How to Grow Milkweed (Don't Make This Mistake)

There are 140 species of milkweed, but only a quarter of them are known to be important host plants for monarchs and even less are available commercially for planting.

How can you help these butterflies along the way? By growing your own milkweed—but more importantly, the right kind of milkweed.

Many people make this one common mistake when they buy milkweed plants for their garden—and inadvertently do more harm than good.

Choosing the right milkweed for your garden

Planting non-native milkweed is a common mistake that many people make.

It’s not by any fault of their own, however: One of the most popular (and non-native) milkweed species, Asclepias curassavica or tropical milkweed, is widely sold in nurseries. It’s also been found to do more harm than good.

When grown in warm climates where the plants don’t die back, the year-round tropical milkweed encourages monarch butterflies to overwinter in the Southern United States rather than continue their migration to Mexico.

By hatching and feeding on tropical milkweed, caterpillars have an increased chance of being infected with a protozoan parasite called Ophryocystis elektroscirrha (OE), which weakens them as adults.

OE is found in all species of milkweed, but isn’t a problem with natives because the leaves are only desirable to caterpillars in the early stages of growth. Once the plant goes dormant in winter and loses its leaves, OE is no longer a threat.

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