Milkweed for Monarchs

Written by Sara Green
Monday, 31 March 2014 15:50

Monarchs Need Your Help! 

There has recently been a sharp decline in Monarch overwintering numbers which may represent the shrinking of their migratory route. The 97% decline from their high over the past 20 years has researchers very concerned. 

Milkweed to lay eggs on is in short supply, according to field observers, and will severely hurt the 3,000 mile Monarch migration From Central Mexico to Central Canada.

On a good year, aproximately 180-280 million Monarchs start migrating, mate, lay eggs along the way and their children continue the round trip. Milkweed is needed along the entire route or they will not survive. It takes more than one milkweed plant for each surviving adult due to natural predators. That is an enormous amount of milkweed! Most North Americans were very lucky to have seen even one Monarch Butterfly over the past few years. 

johnston_bwh_-_monarch_catrpllr_09-03What can you do?

Plant milkweed!!  At home, at school, at work, church, the library, the local park - anywhere in your community!  Just one mating couple and a good supply of milkweed could produce many healthy fluttering friends for your community.

Check with your local plant nursery to see if they carry milkweed, and encourage them to do so if not.  

You can buy milkweed seeds or young plants from  SCWF will get 10% of the proceeds if you buy through this link.   

   Buy Milkweed Online Today!   



You can also "adopt" a monarch by donating to the South Carolina Wildlife Federation - a $25.00 donation will help us to further promote our programs to plant more milkweed across the Palmetto State.  Visit our Adoption page here to donate today!


How to Plant Milkweed Seeds:

Plant seeds 1/8 inch below the soil surface in a sunny location after April 15th in SC.  You can also use a deep pot, most milkweeds have long roots. 

Don't plant the seeds too deep, because they need plenty of light and warmth to germinate and grow (at 70 degrees within 14 days). 

You can fertilize them lightly after the seedling stage, using a regular flower fertilizer. 

Cutting off the top of the plant after they reach 8-12" creates more stalks and more leaves. 

moms_monarchIt takes about two months before the plant is large enough for caterpillars to eat. When the leaves have been eaten, simply cut the plant off about three inches above the soil or just above the lowest branching of the stalk and the plant will grow back fuller and create even more food for Monarchs.

One caterpillar will eat 20+ large leaves so make sure you have enough plants to support the number of caterpillars you have, or they will starve.

It takes a minimum of 60 days from seeds to have a plant large enough to support a caterpillars' food needs. 

After established, milkweed plants will develop a seed pod and will continue re-seeding year after year.  You can also collect the seeds to sow in a different location.  

Once you have a good supply of milkweed, you can also purchase eggs, small caterpillars or chrysalis to ensure there are butterflies in your area immediately or assist with the genetic diversity in remote areas.

For further information, please visit


Here are a few recent articles about the Monarch population decline:
"Bye-bye butterfly: how you can fight the Monarch die-off"  Christian Science Monitor
"Migration of Monarch butterflies shrinks again under inhospitable conditions"  NY Times
"Why are the monarch butterflies disappearing?Washington Post 
"The year the Monarch didn't appear" NY Times



Milkweed Safety:

As with any inedible plant, precautions around milkweed should be taken:  

  • Do not eat.
  • Do not get sap on skin or in eyes.
  • Be sure children and pets do not eat or get on skin or eyes.
  • The real danger of Milkweed is that by cutting a growing plant the white "milk" sap of the plant contains components that can irritate the skin and eyes. 
  • Be sure to wash hands with soap and water after cutting milkweed and do not wipe the face or eyes.


*Information from LiveMonarch Foundation.

*Photos from Bob Johnston, Austin Jenkins, Susan Thieben, and Josh Arrants.

Last Updated ( Friday, 13 May 2016 07:03 )

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