Plant This Now: Milkweed For Migrating Monarchs

With the first hints of cooler weather, monarchs are beginning their migration– the only butterflies of some 20,000 species worldwide to do so. As they cannot endure the cold Northeast winters, monarchs east of the Rockies head to the Sierra Madre mountains of Mexico around this time of year, and those to the West head further West to California and Baja Mexico, where both groups stay from October to March. Come springtime, a new generation of butterflies journey back North and East, completing the cycle.

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While what signals to monarchs where they should go and how to get there remains something of a scientific anomaly, scientists do know that monarchs need plenty of sustenance and rest along the way. After all, wouldn’t you, if you were traveling 50 to 100 miles a day for two months on an almost 3,000-mile journey? (It’s tiring just to read about it…)

Planting things like nettle and clover will help create a generally butterfly-friendly garden, but monarchs need one plant specifically: milkweed, a stick-straight plant with circular bundles of flowers in various shades of pink and white. Milkweed is a relatively easy plant to care for, just set it up in a spot with well-drained soil and full sun. (When transplanting, just be careful of sap getting on your skin or eyes, as it can cause irritation.) Try surrounding your milkweed with other monarch-specific plants like chives, to further attract monarchs to the area. Native wildflowers are also always a safe bet if you’re not sure what else to plant.

If you can’t get a hold of seedlings in time or if you want to sprout your own seeds, you can always hang on to your milkweed for next year, when monarchs make their seasonal journey back. Otherwise, you can look for milkweed growing wild in local parks, and if you happen to see any monarch butterflies, report your sightings. With their vivid orange wings, we can think of no better emblem for Fall– so make sure you get out and celebrate the season!

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