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Planting Milkweed This Spring Could Help Save Monarch Butterflies

Written By: Jaymi Naciri
Wednesday, May 15, 2019

According to the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, ldquo;Californiarsquo;s monarch butterfly numbers are at an all-time low, having declined more than 85 percent from 2017,rdquo; said Newsweek. ldquo;This sudden drop comes after years of steady decline: A massive 97 percent of monarch butterflies have already disappeared since the 1980s. Back then, 10 million monarchs wintered in California. This year, the Xerces Society counted just 28,429.rdquo;

Experts say we could be looking at extinction of the species within the next two decades, largely because of diminishing landscapes and pesticidesmdash;if nothing is done. And thatrsquo;s where humans come in. If yoursquo;re already looking to do some planting in your garden this spring, consider milkweed.

ldquo;Monarch butterflies making their way back to North America from their winter habitat in Mexico follow a well-marked trail,rdquo; said Gardenerrsquo;s Supply Company. ldquo;These striking orange-and-black butterflies are looking for one thing: milkweed asclepias. And when you plant milkweed in your garden, its like rolling out a welcome mat for monarchs.rdquo;

There are plenty of plants that provide nectar for monarchs and hummingbirds, such as:

bull; Zinnias
bull; Agastache lsquo;Avarsquo;
bull; Mexican Sunflowers
bull; Brazilian Verbena
bull; Dwarf Butterfly Bushes
bull; Bottlebrush

But the key difference that makes milkweed so crucial to monarchs is that its leaves ldquo;are the only food monarch caterpillars eat,rdquo; said Gardenerrsquo;s Supply Company. ldquo;Monarchs butterflies lay their eggs on milkweed plants so the tiny caterpillars will have access to food the moment they hatch. The milkweed plant provides all the nourishment the monarch needs to transform the Monarch caterpillar into the adult butterfly.rdquo;

You can find milkweed that thrive in nearly any climate and sun conditions. But its critical to choose the right type depending on your setting, and your goals.

ldquo;When planting milkweed in your garden, itrsquo;s important to choose a species of milkweed thatrsquo;s native to your region whenever possible,rdquo; said Savvy Gardening. ldquo;Thankfully, there are several milkweed species that have a broad native range and are suitable for planting across much of North America.rdquo;

Savvy Gardening has a good overview of preferred species of milkweed for different settings, including:

bull; Swamp Milkweedmdash;It grows in saturated soils, but also ldquo;grows just fine in well-drained garden soil. Itrsquo;s clump forming, so unlike some other milkweed species, it doesnrsquo;t take over the garden with spreading roots.rdquo;
bull; Common Milkweedmdash;What used to be everywhere is less common today as a result of pesticides. ldquo;The large, round globes of common milkweed flowers are a favorite of many pollinators. But, this plant comes with a warning: It is an extremely aggressive spreader, forming large colonies that spread not just by seed, but also by underground roots called rhizomes. Yoursquo;ll want to give common milkweed plenty of room.rdquo;
bull; Purple Milkweedmdash;This can be harder to find, and also attracts bees.
bull; Butterfly Weedmdash;Unique for its orange flowers, ldquo;Butterfly weed doesnrsquo;t like to be transplanted, so starting from seed may prove more fruitful, though it can take years for a plant to go from seed to flower.rdquo;
bull; Showy Milkweedmdash;So named because ldquo;the flower clusters of showy milkweed look like groups of pointed starsrdquo; and has ldquo;spiky, pinky-purple blooms.rdquo;
bull; Whorled Milkweedmdash;This species of milkweed ldquo;has a soft, feathery appearance, and since it tops out at about 3 feet in height, it makes a great addition to a perennial border. The flowers of this species are a soft white with just a hint of pink at their centers.rdquo;

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