Growing Monarchs with Milkweed

Keep the flutter of orange, black and white wings around for future generations.

In 1975, the monarch butterfly officially became the state insect of Illinois after school children suggested and lobbied for it. Now, 40 years later, these butterflies need everyone’s help. According to scientists in Mexico, (where migrating monarchs make their winter home), the monarch population has dropped from 550 million to only 33 million in 2013. Last year, their numbers rebounded a bit, but they are still at an all-time low. 

There is one easy way for gardeners to keep the flutter of orange, black and white wings around for future generations—plant milkweed. Simply, monarchs cannot survive without this plant. Milkweed is the only plant that females lay their eggs on and it is the primary food source for their caterpillars. The flowers are the nectar source for adult monarchs, as well as feeding a wide range of other pollinators. On a larger scale, the Garden Clubs of Illinois, the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) are working together to incorporate a mixture of milkweed, wildflower and grass seed into their roadside, restoration projects. I can’t wait to see I-294 blooming with flowers and butterflies. Whether you take care of a home or a highway, now’s the time to offer a hand to help these winged icons.

Milkweed plants available at Pasquesi Home and Gardens

Swamp or Red Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)
This native perennial has medium green, lance-shaped leaves on sturdy stems and is a food source for monarch caterpillars. Pinkish-mauve flowers attract a variety of butterflies (especially monarchs and swallowtails).
Mature Size: 3- to 6-feet tall and 2- to 3-feet wide.
Light: full sun to light shade
Plant: Thrives in a wet or average garden habitat. Plant in rain gardens or perennial beds. Once established, plants don’t need as much water because of a fibrous root system.
Bloom time: June through July
Companion plants: Joe Pye Weed, coneflowers, tall phlox and grasses.

Butterfly Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa)
This native, prairie perennial sports shiny, green leaves and clusters of bright, orange flowers and is a larval food source for monarchs.
Mature Size: 1 1/2- to 2-feet tall and 10-to 12-inches wide.
Light: full sun to light shade
Plant: It is tough and drought tolerant—at home in sandy or average, well-drained soil. Once established, it needs little watering because of its tap root.
Bloom time: June through August
Companion plants: coneflowers, little bluestem, sea holly, baby’s breath, Allium and switch grasses.