Tips for Monarchs and Milkweed
Vol. 21 Issue 3, Summer 2016
By the Audubon at Home Ambassadors
Now, for the first time in its history, gardening has taken on a role that transcends the needs of the gardener. Like it or not, gardeners have become important players in the management of our nation’s wildlife. It is now within the power of individual gardeners to do something that we all dream of doing: to make a difference.
Doug Tallamy, Bringing Nature Home
While developing your Monarch waystation by expanding the space for milkweed plants essential for monarch reproduction, you should not forget the importance of nectar plants that provide food and fuel for monarchs and other pollinators. These splashes of color are beacons calling Monarch butterflies in for a much needed drink of nectar. The colors Monarchs seem to be most attracted to are red, orange, yellow and purple. You can create these bursts of color and nutrition by choosing several different native plants (usually from 5-7 of each) from the list of the Monarchs’ top 15 plants. Be sure to include asters and goldenrods, as they help build the Monarchs’ fat stores for the long journey to Mexico and to sustain them over long winter months. Remember that no matter how much milkweed you have, without nectar plants it is unlikely you will get any Monarchs.
Your milkweed plants may have lots of visitors besides Monarchs. Research now shows over 450 different species of insects use milkweed for nectaring, food and/or shelter. Most of these are completely harmless to plants and caterpillars. One you might see frequently is the red and black Large Milkweed Bug (Oncopeitus faciatus), which eats only seeds of the plant. The Small Milkweed Bug (Lygaeus kalmia), also red and black, prefers seeds as well, but will eat other parts of the plant until seeds are available.
Two other possible milkweed visitors are bright yellow Oleander Aphids (Aphis nerii) and Milkweed Tussock Moth caterpillars (Euchates egle). Oleander Aphids appear early in the season to suck juices found in buds, new shoots and foliage. They secrete a fluid that may cause leaves to look black. They have two predators to help keep them in check, the parasitic wasp and Ladybug beetles. If you are concerned about having large numbers of aphids on your milkweed you can carefully check for Monarch eggs or first instar caterpillars (very carefully, they are tiny!) then spray with water to knock off the aphids. Another method is to knock off aphids with a small brush. The Milkweed Tussock Moth caterpillar generally appears in late summer. These moths typically feed on older milkweed plants, so unless your milkweed is very limited in supply, there’s no need to do anything about them.
Monarch Waystations: https://loudounwildlife.org/2017/03/monarch-waystations/
The Importance of Nectar by Dr. Chip Taylor: http://www.learner.org/jnorth/tm/monarch/nectar_lipid_graph.html