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Article: Milkweeds: which one's for your garden?: Common milkweed: pinch back and grow in

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Forum: Article: Milkweeds: which one's for your garden?Replies: 4, Views: 84
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Dauphin, PA
(Zone 7a)

October 12, 2009
4:47 PM

Post #7161430

My partner and I have protected and cared for monarch caterpillars for many years, in order to teach folks about the need for BOTH nectar plants and host plants for monarch butterflies. He is a school teacher and has presented numerous free programs on milkweed and monarchs to encourage local gardeners to add these host plants to their nectar gardens.

Over the years he has found that common milkweed will grow very well in large garden pots. This is good news to gardeners who love the perfumed flowers and the host plant purpose of common milkweed, but do not want to deal with its fast paced spreading tendency.

Common milkweed also responds exceptionally well to being cut back by half, when the stalks start to drop leaves or have few leaves left due, to monarch caterpillar munching. A mid-summer cutback will allow tender new leaves to form for fresh food for the August/September egg hatchings. Female monarchs also prefer to lay their eggs on the small, tender, new leaves, rather than older leaves. This allows their newly hatched eggs to have the choicest food.

If you cut common milkweed back, check to be sure no eggs or caterpillars are on the plant; and don't cut all your common milkweed plants back at once, least you have no leaves for the current crop of caterpillars.

Attached is a photo of some common milkweed in black plastic nursery pots from this year. Some are encased in an airy "balloon" of white tulle fabric, in order to keep the many insect predators away from defenseless monarch eggs and the chrysalis' before they hatch. The tulle fabric is readily available in fabric stores and using it greatly increases the survival rate of both egg and chrysalis stages of the monarch butterfly.

D. Rudy

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Longwood, FL
(Zone 9b)

October 12, 2009
11:52 PM

Post #7162826

I love the idea of thwarting the predators with tulle. It only took a few years of organic butterfly gardening, centering on Asclepias curassavica, to bring the monarch eating wasps into my yard. I so hate to find out that a wasp has destroyed one of the caterpillars. A DG member suggested that I bring the cats inside the house -- I don't think that will happen anytime soon. But tulle -- I could do that!


Anne Arundel,, MD
(Zone 7b)

October 13, 2009
3:11 AM

Post #7163544

D Roy--Thanks for adding your input- a great addition to the article. I can attest to seeing that monarchs prefer the small young leaves. I find most of mine on the young, late summer growth of common milkweed. I had a bumper crop going, but maybe some wasps came in, they seemed to disappear. So thanks for the tulle tip. I was lucky enough to wach one chrysalis open this year, and have another out there now.
Winston Salem, NC
(Zone 7b)

October 21, 2009
2:23 PM

Post #7193281

Interesting idea to cover parts of the plant with tulle. Do you do that when there are caterpillars on the leaves or just the eggs? I have never seen chrysalises on milkweed; only on other plants or the fence near the milkweed (even on the underside of a patio table).
How does one identify the predator wasp? I had only a few butterflies and caterpillars this year. I hope they did not all succumb to wasps.
Chadds Ford, PA
(Zone 6b)

October 27, 2009
8:35 PM

Post #7214407

I grow milkweed in large pots on the deck also. Years past I would see caterpillars on them, but not this year. I was wondering if the cool wet weather had anything to do with it.
Also, I used to loose a fair amount of caterpillars to predatory wasps and birds. I like the idea of the tulle covering. But do the caterpillars have enough to eat in their little "cottages"?

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