my milkweed patches and have had significantly less aphids than in the past. I have another little patch of milkweed without marigolds or onions and it seems to have the typical amount that I usually see each year. So for me, repelling with plants is working!! I live in southern California, in case that makes a difference.
Hi Linda, someone else from southern California also reported to me that they planted regular onions and noticed less aphids. I hope it continues to work for you!
Nice th read about Onions and Marigolds vs aphids. I too live in So. Cal. Noticing the return of the aphids this year, I will try planting the Marigolds. But before that I’m trying careful washout with soapy water with clear water rinse.
Hi Helen, I’ve gotten the most positive feed back from gardeners that have tried planting allium spp. Good luck with your milkweed!
I have more aphids this year than I have ever had! Too many to start squashing! I live in South Dakota-but am definitely going to try the onion/allium/marigold trick! Meanwhile, until I find some of those plants, I will have to try the soap/water mixture! Thanks for everyone’s advice!
Just started on this journey. Trying todo my part. I have been reading a lot of the post and comments and I am having a issue with the aphids on one of the plants my wife bought home from the farmers market(not sure why he sold my wife plants(2) with aphids already on them and not even make known. Especially with it being a newbie. Anyway I will try some of the steps I’ve seen posted. Over the last 3/4 four days I’ve noticed that a couple have gone missing , I found half of one on the ground dried up from the sun.while the biggest one I had looked like he was trying to get away so he/she could go into its last form. But I also noticed that the caterpillars are starting to leave the plants/pots. Any idea why?
Hi Jason, congrats on taking up this new and exciting hobby. Caterpillars leave plants for several reasons: ready to pupate, molting (shedding skin 4 times before chrysalis), overcrowded, condition of milkweed, etc…
Many people want to buy milkweed plants that have aphids, since that usually means that they have not been sprayed with insecticides and will not kill your caterpillars. When I get a new milkweed plant, I remove any eggs or cats, then I put it in a deep sink and spray it with water while I rub off the aphids. For a heavy infestation, I let it dry and then repeat the spraying.
hey tony, i’m growing some milkweed in my greenhouse and was wondering if its ok to spray neem oil on them as a fungacide. The plants will have a couple weeks of no spray before i plant them outside when the weather warms up here in the northeast. What’s your thoughts on that.
Remember any chemical you use also effects the monarch eggs as well as any future egg laying. Smash the little guys with you fingers, no big deal, or if too many soapy water and a teaspoon of vegetable oil added to the water is good. And gentle wash all of it off in an hour or two with a spray bottle.
Stay away from any chemical.
Hi Brad, neem oil is a systemic pesticide…someone posted a photo of what happened to their caterpillars after using neem oil. They all died forming their chrysalides.
My milkweeds are in full bloom with seed pods starting. Found aphids on all blooms and pods. Starting smashing with fingers but realized I was killing blooms to. Went and got my 50% alcohol and Q-tips and carefully killed all of them. Got my spray bottle with water and washed them all away. Everyday since I have found 1-3 and repeated my steps. Have not seen any butterflies yet, but my pair of cardinals greet me every morning on the other side of house. Do you think the monarchs will be here in Florida soon?
Hi Janie, central and south Florida have a year round population. Unfortunately, the mosquito spraying in your region can wreak havoc on the ecosystem and that can keep the numbers down. I’m not sure what % of the northern migration comes through Florida, but the majority return through Texas. Hopefully you will see some monarchs soon…
I’ve found the best way to get rid of many bugs, aphids included, is to squish them in place. New ones won’t come where the dead ones are.
The aphids have sucked the life out of all my milkweed in the garden. Due to heavy infestation the milkweed leaves have curled, spotted and stopped growing. I cut down most stems that were the most infected. Should I just pull the plants out and start over or will the plant recover and regrow itself? I’ve been finding baby cats on the plants but have no new healthy plants to transfer them to
Hi Jo, sorry to hear about your infestation. If you try one or more of the solutions on this post, their numbers should become more manageable over time. Milkweed is resilient, so it should grow back. Since you’ve cut back the affected areas, I would give it a chance…good luck!
Dear Tony, ok two problems..I found slugs on my garden milkweed plants..what to do..thenI have geraniums growing all over and they are chewed up by something..I keeping looking in the plants and cant find the culprit. I feel like in spring I should cut those geraniums down to the ground..
Hi Me’Shell, I have hear snail baits work well but I have never tried using them before:
We don’t grow geraniums so I’m not sure who your mystery pest could be…good luck!
put your egg shells in the garden Slugs and snails hate them
Hi Sharon, I wouldn’t put egg shells around milkweed plants because monarch caterpillars crawl away from the plants when searching for a place to form their chrysalis.
I see that you encourage cutting back the milkweed stalks at the end of the season. I live in St Charles, IL and a local source (sorry, I can’t remember if I asked the wildlife rehab or the U of I ag extension) about monarchs laying eggs at the end of the season to overwinter. They suggested I leave the stalks in place so any eggs would be there to move to new growth.
Now what? Discard or save?
(By the way, I have not seen any cats for about a decade, tho I see the occasional butterfly.) I have only a few common milkweeds in a former rock garden. (They were volunteers.)
Hi Diane, monarchs don’t overwinter (in any stage) in northern regions. You can cut back plants in the fall or spring since the milkweed dies back to the ground when it freezes. Milkweed in continuous growing regions needs to be cutback to prevent the spread of OE parasites.
I am bringing in monarch eggs from outside and have milkweed plants for feeding inside washable huts. One milkweed plant is covered in aphids, but I also have about 20 caterpillars feeding on the plants. One plant looks awful but it doesn’t seem to be bothering the caterpillars who are munching their way through the plant.
What would you suggest, if anything, in terms of controlling the aphids? I will let the butterflies out once ready so they won’t be put off laying eggs on the plants by any aphid-busting methods and I also won’t be needing to grow new plants from the infested milkweed.
Hi Jackie, I would use cuttings indoors so you can rinse off the aphids before offering them to the monarchs:
Feeding Caterpillars with Stem Cuttings
Here are some short and long term strategies for dealing with aphids:
Aphid Control for Milkweed Plants
l also found this online for killing aphids using a non-toxic method.
Homemade remedies are a longstanding tradition among organic gardeners, who have had to be creative in finding ways to battle insects and diseases without the help of synthetic chemicals. In the case of fighting aphids, two homemade sprays have proven very effective in controlling aphid infestations. Organic gardeners have been using tomato leaf spray or garlic oil spray to battle aphids for generations. While knowing how to make and use them is important, it’s equally important to understand why they work.
Tomato Leaf Spray
Tomato plants, as members of the nightshade family, contain toxic compounds called alkaloids in their leaves. When the leaves of tomato plants are chopped, they release their alkaloids. When the alkaloids are suspended and diluted with water, they make an easy to use spray that is toxic to aphids, but still safe around plants and humans.
What You’ll Need:
• One to two cups of tomato leaves
• Two cups of water
• A strainer or cheesecloth
• Spray bottle
To make tomato leaf spray, simply soak one to two cups of chopped tomato leaves in two cups of water. Let it steep overnight. To make the spray, strain the leaves out of the liquid using cheesecloth or a fine strainer. Add another one to two cups of water to the liquid and add it to a spray bottle.
To use the tomato leaf spray in your battle against aphids, spray the stems and foliage of the infested plant with the spray, paying special attention to the undersides of leaves, since that is where aphids most commonly congregate.
Caution: While this spray is very safe for humans, some people are allergic to members of the nightshade family. If you are one of them, use care in making and applying this spray.
Hi Janet, while this solution may not be toxic, any foliar treatment left on milkweed will likely repel the monarchs.
Hi! I’m a huge novice and live in south Louisiana. This is my 2nd year growing milkweed and it’s doing wonderful. I have a pretty big aphid problem that I thought I had under control but they seem to be back. I used a pesticide at first which killed every living thing around, including earth worms. (I didn’t know any better). Then tried soap but didn’t rinse it off my plants which turned leaves brown and killed a lot of my blooms. They came back slowly and I’m really trying to attract Monarchs but have not seen one in this area. Is it time for them to be in my area yet? And did I do any permanent damage with the strong pesticides I used? It was months ago and I only sprinkled it once. I have Gulf Fritillaries, Swallowtails, and hummingbirds that seem to enjoy the milkweed as a nectar plant but really would like to have monarchs lay eggs. Any suggestions? Thanks in advance!
Hi Carolyn, you still have lots of time to see monarchs this season. We still have monarchs up in our Minnesota garden. I will imagine you will start seeing more in the next few weeks as the migration moves south. Good luck!
This is my first year growing milkweed in my garden. I put out some swamp milkweed seeds last fall, and kept some others in the refrigerator and grew them in peat pots this Spring. I got about eight plants total. I also bought a mature milkweed plant from the nursery and planted it with the others. It’s been a hot dry Summer here, and I’ve had a lot of aphid problems. At first, they were mainly isolated in the crowns of the plants and I was able to control them by brushing them off regularly. I tried the trick with the alcohol a couple of times, but I found that even when I sprayed, counted to 5, and then rinsed thoroughly, the leaves in the treated area would turn brown. I haven’t tried it since.
I went away for a week or so, and the aphids had completely taken over one of my two areas of milkweed. Since the other area was well controlled, I decided I would sacrifice the one patch to the aphid gods. I’m going to try and put a few alium bulbs around the milkweed patches this Fall and see if it will help keep the aphids at bay next year.
Unfortunately, I must have had a monarch mother come by who hadn’t read your post about them avoiding plants with heavy aphid infestations. I have some passion flower vines that are filled with the gulf fritillary caterpillars, and when I went out to look at them a couple of days ago, I noticed a monarch caterpillar on one of the milkweeds. I went surveying my plants, and I found 6 total caterpillars, with 4 of them in the area of aphid infestation. They’re on the one nursery-grown plant I bought, so perhaps she liked it better because it was more mature?
I’m not prepared to raise the caterpillars in an enclosure yet, but I’d like to give them the best shot of making it. Should I try to transplant these guys onto some of the (mostly) aphid-free plants in the other section of my garden? They’re smaller plants, but I think they should have enough leaves to support 6 cats.
Hi Brandon, congrats on finding caterpillars. If you have aphid-free milkweed, I would transfer the cats. good luck!
Thanks. I found one more cat for a total of seven. Five were on the severely infested plant. I’ve moved four of them off to greener pastures, and I’ll probably move the other tomorrow after he finishes stripping the crown he’s on. I’ve noticed they do seem to chew through the leaves a lot faster on that plant than the more healthy ones. The good news is that they appear to be no worse for wear because of the aphids. The last one I moved was nearly 2″ long and FAT. I’m crossing my fingers that these guys are healthy and at least some will make it and become butterflies.
SUCCESS! I tried the above-suggested isopropyl alcohol-spraying, then rinsing with water. (Checking for Monarch eggs first, of course.) IT WORKED!!!
For the first time in YEARS I have outwitted the aphids, and my milkweed plants all thrived.
congratulations Katrina on taking back your milkweed! 🙂
Is inbreeding of monarchs a problem? I found 9 eggs on one plant around July 1, without having seen a monarch. 7 butterflies released. Only rare butterfly sitings since, but IU collected 30 eggs, and placed them in 3 cubes. Have lost a few cats, presumably to cannibalism. Now t hey are pupating, and several have died trying to enter chrysalis stage. I wonder if those I released inbred and if so, could that explain the late caterpillar deaths? Never had such a problem before (released 20+ healthy butterflies last fall after curing protozoan infection issue). Should I release a fair distance from our house, a few at a time?
Hi Bob, dying while forming the chrysalis is a sign of pesticide exposure (if there is no sign of tachinid fly maggots/pupae) I would not worry about inbreeding unless you’re trying to breed the butterflies yourself.
Hi, Tony! As you know, pesticide exposure can come from the nursery and can then be ingested by the Monarch cats. Plants from the big box stores are especially susceptible! When I started my butterfly garden two years ago, my only source for Asclepias was online (I live in the boondocks!). I contacted the nursery re pesticide use, and they assured me that they only used a soapy spray…and only if needed. Please check out Santa Rosa Gardens in Florida! (I have no connection to them whatsoever.)
I just got back from a month-long vacation. I had planted some seeds before I left and when I got home the plants were so big and beautiful (the weeds too! but not so beautiful :/ ). Unfortunately one plant was covered is these horrible little insects. I heavily doused them with dish soap this afternoon and they seemed to have died immediately. I will check on it tomorrow; hopefully that did the trick. Thanks for the info!
The most effective way to insure a surviving monarch population is to stop and prevent the use of Glyphosate herbicides (Roundup). The countless millions of pounds of these chemicals used on farms every year, has decimated the milkweed population and is bringing the Monarchs on a fast road to extinction.
I have a 10 acre Monarch Butterfly garden & need help on what I can use to spray on my Butterfly Bushes to kill the insects that are riddling the leaves, that won’t kill the Butterflys
Hi Larry, before you treat with anything I would suggest figuring out the ID of your pest. If it’s Japanese beetles, your best bet is flicking them into a bucket of soapy water to reduce the population…good luck!
I just happened on your site while searching for aphid photos. I have a Master Gardener article on aphids that I will be sharing and wanted a photo to give it some emphasis. Do you allow your photos to be used in other media? I would leave your mark on them or attribute them to you.
My milkweed aphids will be getting a warm Dawn/water bath tonight. They are like the little pink bunny and just keep going. I use several of your posted methods depending on my mood. When they really get under my skin they get the gloveless squish.
Hi Alice, thanks for your message and yes, you can use photos on the site for educational purposes as long as you attribute them to the website. Sorry to hear the aphids are a problem this season. Hopefully one or more of the methods listed will help you keep them manageable…good luck!
Where do aphids come from? I eradicated many by crushing by hand. Then I sprayed 20% bleach & water w a bit of soap. I sprayed all 25 or so plants, waited 5 min then rinsed thoroughly….the next morning the aphids we we back w a bang! What do you suggest now?
Hi Sheila, here’s more info about how the aphids spread:
Oleander Aphids Info
As for how to control them, its best to let their predators build naturally over time if possible…if that’s not an option, I like #10 from the list on my blog article. good luck!
Hi Tony, I am having trouble with my email and I am not getting your newsletter anymore. Could you please check and see if I am still on your email list? Thanks. Also, we are celebrating National Butterfly Awareness Day on June 4th. We will have a program and dedicate our “new” butterfly garden at our retirement center. Do you have any ideas of things we could do to make the day more exciting? We haven’t seen any Monarchs yet but I hear they are in Wisconsin already. We do have 3 baby robins!!! 2 flew out of the nest today!!! It has been as much fun watching the robins as it is raising Monarchs in the summer!!! 🙂 Thanks for your help! Marilyn
I too had aphids and did not want to harm any eggs with soap, alcohol or lady bugs. I read banana peels can take care of the aphids ( aphids hate bananas) and they do not harm the eggs, caterpillars or monarchs. I sprayed water on the aphids and then placed shreds of the banana peels on the milkweed stalks. Worked like a charm.
congrats Gretchen, on taking back your milkweed!
I heard Oleander Aphids are repulsed by basil. So I tore up several basil leaves and placed them in between the Milkweed leaves and in the soil around each Milkweed plant. I have seen very few of those yellow buggers since.
I have the gomphacarpus so was wandering how I could get the monarch butterfly…
My problems were soon solved when I was walking around the block and I noticed a milkweed on some ones pavement! Woohoo!!! I simply collected about 4, and set them on my milkweed. (Which has a couple of aphids on it at the moment!) I hope they will take and turn into butterflies, lay eggs and so on…
Hi Jem, congrats on finding some caterpillars for your milkweed. A few aphids on your milkweed should not be an issue for your monarchs…good luck!
I too, as has everybody else growing milkweed has been inundated with oleander aphids. Last year was especially problematic in my butterfly garden.
Seasons previous, infestations were not overwhelming as last year’s. Squishing (very satisfying and therapeutic) and spot treatments with insecticidal soaps kept them under control, if not completely eliminated.
Things got way out of control this past season, I threw my hands up, and said, “Lord, you take care of it!”. I let nature take its course. At first, there was a HUGE explosion of aphis. After several weeks, I noticed their numbers beginning to diminish. Upon closer inspection, I found that predatory insects were taking their toll on the infestations.
It was so wonderful to see ladybugs and ladybug larvae running up and down the stems and between the leaves, lacewings (mostly brown ones here) perched about, plus finding their egg clusters hanging on those delicate threads throughout the butterfly garden. Upon even closer inspection with my loop, I spotted hollow aphid body carcasses with a tiny hole in each one where a parasitic wasp emerged after eating and killing its host.
At times throughout the season there were no aphids to be found and the predators would quietly leave too. Then another wave of aphids, a corresponding increase in predators, and then another quick aphid crash on the other side ensued. Subsequent infestations throughout the season were small and self-managing, as remnants of predators were established that got the jump on population explosions.
Learning from this, I discarded my soaps and let nature take control of aphids. Now the pesky milkweed bugs, that’s another story: soapy water in a container; HA!
Here’s another method of removing the aphids: I used small pieces of clear packing tape with great success. A slender piece held between thumb and index finger of each hand can get into the crevices of the plant and whisk them away like lint.
I am in south central FL trying my hand at growing milkweed for the first time. I just found out that the little yellow things I thought were monarch eggs are actually aphids.! The aphids are only on the plants that are beginning to flower. I can try some of the suggestions mentioned on this site, but I’m wondering if my “natural” garden spray would be monarch safe to use. It’s called Organocide, and its active ingredient is .08% sesame oil with other ingredients being lecithin, edible fish oil, potassium sorbate and water.
Hi Roberto, the problem with leaving substances on milkweed (even if they aren’t toxic) is that they will likely keep monarchs from laying eggs on the plants. It’s a good idea to plant at least 3-4 varieties of milkweed and spread out your patches, if possible. I would also talk to a local nursery or contact a master gardener extension program in your region since they would have first-hand Florida gardening experience. Hope this helps…
Orange County Florida Extension
I have a milkweed plant, got infested by those yellow bugs so got some mild dish soap with water and it killed them but also killed my leaves by making them get web like webs on the leaves…so I got desperate and cut the stems..now the stems are gray and the only think growing now is CLOVER! I DID GET A MONARCH THAT MY 3 YEAR OLD DAUGHTER RAISED?but now I think I killed my milkweed!
Hi Nancy, sorry to hear you are having issues with milkweed pests.
Spider mites are likely responsible for the webbing on the leaves and they thrive in dry conditions, so try spraying milkweed plants with water daily to repel them.
Milkweed is usually pretty resilient, but turning gray doesn’t sound good unless its gone dormant for the season?
As for dealing with aphids, there are many different ideas on this page if you go through the post…good luck and congrats to you and your daughter for raising a monarch butterfly.
NO! Leave them alone and let nature restore the balance. I am a biologist. The aphids attract voracious consumers like hoverfly larvae, lady beetle larvae, and lacewing larvae during spring/summer, and in the fall they attract birds that eat aphids, like chickadees, kinglets and warblers. They need herbivorous insects to survive! If you destroy the aphids with water, vacuuming, or nasty chemicals you destroy the beneficials, too! And please don’t introduce more lady beetles–they are not a native species and are taking the place of native ones.
Hi Violet, I agree that (over time) leaving them is the best course of action, but when people grow just a few milkweed plants specifically for monarchs, letting the aphids have free reign is not an option for many. Over time, we have grown more aphid repelling plants in our garden. We’ve also let our natural ecosystem develop that includes aphids and large numbers of their predators including ladybugs and lacewings. We haven’t had an aphid infestation the past four seasons.
I also agree with your viewpoint on biological pest control, but don’t look at insects/plants as bad/good based solely on native status. Whenever you release mass insects into your garden it may benefit your garden in the short run, but how it affects your ecosystem in the long run could be problematic.
I remove aphids from my milkweed plants with scotch tape or masking tape. The aphids stick to the tape and you just throw it away. You don’t have to touch the aphids!
never heard that one before Laura…thanks for sharing!
Tony, I have an aphid infestation that goes beyond my imagination. It’s nasty. I usually try wiping them down with my fingers and hosing them off. They just come back. Mind you, it’s in the 90’s – 100’s around here. These little guys thrive in heat. One plant is in tremendous sun, to the point it wilts, the aphids are happy. They love the milkweed so much, the roses have none. In my area egg laying is in over production, so I’m especially careful. Any ideas, suggestions? I’ve been battling these guys for a long time. Oh by the way I live in the LA area, specifically, Northridge.. Thank you for listening to my gripes.
Hi Lee, you are not alone in your war against aphids! Have you considered idea #9 with the vacuum attachment or a portable handheld vacuum? or #3 with the isopropyl alcohol? You could also cut of the heaviest infested areas and discard…good luck!
The praying mantis has been in my milkweed bed completely devouring these orange aphids for the last three weeks. Up to that point I didn’t know what to do about these aphids on my beautiful milkweed. The praying mantis is keeping the aphids off my milkweed. He is my hero!!
Hi Jennifer, that’s good a mantis is keeping the aphid population down, but keep in mind they also eat monarchs, so I wouldn’t recommend adding more for biological pest control…
I have always had A. Tuberosa milkweed in my butterfly garden – around 8 years now. Last year it was late coming up due to late cold weather and we had a female monarch lay 30 or more eggs on the small stumps left from the year before with only a few tiny leaves out yet. So we went an bought several milkweed plants from a local nursery. Turns out they were A. curassavica, which I have learned since from a newspaper article is not good. The tuberosa dies back each year and regrows in spring. I am led to believe from some sources that this makes it o.k. But the Journey North site says it is always best to have native milkweed – which is hard to grow in your backyard and hard to find. I do not know as of yet if the curassavica will die back or just hang on through the winter. Some plants do in North Texas. Guess I will just have to wait and see.
This is my introduction to this site and am happy to see it. It’s nice to be able to hear what other people are experiencing and doing. I will be trying some of the techniques garnered here on my own aphid population..
Hi Linda, A. curassavica has some potential issues in continuous growing regions…it might also be an issue in your region if it keeps the monarchs from finishing their migration. Here’s more info on tropical milkweed:
Is Tropical Milkweed Killing Monarch Butterflies?
Any reason why you guys are planting tropical milkweed specifically? Tropical milkweed can harbor the OE parasite and has other possible issues which can negatively affect the monarch outside of the tropics.
Hi Doug, any milkweed variety can harbor the OE parasite. The potential issues with tropical milkweed are in continuous growing regions like Florida and southern California….they are not an issue for the rest of us.
Is Tropical Milkweed Killing Monarch Butterflies?
Thanks for the clarification, Tony.
Long live the Monarchs!
I live in Florida and all of my plants died as a result is standing water for weeks on end. I just got more and before I could even get them in the ground overnight they were covered. I typically don’t have much of a problem. I specifically use Dawn detergent. It is very mild and a little goes a long way. When I had bigger plants I would use a sprayer attached to my hose that has a nozzle you can flip so it gets good coverage underneath. I put a tich of soap and fill with water and spray away. After about 30 minutes I go back and rinse. I have never lost and caterpillar or eggs this way. It is used on animals as you know to get oil off of of them from slicks but does not harm them or their natural coats so I thought it would be a good fit for this. It has been so far.
Thanks Katie, it’s always helpful to hear what’s working for other gardeners!
I’m in NY State and new at Monarch Butterfly raising. Last year, I planted swamp milkweed for the first time and had a few cats make it to adulthood. I also had an almost overwhelming infestation of aphids which I didn’t catch in time because I was away on vacation. I had wanted some seed pods, so I could expand my garden, but the plants and pods were totally consumed by the aphids.
Fortunately, the milkweed came back well this year and I have been on guard. i’m managing to control the aphids by squashing them, and clipping off the parts of the plant that have the greater infestations. I have many pods developing, so, fingers crossed.
Unfortunately, I have only seen theMonarchs around the plants a couple of times, and I have found no eggs or cats this year. I check faithfully every morning and evening, so I don’t think predators are getting them. This saddens me. I’m going to go ahead and expand my garden as much as possible, and hope for the best. I’ll also have to check and see what other native plants attract the butterflies.
Hi Gaye, it was a slow year out east, so that probably has a lot to do with your lack of activity. Keep doing what you’re doing and it will pay off in a year with a better eastern population. Good luck!
I have one remaining monarch caterpillar feasting on my milkweed. Eight others have wandered off. I have one that seemed to remain small on my kitchen counter in a plastic shoe box. I filled it with twigs and milkweed and put a screen top on it.
I cut back the eaten stalks of my milkweed. That’s when I noticed the nasty orange critters. I cut them off too. I filled my sink with soapy water. Then I sent everyone of them down the garbage disposal.
I think I got them all. If not all then I got the majority.
I also think I saw two new monarch eggs. Little tiny white dots on the underside of the leaf.
How did I do? 🙂
I am looking for ladybugs. I live in Palm Beach County, FL. I have heard some negative about ladybugs. I do not want to end up with Asian Lady Beetles. Do I buy them or not? How do I know I am actually getting lady bugs vs. beetles?
Hi Diane, if you got rid of them entirely, then you did good! You can use a qtip with isopropyl alcohol to spot treat if any survived. Lady bugs and their larvae eat small monarch eggs and caterpillars too. I’m not a huge fan of biological pest control because it usually creates new problems. I would ask a florida nursery or other Florida gardeners what has worked best for them. good luck!
I check my milkweed every day. I squash those aphids with my fingers. They don’t stand a chance – not on MY milkweed. The problem is here in the Dallas, Ft. Worth area, we are not getting ANY Monarchs this year. It’s so sad.
keep up with those Aphids Nancy…you will be getting a big butterfly reward from up north over the next couple months
I check every day for aphids, and if I find them, it’s always on one leaf or flower. I remove the portion (usually just one-2 leaves) and destroy them. They may eventually come back, but very slowly. This method has worked for me!
Hi Sandy, over the years we’ve strived to let a healthy ecosystem develop in our garden, which means leaving some milkweed pests and monarch predators. By adding repelling plants, diversifying milkweed, and having various patches around the yard/garden we’ve lived with aphids (but without infestations) for the past four seasons. If all the aphids are gone, then all their predators will leave too, making more work for you in the garden. We do raise some monarchs indoors to boost their survival rate. Other than that, we late nature working things out in the garden…and it has been surprisingly effective!
I am trying dipping a small artists paintbrush in baby powder and brushing the aphids off
Hi Jean, what is baby powder supposed to do to aphids?
I purchased one milkweed native to S. Africa (Gomphocarpus physocarpus, Balloon Plant Milkweed) back in March and it came with a caterpillar which became a Monarch butterfly. We released it and I was then hooked on Monarchs. I planted the plant which looked ragged but it became a nice, almost 4′ bush. Last week I doused it with an enviro friendly insecticide because it was infested with aphids. However since the aphids were not affected, the next day I started spraying the plant with 2tsp soap to16oz water. To my horror I saw a tiny caterpillar so I stopped. I then checked every leaf which looked like it was chewed and rescued about 5 tiny cats. I placed them on a plate inside the house with milkweed leaves. I continued “soaping” the plant and after an hour I hosed off the entire plant using my hand to support every branch. 15 minutes later I put the cats back on the plant. I noticed several tiny eggs so I will not spray the bush anymore but instead, once a day, I use a cotton swab to rub off the aphids. It works well and the aphids are under control. There are still some on the plant but not as many as before which must have been in the hundreds. I am amazed to have at least 15 cats now on the plant. I have never seen a Monarch butterfly in my neighborhood before so this is truly special. I will continue to plant more milkweeds primarily native ones. My goal is to establish plants that will help pollinators in general but right now I am focused on Monarchs just because of all the cats on my one plant. Your website has been one of the best informational website on these butterflies. Thank you.
Hi Marie, I’m glad you were able to rescue the monarchs…spraying soaps or pesticides in the garden can work, but should be more of a last resort…too many possible unintentional consequences. I hope your monarchs will be OK on the treated plant. I would encourage you to try safer options from the post if that doesn’t work out…good luck!
As it turned out all 15 cats turned into roughly 35+ cats! They must not have been affected by the one time soap and water hosing. However they did eat almost all the leaves off my plant and I also noticed that they seemed to crawl off or fall off the plant. I left 5 cats outside and to date 3 of them have eclosed and become butterflies! I removed another 12 and placed on them on a large Balloon Plant milkweed at our nearby rental house. Sadly when I checked the plant a week later, I did not see any cats or pupae anywhere. I brought the remaining cats (maybe 20) inside the our house to place inside a butterfly cage. I also purchased 2 milkweed plants and put those inside the cage as well. Unfortunately I learned that the tachnid fly must have attacked most of my cats outside while they were on the milkweed. A few cats died in the cage leaving a telltale thread and then I had to freeze a several pupae because they were discolored. I learned a lot since I had to go online and read up on Monarch pests. It was very diss-heartening but it was also a reality check. Next year I will be better prepared in many respects for the Monarchs as well as other pollinators.
sorry to hear of your problems Marie, but happy you are learning and will have much more success the next time around!
My personal favorite is smooshing with forefinger and thumb (permanent stain throughout Monarch season) and then blasting them off with the hose. (Very good therapy)
But watching you vacuuming them off is possibly the funniest darn thing I’ve seen for a while. Considering we both have a large quantity of plants, and all infested with aphids, I think I may have to hire the Merry Maids to help!
Love your post!
Nancee, someone from your region emailed me and said they went out to vacuum all their aphids after reading this…and it worked beautifully!
For a large infestation, that’s probably what I would try, but ladybugs and lacewings have really been good to us over the past few seasons…
I collected eggs and larvae from my yard and raised them in enclosures on my porch. I was able to release about 50 Monarchs in Central Texas in late May. I thought the Monarchs had left my area and so did not cut back the tropical milkweed in my yard. Today I found at least four big, healthy larvae on the MW. Now I’m worried that I should have cut the MW back as soon as the first bunch left on their journey North. Have I prevented late developing Monarchs from migrating and/or contributed to the OE epidemic?
Thanks for all your great help with the Monarchs,
Hi Joan, it’s really hard to say what your late Texas monarchs will do. The only way you’d ever know is if they were digitally tagged so you could monitor their movement. All you can do now is raise and release them and let nature do the rest. After they’re finished would be a good time to cut down all your milkweed so healthy growth can emerge. Good luck!
Thanks, Tony. I appreciate your help and will cut the MW back as soon as these guys take off.
HELP! I have been a fan of monarch butterflies for 40 + years. Last year I hatched and shared over 100 from my yard. In order to have fresh milkweed later in the season, I started systematically pulling older plants (always checking them for eggs before discarding them). The young plants that then grew had heavy aphid infestation. Late in the season, I found this site and tried squishing the beasties, cutting the highly effective leaves, and even pulling young milkweed that was too heavily covered. Through these methods, I was able to get enough to feed my caterpillars, but had to send some of the people I gave eggs and caterpillars to out searching ditch banks and roadsides.
This year the milkweed plants have not grown back in areas that have had many plants before. Also, some of the milkweed has grown back with wavy, thick leaves.
I brought three eggs in this morning, and want to continue to raise monarchs, but I am afraid I will not be able to feed them. I am willing to buy milkweed plants but don’t want to subject them to the same fate. Do you have any advice?
Hi Heidi, it seems strange that perennial milkweed would disappear in areas it was growing before…especially if you are letting it seed. It sounds like your plants could potentially have a bacterial or viral issue. I would suggest amending the soil with compost and cutting back affected leaves to see if new growth improves. If more plants don’t come back, consider trying a different milkweed variety or other butterfly plants in those regions. I would also suggest trying to establish a good supply of healthy milkweed before you get back to raising more monarchs. Good luck and keep us posted…
I planted ten common milkweed in my tiny garden last
year this year they have come up in a very healthy way and I think I planted them too close together. Do milkweeds mind having no space between them. For sure they don’t grow that close together in southern ontario. how do they take to transplanting?
Our common patch is probably our only patch that isn’t spaced out. If plants are crowding each other I usually pull one and discard or transplant. Transplanting is best done in early spring before the plants reach 6″ tall and there is too much foliage…larger transplants would need to be cut back so they can focus on root growth…you can also transplant in fall.
In order to avoid large infestations of aphids throughout my garden, I have found it useful to take nature’s example and grow milkweeds in a matrix of other native flowers and low native grasses. I still wind up with other things that consume the milkweed (aphids, bugs, beetles), but frankly, they are all part of the diversity I want to attract by growing native plants. Milkweeds support monarch butterflies, but they are also important for a lot of other specialist insects, which may not be as pretty, but are nonetheless just as tied into the ecology as the monarchs.
Thanks for posting Dan. Over the past few years I’ve come around to your way of thinking. We have an established garden and grow 16 varieties of milkweed so I try to support the entire local ecosystem…we even let a paper wasp nest stay this season. For those with less established gardens and a limited supply of milkweed, it’s more difficult to sit back and watch your milkweed be decimated by uninvited pests…you could always go to a store and buy more plants, but some are on a limited budget and, worse yet, it can be difficult to find milkweed plants that have not been treated by monarch-killing pesticides.
A good long-term goal for those that want to support monarchs (in harmony with the local ecosystem) is growing 3-4 milkweed varieties and spacing them out around your yard and garden. This insures you’ll always have some viable milkweed in your garden when the monarchs unexpectedly drop in…
do you know what insect/ butterfly lays dark grey ovoid eggs? These eggs have the same shape & ridges as the monarch eggs; but they are very dark grey. Thanks for any help.
Hi Sheila, the monarch eggs turn dark on top before hatching (actually the caterpillar’s head). If the whole egg turns dark it can signal a disease issue and the egg won’t hatch. The queen butterfly (Danaus gilippus) is also a milkweed butterfly that has stages similar to monarch development. You might trying keeping the eggs and see what develops. good luck!
I live west of Edmonton Alberta zone 3. Was wondering what type of milkweed would I be able to plant. We need to attract more butterflies here.
Hi Elaine, check out my milkweed resources page. It lists the native and perennial regions for each species. I also listed the Canadian provinces:
Milkweed Resource Page
Hi, Tony. Thanks for the much needed information posted here. I’m a new milkweed enthusiast. I live in CT. Last summer I purchased from a local nursery an Asclepias incarnata ‘Ice Ballet’ milkweed. Within a few days it was covered from top to bottom, leaves to stems, with aphids. I suppose they came with the plant! The leaves turned yellow and dropped off…as if the plant was dying.
I did some research and chose to spray the plant with dish soap and water. I was trying to keep the plant alive! I was warned the aphids would spread to the rest of my garden. The spraying wasn’t effective. In desperation, I cut the plant right down in hopes it would regrow this year. It’s still cool here. Think there’s any hope?
Hi Ann, if the milkweed had a good root system it should come back even if you cut it back to the ground. It is still early, and our milkweed patches in Minnesota are still lifeless too. I would give them a little more time before looking for alternative plants. Good luck!
Hello, I am new to planting and managing milkweed plants and their aphids. I have just planted my seeds and I’m hoping for the best. I have had success eliminating aphids on other plants by using pure essential oils (mostly lemon and lavender) mixed with water in a spray bottle. I didn’t read through all of the comments but have you ever tried or heard of anyone trying this with the milkweed? I don’t know the effects on the caterpillars. It shouldn’t hurt them if the oil is certified pure therapeutic oil… the kind that is safe to ingest. I read on a few comments that soap keeps them from attaching chrysalis? Not sure if the oil would have an issue. Since this oil is pure, and contains no synthetic material, it soaks into human skin and leaves no residue so should have a similar effect with plants.
Hi Christi, I don’t suggest putting any substance on milkweed and leaving it there. Monarch females test milkweed with their feet, and if there is a substance on the milkweed they will probably bypass it. You could try spraying just a couple to see if you get any eggs, but I would try some of the ideas in the post if you are having aphid issues. good luck!
After taking an adult education class on populating monarch’s, I’m hooked. I have two potted milkweed plants which have been inside my home. I move them outside during the day in hopes of attracting more monarchs.
I hatched my first monarch, which was released into the wild. This same monarch flew back here after a week or so to the same milkweed plant where it was born to lay it’s egg. Pretty cool, huh? Problem was I was, at that time, I was seeing aphids on these plants but was too afraid to treat and now both of my plants are in bad condition. The good news is I have SEVEN very healthy caterpillars who are unaware of my aphid problem and are just chomping away. They will be eventually running out of milkweed. My question is this: I am going to get new milkweed so all seven caterpillars will have plenty to eat. So that my new plants don’t get infested, is it okay to literally remove the caterpillars by hand onto the new plant? Do I need gloves? Will this harm the caterpillars? I think by leaving the new plant next to the old plant and waiting for the caterpillars to eventually move to the new plants, I risk the aphids invading the new plant as well. I also want to treat the infested plants as quickly as possible by cutting them back, treating organically, and seeing if I can regrow back into healthy condition. Any other advise will be greatly appreciated. Thanks very much.
Hi Kathy, congrats on your exciting new hobby! Aphids are a common issue for most of us and can be very frustrating if you have a large infestation. They don’t hurt monarchs, but they suck the sap out of the milkweed and plant health will deteriorate. An infested plant will also not typically receive monarch eggs.
As for handling caterpillars, you can gently pick them up between your thumb and forefinger. As long as you don’t squeeze or pull them too hard, you won’t hurt them. They’ll probably curl up into a ball, but that’s just their natural (and not very effective) defense.
If you want to learn my system for raising indoors, my raising guide outlines the process I use to consistently raise monarchs with a 95% survival rate.
Monarch Raising Guide
Hi Tony! We have milkweed growing in our school garden, and it’s infested with aphids! I was wondering if you could recommend a good companion plant to plant alongside the milkweed in their bed? Thanks so much! Great info here!! -Kelly
Hi Kelly, I’ve heard of people using companion plants for aphid control but I’m not sure how well this actually works. We haven’t had a serious infestation in 3 years, but that’s (probably) because I’ve allowed our local ecosystem to develop that includes aphids AND the predators which include ladybugs and lacewings.
Another strategy is to diversify your milkweed varieties and have several patches spread out if space allows. There are many options to choose from:
18+ Milkweed Varieties
If you’d like to try companion plants, marigolds and ‘summer beauty’ allium are “supposed” to repel aphids…they also attract butterflies…especially the allium. Please let us know how it works for the aphids…
How big are the eggs ? I never see them , I want to cut the plants but I do not want destroy the eggs .
The eggs are pretty small Kathy…about as small as the head of a pin. They are cream-colored though so they contrast nicely with the milkweed. Here are a couple photos:
I was in Wis for a week and gathered some milk weed seeds and hope they spout. When I returned to Florida I had lots of cats on my outdoor plants. I had to leave for TX the next day for 4 days and when I got back I could not find one cat…I think I have maybe one egg. What would get to the cats so quickly? Now my plants are 2 1/2 feet or so. Should I cut them down and let them start new once they go to seed?
in Florida I would cut back plants one or twice a year to avoid build up of disease spores on overused plants. I would try to cut back during periods when there are typically less monarchs in your area.
You also have more predators than the rest of us including lizards. There are many monarch predators that can wipe out your patch pretty quickly. Ants, spiders, wasps to name a few.
I raise my cats inside a “butterfly house”. A netted place where I put my cats & plants. I have found that I must keep about 20 plants in pots covered with popup laundry hampers to use as the cats eat up what is in there enclosure. I have raised and released over 60 monarchs this year. I trim back the eaten up plants and regrow. When I find 1st or 2nd instar I use a fine artist brush to transfer them to the butterfly house.
I also raise zebras this way as the are very slow growing and the anoles get them.
For aphids I use a different brush to paint the aphids and then rinse with water; or just squish them. Very few butterflyies in my garden now – is it the heat? I live in SW Florida. I can keep my plants going all year.
Hi Karen, a brush sounds like a good idea for scarping away aphids too…and easier to get in the nooks and crannies as opposed to with your fingers. Now that September is upon us, it will start to cool up north bringing more butterflies your way. Enjoy!
I think we need to make some things more clear for the readers. Someone I know just told me they interpreted the use of alcohol to mean that it was harmless to the Monarchs and only damaged the aphids. This could obviously lead to some horrendous mistakes in an aphid-infested garden. That was obviously a ridiculous mistake on their part, but it seems worth noting on this page that the LA Times article does say that it will kill the Monarchs, and must be used on a cottonball to dab only the aphids.
Thanks for the suggestion Brett. It actually does say that alcohol is lethal to monarchs in the LA times article, but I added a block quote under #3 for clarification. Also, I use cotton swabs…it’s easier to access small spaces.
I work in landscaping at a 5-diamond resort, so of course Aphids are a big no-no. Best way I’ve gotten rid of them (along with spider mites) is to just hose them off. It is very beneficial to cut off parts of the plant that has more infestation, then you can hose off the rest. Definitely keep an eye on your plants so you can catch them early! 🙂
Thanks for sharing your experience Melanie. Many times in home gardens (where you have the luxury of letting things play out a little longer) aphid predators will take care of the problem. We have been aphid-free the past few years without intervention, but have started to see a mini-infestation on our milkweed as this season nears the end. I did end up cutting back a few areas of heavier infestation, and now the ladybugs are taking care of the rest…
I tried spraying my plants with DEET to possibly kill aphids and prevent further infestation. It seemed to kill some, but now especially my milkweed looks worse and downright awful. Should I just leave it alone?
While DEET may kill aphids on your milkweed, it’s also going to kill monarch eggs and caterpillars. If you want to attract butterflies and pollinators, an “organic” approach is essential to your success. Native milkweed typically looks pretty bad by the end of the season, so your milkweed may be at the end of its growth cycle.
Hi. I contacted you a few days ago about this pest, and find that the alcohol really works. Each day since Sunday I’ve been checking the 2 Swamp Milkweed plants that I have, and am down to just a small number each time – but they keep coming! (Maybe they don’t realize that their free happy hour is deadly!) But today I noticed a white residue on the leaves and pods that had been covered with the aphids. Could this be a fungus, or could it possibly be a result of the alcohol on them? I haven’t seen any butterfly eggs yet, but have a few monarchs that visit.
Hi Ginger, perhaps alcohol residue left on the plants + the sun is burning the leaves and pods? Overfertilization can also cause leaves to turn white. Funguses are often caused by overwatering. Swamp usually starts to look a little worse for wear this time of year, though ours has responded well to all the rain. The best advice I can give you (without knowing for sure what the problem is) is to remove the affected leaves and pods.
Hi Tony, I live in South/Mid Florida and am building a butterfly garden and am having a bit of an aphid problem and was reading your notes here and you mentioned using several cultivars of milkweeds,, SO please advise which might be the best for this area. I so far have 6 plants which are all Scarlet. Two weeks ago I had 8 cats that were doing well and I was going to take them in and the next morning- ALL GONE- maybe Blue Jays?
Now plants are recovering but are COVERED with aphids- I ordered a small amount of lady bugs
and that might help, but would like to get other varieties of the plants too!
sorry to hear about your aphids. Milkweed diversification is a good way to make sure you always have some viable milkweed for your monarchs. Check out my resource page that lists 18 different milkweed and what regions they are native to. there are also non-native varieties that can be grown across most of North America:
18 Different Milkweed Varieties
Hi Craig, also wanted to comment on your missing cats. There are a TON of monarch predators that seem to have adapted to the toxins in milkweed. It’s impossible to stop them all. Since only 1-5% survive outdoors, my best advice is to raise a few indoors where you can raise with over a 90% survival rate if you have a good system in place.
I just checked my milkweed and found no leaves, no seeds but lots of those little orange critters all up and down the stalks…aaaargh. I just planted it this year in the hopes of growing a new habitat for the monarchs. Fortunately the little critters haven’t found the frier milkweed on the other side of the barn. I haven’t checked the plants down by the stream yet. I will definitely check earlier next year to make sure that nobody is enjoying the milkweed except the monarchs…
Hi Virginia, aphids and monarchs can coexist on milkweed, but you’re not likely to get eggs during an aphid infestation. Catching aphids at the beginning is key to stopping them. However, sometimes predators will step in and take care of the problem for you. If you pick 1-2 plants to protect next season that’s more manageable than the whole garden. I still hope you get some monarchs this season, Tony
At the risk of sounding like a contrarian, I I have confess that I never ever worry about my aphids on milkweed.
Milkweed grows pretty rampantly. Especially the common milkweed, asclepias syriaca.
You note that the aphids can dampen the seed production of milkweed — I have to admit I see that as sort of a system of checks and balances. Since common milkweed also spreads underground, I don’t really need more seeds. In fact, this plant can sometimes be a real thug and will take over an entire landscape/garden.
It is such a valuable plant to monarchs, that I prize it regardless. But I don’t mind if there are fewer seeds. I grow other things for other kinds of wildlife, so I don’t want to become a milkweed seed factory.
Soaps and oils can harm the monarchs, and I also kind of trust the ecosystem to do its thing with this one.
So I just leave the aphids and consider them part of the color of my garden.
Most years I have had many many monarch caterpillars. Last year was a bad year region-wide — monarch numbers were down everywhere. And interestingly, I didn’t have many aphids last year or monarchs. But when the monarchs are good and the numbers are high, they do not seem to be bothered by the aphids.
I suspect that there’s a relationship going on with the aphids, monarch caterpillars and the plants that may actually be productive or beneficial. If I find some data on that I’ll post it here and on my own blog. In the meantime, I do not like to treat any of my plants in any way.
This is a great website and I love to see others encourage monarchs and milkweed. That is something we all should be doing! Keep up the good work.
Hi Alison, I don’t typically worry about aphids either. We have lots of milkweed and the predators take care of most of them. But for those that have smaller butterfly gardens and a limited milkweed supply they can be an issue. I regularly get comments and emails from gardeners about how to treat them so I wrote this post so people would know their options. One thing I’ve come to understand over the past few years is that there’s not a “one-size-fits-all” solution for creating a monarch butterfly garden. I agree that treating plants with any soaps/chemicals in a butterfly garden is usually not the best idea, and should be considered as a last resort.
BTW- aphids are typically a bigger problem with species like swamp and tropical.
I just found a cluster of these pests on one of my swamp milkweed plants this past weekend. I filled up a spray bottle with water, adjusted the nozzle to stream and blasted them off the plant while gently holding it. It worked. Bye bye aphids!
That’s a great idea Chris, I am going to add that to the post. Thanks for sharing!
I always use a fireplace lighter to sizzle aphids. I started doing this on my hibiscus years ago. If you wave the lighter back and forth quickly, it doesn’t hurt the plant. Of course, you will want to remove any eggs or cats first. Then, I spray them with water. The aphids fall off and I have made sure I haven’t started a fire.
oh wow…sounds like you were truly fed up! If I tried that, I would try to get the hang of it by practicing on a perimeter plant first.
Hi Tony, I’m back with a question. I found my first Monarch cat and eggs today on my butterfly weed. I have been plagued with aphids and have been diligent to spray them nightly with a soap mixture. They’re still there and have taken over! Now that I know I have eggs and cats, is it safe to spray with my soap mixture? I’m harvesting the eggs and cats as soon as I see them (we have tachinid fly issues here), but really need to spray the aphids
Hi Jacki, as long as the soap is thoroughly rinsed off the milkweed leaves, it shouldn’t harm your caterpillars. Milkweed diversification and having several patches spread around your yard/garden is one of the best ways to “naturally” deter them. As your garden evolves, hopefully more of the aphids predators start to patrol it. I hope you are able to rescue lots of monarchs from those flies!
Thanks Tony. We are growing and expanding our garden and hope that next year it will help considerably. We have two 5 day old cats and 10 eggs. I’m sure we have a lot more but I haven’t found them yet. It’s been raining a lot and I haven’t been able to investigate the plants.
I raise monarchs and have been pretty successful here in Houston but this year the aphids on the milkweed are insatiable. The first year we were plagued by wasps that ate our cats. I cut down the low hanging fronds on our palm trees (where the wasps were keeping house) and so that problem was gone. I also built a “nursery” where I keep the cats that is bug proof. So far this year I have released 50 beautiful monarchs. My problem is keeping a good supply of milkweed and the ever present “black death” of some cats. Has anyone come up with a reason for the “black death”? Is it the soil, is it the milkweed, what the heck is causing this?
Hi Ginny, black death is caused by the NPV virus or a bacteria. This is more likely to occur if you cage has excess condensation. In a humid region like Houston, I can imagine you have to keep a closer eye on this. If you are interested in learning about the process I use for a 95% survival rate, you might be interested in Raise the Migration starting in August
Thanks Tony for your quick response. I will watch for the predators you mentioned.
I live in coastal southern California and have had my orange flowering milkweed for 2 years. Last year I had several caterpillars that matured and became monarchs. Also had many eggs that produced caterpillars but then the babies started to disappear. This year my plants are bigger and healthy looking with many flowers but no caterpillars. My neighbor had so many that they ate her plants to the bare stems.. She brought over 5 small to medium caterpillars and put them on my plants, they too disappeared after a day or so. Two days ago she put 8 more on my plants, 2 large and a mixture of medium and small. Today the large ones were gone and I assumed they were went off to find the ‘hanging’ spot to become monarchs. I found a “dead one” on underside of a leaf and no others. Eggs have been laid over last several months but nothing hatches.
There something wrong either with my plants or soil. I do have some assylum and weeds growing at base of plants and there is a scattering of bark covering the soil. Plants are in full sun and are lightly watered once a week. I have noticed that the leaves on my plants are narrower than my neighbors but nothing else. I do use a smattering of flower fertilizer once a year but do not use insecticides. I’ve had aphids both years but this year they disappeared quickly with no intervention on my part. Any suggestions as to what the problem could be would be welcome.
You may be having an issue with predators. Wasps, ants, spiders, stink bugs, lizards… If you think there is an issue with your soil, check with a local university to see if they do soil testing. They can analyze your soil, then give you specific suggestions to improve the quality.
However, since you were successful with these plants last season, predators sounds like a more likely scenario…
Hello! I read that horticultural oil will work to get rid of the aphids. My concern is making sure that our caterpillars are safe and that the oil won’t harm them. Have you heard anything about this?
Also, will the dish detergent harm the caterpillars and chrysalis? We have both on our milkweed right now so I’m hesitant to put anything on the plant right now for fear of killing both.
Last question: We went on vacation for a week and when we came back we saw one of our chrysalis next to the milkweed pot. Is there any way to save it? Or is it dead? Any ideas on how it would have been removed from the plant? We’re so sad about it!
any potential substance like horticultural oil or insecticidal soap needs to be rinsed off before it is safe for monarch eggs and caterpillars. You can always try hanging up the chrysalis by tying dental floss around the cremaster (top black part) of the chrysalis. If it’s going to hatch, it should hatch soon. Good luck!
The LA Times article you linked to in point (3) said that alcohol is lethal to monarch eggs and larvae
Hi Peter…it is if you get it on them. Whenever your treating milkweed you should always remove any eggs or caterpillars first. After you’re done you can rinse or spray the plant with water.
Tony, I’m in Oklahoma and this is the first year I’ve noticed the ‘tick’ looking buggers and now these beetles. My butterfly bush has two problems; yellowing leaves that are falling off and leaves that are turning purplish/black. We’ve had a lot of rain so far so I think the moisture has contributed to the yellowing of the leaves. I’ll try to figure out how to post a link when I have time to take a picture today.
You’re full of information! Thank you for your continued feedback.
I’m in Oklahoma and the aphids are horrible. I mix a spray bottle with a couple of teaspoons of Dawn and fill the rest with water. Every morning, I spray the aphids and they’re dead by afternoon.
I do have a new problem this year though. I have what I thought was a new variety of ladybug, but noticed the new bugs were eating the leaves at a very quick rate. They’re different colors, from beige to yellow to orange. They have a roundish body, and a snout. They’re not a worm. They’re literally eating my butterfly weed like crazy. They fall off easy enough, but will climb right back up. The soap water does kill them. It’s more of a nuisance than anything, but I’m wondering if anyone knows what these new critters are. Any feedback is appreciated.
glad to hear the dawn is working for you. Sounds like a quick, easy, and effective mix. The problem with spraying in the morning is that’s when monarchs usually lay their eggs…so hopefully you get them all soon so you can stop spraying.
I’m not sure what the milkweed pest is you’re looking for, but try searching google images to see if you can figure it out:
If you want to get rid of them permanently, try the old “Japanese beetle” remedy. carry around a cup/bucket of soap water and just flick them inside. You could also try planting other milkweed varieties. Milkweed diversification is a key to consistently attracting more monarchs.
Hi Tony, thank you for the ‘not in the morning’ tip. I didn’t think about that.
I think I will flick instead of trying to spray all the new pests.
We have numerous butterfly weeds, bush and milkweed in our garden, but so far, the butterfly bush is the only species being affected by the aphids and the new unknown little buggers. I hope I can find out what they are. They look like overstuffed ticks and have little black dots along both sides of their bodies.
I saw my first female Monarch this afternoon! She came to check out the flowering bushes 🙂 Maybe we’ll have eggs soon!
We raised and released over 100 last year and hope to help more this year.
Jacki, if you figure out what they are let me know. I am always trying to educate myself about all the potential pals/pests of milkweed so I can share information here and the social networks. I hope you get eggs soon!
Jacki, is this your milkweed muncher?
I have those and thought they were ladybugs. They’ll be removed today! They’re not the ones doing the most damage to the leaves though. Is there any way to post a pic here so you can see what my buggers look like?
Hi Jacki, you could always post a link. I know milkweed beetles can be a problem further south. I let them stay because they don’t take over our milkweed, but I know many other gardeners dispose of them:
Please have a look at this website for your beetle – it might be Milkweed Leaf Beetle. I have these in SE Texas on my plants of Asclepias perennis and A. curassavica. I just pick them off, squish ’em, and add to the soil. I have also seen them on wild plants of A. perennis. Good luck!
I bought a pair of tweezers specifically for removing these milkweed aphids from my Narrow Leaf Milkweed plants. I pick them off a few at a time and place them in a cup of water. They are surprisingly easy to pick off the plant – they don’t make any attempt to run away. If you have only a few plants and do this a few minutes each day, you can stop the infestations from getting too serious.
Tweezers? Interesting idea…and potentially less harmful to monarch eggs/cats also on the plants.Thanks Ken!
Hi guys, I too am plagued with these little buggers. Pay attention to you population of aphids. if you begin to see hard brown casings in and amongst them, this is a sure sign that you have a predatory wasp that eats the aphids. I was so happy when I discovered what those brown little dots on my mw plants were!
I still rub out and spray with water. The wasps cannot get every one of them. I also have a really healthy number of lady bugs that mate and lay eggs over and over in my garden every year. Hoverfly and green lacewings also eat the aphids. Happy Hunting!
#1 is my favorite — I prefer to think of them as orange bubble wrap!!! They pop so nicely! Just don’t lick your fingers or rub your eyes…
Well Sarah, ants MILK them for their sweet secretions, so they just might be ‘finger lickin’ good’!
I did lick once by mistake and they taste NASTY!
I’ve had more yellow aphids than ever on my tropical milkweed and they’re way out of control. I should have started hosing them off early but didn’t get around to it as I have dozens of plants in my backyard. However, I’ve also had more full-grown caterpillars on my plants than ever before. This is now late January and we’ve had temperatures in the 70s and 80s here in southern California for the past 2 months. A few days ago I found 6 or 7 Monarch caterpillars and several were almost full-grown.
I’ve begun cutting down the plants as much as I can without disturbing the caterpillars. As soon as I see aphids on new growth I’ll be sure to hose them off.
Hi Don, sorry to hear about your infestation…the last time we had one (in 2011) I also remember finding large caterpillars on the same milkweed. The problem with the aphids is that they hurt the milkweed. I took seeds from those plants in 2011 and the germination rate was horrible…not to mention, they make the plants look sickly and disgusting.
In 2012/2013 I noticed more lacewings and ladybugs in our garden. They’ve taken care of the aphids since 2011…hopefully some of their predators discover your garden! Congrats on all your monarchs and good luck keeping those aphids at bay…
I prefer to hold as closely to the tenets of IPM (intnegrated pest management) which emphasizes monitoring problems and allowing some pests and providing beneficial insects to counter such as oleander aphids. However, here in California,those aphids can decimate the milkweed. And it seems the cats don’t like the black sooty mold the ants? leave on the leaves.
Hi Gail, I’m in agreement that’s the ultimate goal of a successful butterfly garden. However, when you’re starting out and have a limited milkweed supply sometimes you must take action unless you’re willing to wait until next season…which many aren’t! This page discusses the pros/cons of each solution, and hopefully steers some away from using pesticides.
I would like to know what causes the milkweed to get all sticky on the leaves. I have not gotten the first Monarch this year and I am really disappointed. Any others have this problem?
Ethel, it sounds like you might have whiteflies. Here’s some more info:
Are your milkweed anywhere close to elm trees? Mine spit at this time of year and make my milkweed sticky.
It could be caused from aphids, aphids must process large amounts of sugary sap to extract small amounts of nitrogen essential for their survival… aphids excrete up to 90% of a plant sap known as “honey-dew”. Honeydew ends up as sticky coating on milkweed leaves.
and the ants have a symbiotic relationship with the aphids. They protect the aphids from predators and then milk them for this sticky honey dew. I have actually seen this on our milkweed before…nature is amazing!
First off, it’s GOOD to see this site on Facebook. The monarch butterfly needs our help anyway we can do it considering the low population that they had in their wintering sites in Mexico.
I believe the MAIN thing that can help with increasing the monarch population is EDUCATION! You’d be surprised (or maybe not) at how many people do NOT KNOW that milkweed is the ONLY plant that the monarch needs to breed and survive! And, as mentioned above, when some people hear the word “weed,” that’s enough for them and they fee they have to destroy it. It wouldn’t hurt for those of us that love the monarch butterfly and want to see their population increase to “spread the word” in our local communities.
I’m thinking of talking with local borough officials in possibly setting areas apart to grow milkweed and to encourage it’s growth in certain areas where it would not be considered a nuisance. I’d LOVE to hear your thoughts and comments on this. Thanks!
thanks for your insightful post. I also believe that education is a key factor in getting the monarch population moving in a positive direction. Getting local officials to start planting milkweed in non-nuisance areas is a great idea.
Another idea is to educate gardeners about the different milkweed species and cultivars available. Not everyone wants a garden filled with native milkweed that can potentially be invasive with underground rhizomes and seeding. I respect that. Instead of telling people what they NEED to plant based on scientific theory, I try to explain the options along with the potential issues and benefits. I currently have 8 species of milkweed growing in our garden (both native and exotic) and they all get used by the monarchs at some point in the season. A few of these species would not be recognized by most as a “milkweed” plant.
I think anything we can do to get more milkweed into our communities is worthy of consideration since not everyone has the same motivations for growing it.
John, the name Milkweed needs to be changed to MilkNEED!!! 😉
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