Plant Milkweed Now to Help Monarchs
If you have been doing any reading about gardening lately, you have probably encountered many articles urging people to plant milkweeds for Monarch butterflies whose numbers have declined at an alarming rate in recent years. At the risk of bringing up a topic again that is already well-covered, I will mention milkweeds because right now is a great time to plant them. Milkweed seeds need a period of cold in order to germinate. Last year I simulated that effect by cold-stratifying Common Milkweed and Swamp Milkweed seeds in the refrigerator – a successful effort that resulted in many new plants. This year I’m going to use nature to accomplish the task.
The photo above shows a Monarch caterpillar on the left and monarch chrysalis on the right on swamp milkweed in my garden. My proudest garden achievement of 2015!
The most recent issue of Missouri Conservationist has a timely article about planting milkweeds. They recommend planting the seeds outdoors in January or February in weed-free bare soil. Press the seeds into the soil. If planting into pots, sprinkle 1/4 inch of soil on top of the seeds and press down. Place the pot in a sunny exposed area and water regularly after the seeds sprout. Transplant after the plants have two to three sets of true leaves.
If you start milkweed seeds this winter you will probably not get any flowers from your milkweeds until next year, but caterpillars can still use them as a host plant until then. Try planting some annuals among them to add color and hide leaves that caterpillars have chewed until you get blooms. When they do flower, get ready for quite a show of winged visitors! Schnarr’s carries three varieties of Milkweed seeds – pick some up now to improve your habitat!