Monarch Butterflies: Help On the Farm and In the Garden

Milkweed resources for the farmer and the home gardener.

Garden-Worthy Milkweeds

Monarch larvae feed on milkweed.

Monarch larvae feed on milkweed.

The great news for gardeners is that milkweed is not just a weed. It is a showy group of largely perennial plants that bloom in summer in shades of orange, pink, purple and white. Beware, though, some varieties have better manners than others.

Choose wisely and rejoice when you see caterpillars on your plants! Let them eat their fill. Monarchs and milkweeds have worked out this relationship over centuries. The butterfly helps pollinate the milkweed (along with many other insects), and the milkweed repays the favor by feeding the monarch young. That’s how nature gets the job done.

Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) blooms in a showy orange cluster. Of the temperate milkweeds, this is the most popular for gardens because it thrives in normal to dry soil. It is available as a yellow form called ‘Hello Yellow.’ It grows 1 1/2 to 2 ft. tall.

Swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) is usually found blooming pink in soils that are a problem for many plants. They like their roots wet or occasionally flooded. A white form is called ‘Ice Ballet’. Plants grow 2 to 5 ft. tall.

Purple milkweed (Asclepias purpurescens) holds vivid pink-purple flowers in late spring against deep green foliage in normal garden soil. It reaches 2 to 3 ft. tall.

For additional milkweed varieties that grow well in the U.S., see this list of native milkweed by state:

In Canada, see:

Additional Resources


Click here for more about STRIPS (Science-based Trials of Row-crops Integrated with Prairie Strips).

<< Read the full story, “Monarchs and Milkweed”