Need some tips on planting Milkweeds for Monarchs
I am a member of a garden club in NY and we are trying to find ways to support Monarchs (and other pollinators). We are working to prevent town mowers from taking down the milkweed in areas through the town and we thought we could plant milkweed in other areas. Other than initial care while they are taking root and through the hot months of their first year, do you think milkweed plantings would need much follow up care? Would there be companion plantings we could do while we were at it?
Great to hear about your plans to help Monarchs and other pollinators!
There are many species of Milkweeds. I suggest trying different ones, and siting them according to their preferences. By example, Butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa) likes full sun in very well drained, infertile soil. Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) prefers moist, more fertile soil, in full sun. It will also do well in average garden soil. Tall Milkweed (Asclepias exaltata) is more of an edge of the woods species, and likes moist soil in part sun to part shade.
Unless you have a planting area with high invasive plant pressure, I would avoid planting Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) which can be a bit of a thug. A great, more well-behaved alternative would be Asclepias purpurascens (Purple Milkweed) which is similar in appearance and does quite well in full sun with average to dryish soil.
There are many companion plants to include in your plantings, depending on the site:
For moist conditions in full sun, consider any of our native Joe Pye-weeds (Eupatoriadelphus and Eutrochium species), New York Ironweed (Vernonia noveborascencis), False aster (Boltonia asteroides), Marsh Blazing Star (Liatris spicata), Bee Balm (Monarda didyma), Obdedient Plant (Physostegia virginiana), New York Aster (Symphyotrichum novi-belgii) et al.
For dry conditions in full sun, try Golden Aster (Chrysopsis species), Rattlesnake Master (Eryngium yuccifolium), Northern Blazing Star (Liatris scariosa), Northeastern Beardtongue (Penstemon hirsutus), Showy Goldenrod (Solidago speciosa), Common Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum virginianum), Gray-headed Coneflower (Ratibida pinnata), etc.
If you want to create more of a meadow or meadowscape, factor in about 50% native grasses to the planting. This will add more structure above and below ground and have additional ecological benefits. Many of our native grasses and sedges are host plants for some butterfly species, provide seeds for birds, and habitat for other wildlife, including some beneficial insects.
With any plant, even native plants, you need to make sure that they get enough water to establish their roots. So, ideally, it’s you or Mother Nature watering in well, twice a week for the first growing season. If you are planting in fall, you can get away with less irrigation. With regard to maintenance, do some weeding around the new plants to give them a chance to establish. Keep the native plants standing through the winter to provide habitat and seed for wildlife, and cut them back in early spring. If you decide to do a real meadow, there are some additional steps – a great “how to” resource on meadows is Catherine Zimmerman’s book and video on meadows.
Good luck with your planting. Let me know how it goes and send me some photos.
Kim Eierman at EcoBeneficial!
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