female monarch finds Red-spread lantana to be a
good source of nectar.
the southward butterfly migration is just beginning, we
are already having a banner monarch season in Savannah,
Ga., and elsewhere in the South compared to recent
years. For this we are most happy and hoping everyone
starts to see this trend. Our spring and summer growing
season was superb.
was no missing the bright orange native butterfly weeds
as you drove across the South. They stood out like
blazing lanterns in patches along the roadside. This
species known as Asclepias tuberosa is native from zones
3 to 10, and hopefully you saw some in your area. This
is just one of several milkweed species that are the
lifeblood of the Monarch butterfly.
are they the lifeblood? This is the only species on
which the monarch lays her eggs and which the colorful
caterpillars then feed. Don’t let the weed name deter
you. The orange flowers will certainly enhance the
landscape, but watching the life cycle of the monarch
that follows is something that the whole family will
the Monarchs come to feast on the nectar, you may not
even notice them laying eggs. The resulting caterpillars
seem to be starving creatures literally stripping the
leaves and flowers, making the plant look like a pencil
caterpillars will grow from tiny to huge in what seems
like days. Then about the time you think the plant is
dead, new growth will appear and soon you’ll notice
even more butterflies. Congratulations: You’re a proud
parent. While these milkweed species are so important as
a larval food sources you will also notice other
butterflies and even hummingbirds feasting on the
year at the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens in
Savannah, we planted several dozen plants representing
four different milkweed species. We plan on increasing
this as we develop a true butterfly garden. We combined
them with good pollinator plants like agastache or anise
hyssop, salvias and lantanas. Daily we see visitors out
photographing butterflies of all sorts, but especially
monarchs and their caterpillars.
your garden center doesn’t have butterfly weed plants
for sale or other milkweed species, they may have seed
packets. You can also collect seeds from plants this
time of the year. Watch closely because the seedpods
will split open as they mature, and the seeds will
become airborne. Ours are flying about as we speak.
Transplanting from the wild is not recommended because
they have long taproots and because our wild areas need
to keep them. Collect seeds from your friends or gardens
that might allow this kind of access.
from seed is simple: The small seeds should be lightly
covered with soil that is kept moist until germination.
Once planted in the garden, they are considered
drought-tolerant and should be watered sparingly but
deeply when needed. Fertilizer needs are low — just
give them a light application in the spring with the
emergence of new growth.
you see caterpillars feeding, remember not to spray an
insecticide. Instead think of this as a backyard
wildlife habitat. Better yet create a butterfly garden,
and get certified with the North American Butterfly
Association. You’ll be the coolest garden around with
an official Certified Butterfly Garden sign.
it or not, there are named selections of the butterfly
weed. Gay Butterflies (orange, red and yellow mixed),
Orange Flame (orange), Vermillion (red) and Hello Yellow
(yellow) are the leading selections.
a little searching you will also find there are several
varieties of of Aslepias incarnata or swamp milkweed for
sale. This butterfly magnet comes in pinks, reds and
whites. We planted Soulmate with cherry pink flowers,
but keep your eyes open for Ice Ballet and Cinderella.
you live there are native milkweed species you can grow.
Start your search now to be ready for spring. In the
South, where our growing season is long, we can still
plant to create a fall butterfly garden. You’ll be
doubly happy with plants that not only are beautiful,
but serve as a larval food source for monarch
butterflies while providing nectar as well.