Attracting Butterflies With a Free Milkweed Program

Community member Sandra Williams got her garden club involved in attracting butterflies with free milkweed. Learn how she did it.

A few weeks ago, Birds & Blooms Community member Sandra Williams shared her excitement that her garden club would be receiving free milkweed plants from the Monarch Watch “Bring Back the Monarchs” program. Her plants arrived last week, and the Dig A Bit Garden Club in Eastover, North Carolina quickly got to work creating their new butterfly garden in Tally Woodland Park. I asked Sandra if she’d be willing to share the story of her experience so that other Birds & Blooms readers could learn more about this program, and she graciously agreed. Enjoy her story, and then visit Monarch Watch for more info.

Monarch Watch Milkweed 9

How It Started…

Monarch WatchI have been concerned about the decreasing survival numbers of the monarch butterfly (learn more here), and I knew our Dig A Bit Garden Club should get involved. I had grown tropical milkweed (Asclepias curassavica) for three years by saving seeds. I was very successful in growing new plants from the tropical milkweed seeds, but wanted a bigger variety and more that was native to my area. I wanted to be able to share the story of the monarch and the need for milkweed plants with children as well as adults in our community. After looking for milkweed online I happened upon the Monarch Watch website. I was hooked!

Monarch Watch has a free milkweed program for schools and non-profits, called Bring Back the Monarchs. I filled out the 8-page proposal in hopes that our garden club and our junior garden club could get started on a butterfly garden at Tally Woodland park, which is situated near our community building and an elementary school, making it an ideal place to learn about nature. The required proposal includes a drawing of the proposed garden plot, and questions on where you intend to plant, other plants you will include, and what maintenance will be needed to continue the garden. I was elated to get a reply back that we would be receiving 32 “plugs” of common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) by UPS in about a week!

Our Milkweed Arrived…

The plugs arrived by UPS truck in a cardboard box.

Monarch Watch MilweedSandra Williams
Sandra Williams Milkweed upon arrival

I did not know what to expect , but opened it immediately to  “rescue” these plants, which had been prepared for shipping by snipping the tops. The plants were all pressed horizontally to the side in their pots and a cloth mesh held them down.

Monarch Watch MilkweedSandra Williams
Sandra Williams Milkweed packed for shipping

The plants had to be straightened to make them vertical again.  They were given water and nourishment and taken to a partial shady location to revive some for a few days.

Monarch Watch MilkweedSandra Williams
Sandra Williams Milkweed after unpacking

And So We Planted…

Garden club members gathered to get the butterfly garden started, and the milkweed plants are now enjoying new soil and surroundings as we make our butterfly garden. This list of nectar plants on the Monarch Watch site was a quick reference for us to decide on which plants to also add to our garden. In addition to common milkweed, we added tropical milkweed, coneflowers, ageratums, bee balms, petunias, cleome, and sunflowers in our butterfly garden. We ordered the Monarch Waystation sign from Monarch Watch and will be installing it this week as well. We are already planning an expansion.

Monarch Watch MilkweedSandra Williams
Sandra Williams Prepping the soil
Monarch Watch MilkweedSandra Williams
Sandra Williams L – R C. Dawson, T. Smith, D. Patterson, D. Britt, A. Jones
Monarch Watch MilkweedSandra Williams
Sandra Williams Young gardeners helped too!

In September we will  be receiving the arrival of our monarch rearing kit that we also ordered from Monarch Watch, and will be sharing it with the Junior Garden Clubbers and the local elementary school as we provide information on the monarch and their survival needs. We hope to catch a glimpse of numerous butterflies, and hope that by mid-September the monarchs will find their way to our nectar and milkweed feast in Eastover, North Carolina!

See more photos of the Dig A Bit Garden Club’s butterfly garden planting here.

Sandra used many websites to help her prepare to share information about the endangered monarch butterfly. Here are a few she recommends:

Birds & Blooms also has plenty of information about monarchs and milkweed, including these articles:

Has your local garden club or other group been involved in creating a Monarch Waystation or butterfly garden? Drop by our Community “Bugs and Butterflies” forum to tell your story!

Jill Staake
Jill lives in Tampa, Florida, and writes about gardening, butterflies, outdoor projects and birding. When she's not gardening, you'll find her reading, traveling and happily digging her toes into the sand on the beach.