Once you simplify your garden, you trade the tasks of dividing, fertilizing and deadheading perennials for lower maintenance. Visually, you switch from the kaleidoscope of color created by flowers for larger masses of low maintenance shrubs and flowering trees.
What’s great is that your garden is now easier to take care of, relieving stress, building new neural connections in the brain, and evoking past memories.
What’s not so great is that you’ve heard about the global losses of Monarch butterflies, honeybees, and other insects. You want to help reverse these losses.
Don’t give up. Go for containers of monarch-hosting plants! You can do a great deal to help using container gardens and raised beds on porches and patios. It’s worth educating yourself on what to do.
First, you’ll discover that milkweeds are the plants that butterflies love for egg-laying and caterpillar nibbling. There are 140 kinds of milkweeds in the Unites States, so find out what to grow. Don’t get sucked in by plants blooming at the big box stores or gaudy photos in garden catalogs. Talk with knowledgeable people at local plant sales, botanic gardens, even the entomology department at a nearby college. Get the right plant for the right place.
Here are a couple of problems with grabbing the first plant you see.
In their hurry to do good, some people are planting scarlet or tropical milkweed, for example, in areas where it is not native. Because this milkweed grows over a long season and can overwinter outside in zones 8-11, it’s available for butterflies almost year-round. But continuous butterfly breeding can lead to infections with parasites on the milkweed that can kill the butterflies. If you want to grow this one, cut it back several times during the growing season to encourage fresh leaves, and cut it to the ground in winter.
A second problem is accepting milkweed gifts from neighbors. In much of the country, a milkweed vine called honeyvine or bluevine is a noxious weed. It is aggressive, invasive and can out-compete field cropssuch as soybeans in farming areas. Because it is a native milkweed, it is a good host plant for monarch butterfly larvae. But it’s not controllable, even in a container. The milkweed pods spring open when the seeds are ready, and the fluffy silk attached to each pod allows the wind to spread widely. Avoid this one.
So what can milkweeds can you grow to help monarchs to keep making little caterpillars? Here’s where learning Latin names for plants and understanding plant families can come in.
Seek out some of the other 140 species. Great ones are purple milkweed and swamp milkweed. In Texas, we also have white milkweed and less familiar plants that support monarchs. Notice the wildflower called antelope horn and the tiny climbing plants called pearl milkweed vine and purple milkweed vine. All of those are happy to host and feed monarch offspring.
If you’d rather have more flowers and fewer chewed leaves in your containers, try daisy-like native flowers instead of milkweeds. Bright bloomers like gaillardia and Mexican hat and offer nectar to those hungry monarchs all summer.