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Building a butterfly habitat: How to plant milkweed

NOW: Building a butterfly habitat: How to plant milkweed

Friday, IUSB partnered with Potawatomi Zoo to plant new habitat for butterflies. Monarch butterflies have lost 90% of their population in the past twenty years. Monarchs rely on milkweed to lay their eggs while they are on their spring and summer migration north, and there is a shortage of milkweed in the migration zones. If you would like to help the Monarchs, you can plant milkweed in your very own butterfly garden.

Here are the steps to take at home, as told by Patty Fowler, who is a master gardener with St. Joseph Valley Master Gardeners.

1. Start out by picking your plant. You'll do this at a native plant nursery or greenhouse. You want to pick a species of milkweed that survives well in the soil, moisture and sun conditions that you plan to plant it in. The milkweed plant will specify these needs on it's label.

2. Planting with seeds can be difficult because they require different periods of cold weather. It's recommended that you buy a milkweed plant that has already started to grow, whether small with little sprouts or large with stalks and leaves.

3. After you pick a good spot, dig a deep enough hole that the roots are completely covered to the base of the stem. If you are planting a younger plant, use the pot as an estimator for depth. (see video)

4. Water the plant consistently and even use a root stimulator.

They will grow and start to bloom depending on weather, but usually in May once there has been enough warmth and sun! If it’s your second year with milkweed, remember that they tend to rise later than other plants. It is good to label where the milkweed is planted so that you do not accidentally injure the plants roots while gardening.

Fowler highly recommends doing a soil test before planting anything. This will determine which type of milkweed plant will grow best in your garden. Planting the wrong type could inhibit your milkweed from growing healthy and strong for the butterflies. 

Common milkweed is most preferred by monarchs, and you can easily put it in the back of your garden and let it grow with no worries.

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