When you plant a butterfly garden, you feel good. You know you are helping pollinators of all kinds even as you focus on butterflies for their beauty and incredible natural history. If you are careful in selecting nectar and host plants, a butterfly garden can be easy to maintain. But, to have a
, you need to plant
milkweeds. Monarch Rescue
Once you figure out what milkweed to plant and where and how to plant them, you think the hard part is done, and watering may be your only concern. It never occurred to me that a plant with the word "weed" in its name would need any special care.
THEN, the pests arrive. Nobody told me about the milkweed's pests before I planted. These pests are disgusting! It's as if the milkweed has said to the world. "Yes, I will feed the babies of the beautiful monarch, but I won't stop there. I will feed some of the world's ugliest critters, too.. And some of those ugly critters will threaten the monarch's eggs. I won't decide between them. I'll let them figure it out for themselves."
So, last year I discovered the Milkweed Bug. This is a bug that needs the milkweed to survive just as much as the Monarch does. It doesn't look so bad until you see its babies oozing out of the milkweed's seed pod. (see the picture).
They eat the seeds, and as they grow they suck the leaves. In large numbers they can take nutrients away from monarch caterpillars, and they are just plain ugly in huge numbers.
Then come the aphids. These orange critters crowd the stems of milkweed plants. They are bad for monarchs because they eat monarch eggs laid on the plant's leaves, and monarchs will avoid any milkweed that contains them. They also look disgusting and slimy. And the plant just wither under their influence..
Now, you are monarch rescue gardeners. You must grow milkweeds. If I were you, I would be thinking about how to engage my students or volunteers in a project to examine and "study" the pests of the milkweed, by searching your milkweed plants each day. You could even reward the first student who finds an aphid or milkweed bug with a candy bar. Maybe the teacher-leader has to think of her/himself as a bit of a Tom Sawyer. Get those students to beg to clean the milkweed plants of pests. (Now, how can I get my grandchildren to become milkweed cleaners? Snickers or M&Ms? )