• Jessica Morgan McAtee

Devoured Milkweed?

More people are discovering how easy and rewarding it is to raise Monarchs, but there are some common challenges.





During the growing season, when it is warm outside and Monarchs fill the air, they will likely fill your Milkweeds with caterpillars. They are relentless eaters.


Your plants will have No Vacancy.





Eventually, you will run out of leaves. You may panic because your babies are starving. You may consider yourself a failure of a parent and begin to lose sleep over it.


In the beginning, most new Monarch parents rush out to the store to purchase more Milkweed. This is a viable solution, but an expensive one that is not sustainable! Sometimes, you will not be able to keep up with feeding all of your caterpillars and some may starve.


Butterfly gardeners share their abundance in online groups and give their babies to someone who still has leaves, but this too can get tiresome and time consuming.


Luckily plants can be propagated with little effort and no cost!


Milkweeds grow from cuttings, so what I do is cut the sticks down to about 5” tall and stick the part I cut right back into the ground. Keep them watered and soon new leaves will form. Some people root them in water first, but I don't find that necessary in the hot, humid, wet south Florida landscape.


Or...


Many Milkweed plants make seed pods. If nature is left to her own course, those pods will open and seeds will be dispersed by wind, thanks to the feathery silk sails they have. We can gather those seeds rather than let them fly away. Then replant them if your area’s growing season is still in effect. Keep them watered and soon you will have new plants.


Or...


There are native Milkweeds in the great outdoors so you may be able to obtain some from local roadside ditches, vacant lots or natural areas to help supplement your stock. Either dig them up, collect seeds or snip cuttings. I get lots of Milkweed this way, but make sure you aren't trespassing or taking plants from protected areas.


For yet another solution, consider a more substantial type of Milkweed. Some species are more substantial than others. Giant Milkweed has thicker leaves than Tropical Milkweed and so it takes caterpillars much longer to eat it down. Plus, the plant typically gets much larger, thus the name Giant, and therefore it can support many more caterpillars in Florida gardens.


Mine is taller than my house and I have more in other locations that I grew from cuttings.



It is best to trim back any non-native milkweeds in south Florida during the winter months. This will help them come back with a burst in spring, but more importantly, it can discourage monarchs from laying eggs in what is typically a dormant season for them.


Finally, you could just let nature take its course. In the wild, it is not uncommon for caterpillars to simply run out of food. Don't forget that they have been reproducing without human help for a really long time, even before you were born!


This is a modified excerpt from my book Raising Monarch Butterflies In Your Garden.

Thanks for taking the time to read it! -Jessica



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