Milkweed is an essential plant for the survival of monarch butterflies, and it can be a great addition to your vegetable garden. Planting milkweed in your vegetable garden can provide a food source for monarch butterflies while also providing you with fresh vegetables. However, there are some considerations to make when planting milkweed in your vegetable garden, such as the right varieties of milkweed and potential pest issues. In this article, we will explore the benefits and risks of planting milkweed in your vegetable garden so you can make an informed decision.
Planting milkweed in your vegetable garden can have a variety of benefits for both your vegetables and the environment. Milkweed is a natural insect repellent, so it can help reduce the number of pests that could otherwise damage your crops. It also provides a food source for beneficial insects like bees and butterflies, promoting pollination and helping to maintain a healthy ecosystem in your garden. Additionally, milkweed is an excellent source of nectar for birds, providing them with sustenance during the winter months when other food sources can be scarce. Planting milkweed in your vegetable garden is an easy way to help support wildlife while also protecting and nourishing your plants.
People who like seeing butterflies would argue that milkweed is the only plant that doesn’t deserve having the word “weed” in its name.
In contrary to how many people feel about these common plants that attract butterflies, the term “weed” is typically used to characterize unpleasant and annoying plants. People often consider butterfly gardens when considering native plant uses, and milkweed comes to mind when considering plants that are good to butterflies.
Actually, the word “milkweed” is used to describe a variety of Asclepias genus plants. There are several different types of milkweed; 16 of them are indigenous to Missouri. Butterfly weed, sometimes known as butterfly milkweed, is a common plant with clusters of tiny orange blooms. Another kind that is well-known to many people is common milkweed, which has mauve-colored (pinkish) blooms. One of the characteristics of the majority of milkweed species is that they generate a milky sap that, when a leaf is damaged, can be seen flowing out of the plant. This sap was once believed to aid in the removal of warts, moles, and other unattractive skin diseases. Native Americans also utilized the fibers produced while crushing the plant’s dried stalks to create sturdy ropes.
Milkweed is a highly desired plant in a garden or landscaped yard since it is very advantageous to butterflies, especially monarch butterflies. Milkweed plants’ leaves provide a source of food for monarch caterpillars. In addition to giving the caterpillar sustenance, the toxic juices from the plant render monarch caterpillars and the resulting butterflies tasteless to birds. Because birds naturally avoid them, monarch butterflies are free to finish their pollination tasks and migrate without worrying about being eaten by predators. Milkweeds give nectar to monarch butterflies and other kinds of butterflies throughout their flowering period.
More benefits result from milkweed planting than only the chance to view lovely blooms and lovely butterflies. The natural flora that butterflies and other pollinators depend on is altered or eliminated as a result of human strain on the environment. Important pollination activities will assist guarantee that we continue to make attempts to improve natural existing habitats or construct special habitats, even if it’s only a modest front-yard butterfly garden.
You can’t merely spread milkweed seeds in the spring and wait for them to develop, unlike other flower seeds you might be used to. because you’ll have to wait a long time!
Another mistake that people frequently make is not cold-stratifying their milkweed seeds first.
The simplest approach to grow milkweed from seed is to follow Mother Nature’s example and plant your seeds in place in the fall after the first killing frost (typically in November). As a result, the seeds can spend the winter classifying in the cold and then germination can occur in the spring.
However, you can cold-stratify milkweed seeds in the refrigerator if you reside in a warm area without frost or if you wish to start milkweed seeds in the spring.
Simply place the milkweed seeds in a moist paper towel or coffee filter, cover the bag with a zip-top closure, and store the mixture in the refrigerator for about 30 days before planting.
After being cold-stratified, seeds can either be sown outside right away or started indoors to be transplanted later. Be patient as it might take up to two weeks for milkweed seeds to sprout.
Milkweed cultivation is only one aspect of the challenge. It’s crucial to grow more nectar-rich flowers in the garden that bloom at various times so adult monarch butterflies have access to consistent food sources in order to feed the population of monarch butterflies (as well as other pollinators).
Butterflies are drawn to colorful annuals like zinnias and phlox (as well as bees and hummingbirds). Growing a wide range of flowers beautifies your yard, supports the local environment, and aids in the maintenance of all the helpful insects.
Perennials are also crucial, particularly native perennials like coreopsis and echinacea (coneflowers), which may offer a consistent and dependable supply of food.
Consider growing blooming herbs like fennel, rosemary, sage, and oregano if you want perennial plants that serve as both food for butterflies and food for you.
In order to give the roots time to establish themselves, milkweed plants should be transplanted in the early spring after all frost risk has gone or a few weeks before the first fall frost.
If you wish to cultivate milkweed, you should wait until the first fall hard freeze before sowing the seeds outside. Before germinating in the spring, they will naturally undergo a period of cold stratification throughout the winter.
It is uncertain how many milkweed plants are required to draw monarch butterflies as they fly through your yard, thus there isn’t a precise solution to this question.
Since each species differs in size, leaf shape, and growth rate—and monarchs occasionally lay multiple eggs on a single plant—a it’s good idea to grow several plants to ensure you always have a steady supply of milkweed throughout the season. It’s generally believed that one milkweed plant feeds one monarch caterpillar.
A resilient perennial, milkweed grows every spring and can last down to zone 3. The rootstock is still very much alive and does not require protection, even when the foliage itself withers and the plant falls dormant in the winter.
The exception is tropical milkweed (Asclepias curassavica), which is typically planted as a frost-sensitive annual in milder areas despite only being hardy to zone 8b and remaining evergreen to zone 9b.
It is advised that gardeners in warm regions prune their tropical milkweed plants in the winter to support the butterflies’ annual migration to Mexico and to avoid parasite infection in monarch butterflies (and not stick around in the southern United States during winter).