For the past several years, Monarch Watch has operated a Milkweed distribution program designed to get native Milkweeds back out into the landscape where they belong, and into the hands of people who recognize their value and will care for them.
The program is underwritten by grant money, to make the native Milkweeds as affordable as possible for everyone. Monarch Watch is lucky to break even in a given year, and usually operates the program at a loss. This is definitely not a money maker for them! They do it because they believe it’s important. Monarchs need Milkweeds because their caterpillars can only eat Milkweeds (and their super close Milkweed relatives). Too much habitat has been lost nationwide, and it needs to be replaced. Whether you have an urban small yard or large acreage, they have milkweeds for you. Restorations over 2 acres might even qualify for free milkweeds under one of their programs.
Growers distributed around the country grow the plants from regionally appropriate seeds that Monarch Watch collects and provides to them. I personally picked and cleaned the seed for a big swath of Texas. The growers then do their part and ship whole flats of Milkweed starts directly to people who place orders. Shipping time for Texas is RIGHT NOW!
Each year, Monarch Watch’s founder, Dr. Chip Taylor, has to guess how many milkweeds to pay growers to produce for each region– based on previous sales trends, regional interest, and a “gut feel” factor. This year, nobody could have predicted the impact of a coronavirus on our economy and shopping habits. The milkweeds were planted long before it was obvious that we’d see big disruptions from Covid-19. Many years, these plants sell out and orders must be turned away. Not this year! For the Texas regions, Chip is expecting a huge oversupply of Milkweed starts. In response, prices have been slashed to rock bottom “at cost” pricing.
These are great plants that deserve great homes, and you don’t even need to leave your house to go get them. They’ll be shipped directly to your doorstep in 50-count flats. Each plant is just old enough to transplant well, with the beginnings of a taproot already started. What you do with them once they arrive is up to you. You can plant them on your own land, plant with permission in city parks, pass them out to friends, pot them up to use at fall plant sales, give them to your local Master Gardeners or Master Naturalist chapter, share with a garden club or Native Plant Society chapter, ask a local farmer if you can place them along the fence line, or grow them up to sell on your own. It won’t be hard to find some people who are willing to share the costs at $2 per plant.
The species being sold for Texas are Green Milkweed (Asclepias viridis), and Antelope Horns Milkweed (Asclepias asperula). Both make great garden plants and are suited to the rigors of life in the wild. Green Milkweed tolerates wet soils better than Antelope Horns, which requires good drainage. Both will take heat, drought, and full sun, going dormant when it just gets too hot, too cold, or too dry. Both have big taproots, so just stay put where you place them. They don’t spread sideways like some other milkweeds do.
Green Milkweed grows taller, but still usually tops out at less than two feet tall.
Antelope Horns tends to lie down more if grown in full sun and make a flat circle on the ground, or a low mound.
If you can’t purchase and use milkweeds this year, consider making a donation to Monarch Watch to help offset the losses from the growing program. The growers will need to be paid no matter how much Monarch Watch expects to lose. They have greenhouse workers to pay for work already done. It’s going to be a tough year for many of us, but most of us could afford a quarter flat. Find three friends, and start improving four habitats this week. You’ll be amazed at the butterfly party in your own landscape.
At the very least, please let your circle of friends know that Monarch Watch has Milkweeds to distribute, and orders must be placed soon or plants will go to waste.
You can order your flat on the Monarch Watch Milkweed Market page.
In the coming weeks, I’ll be doing some Milkweed species profiles in this blog space, so you can see how many other species use these durable and beautiful plants.
Great plants like these need great homes. Could you, would you, be one?