Yesterday kicked off the first day of spring, which in my mind always signals the return of blooming flowers, chirping birds, and butterflies fluttering everywhere. Aside from helping pollinate wildflowers, I love seeing butterflies every year because they make gardens look so much more magical and full of life. Monarchs are one of my all-time favorites because of their huge, unmistakable black and orange wings. One of the most effective ways to attract more monarch butterflies in your garden is to plant milkweed, and organizations dedicated to their conservation will sometimes send the seeds to gardeners at no charge. Some butterfly and garden enthusiasts have even taken it upon themselves to make accessing the seeds easy for everyone.
A man in Omaha, Bob Gittins, took on a huge role in trying to save the monarchs. According to the Omaha World-Herald, after having trouble finding milkweed plants in stores, Gittins started buying the seeds in bulk from the Save Our Monarchs Foundation in Minnesota. Now, he’s helping other gardeners by giving away the seeds for free. Last year, he sent out 1,500 seed packets.
How to Get Free Milkweed Seeds
If you'd like to sprinkle some pollinator seeds in your yard and take advantage of the free seeds, all you need to do is drop a self-addressed, stamped envelope in the mail to: Nebraska Monarchs, P.O. BOX 642061, Omaha, NE 68164. Gittins will send back milkweed seeds as soon as he can so you get them in the ground.
I found an organization, Live Monarch Foundation, that also offers free seeds. If you mail a self-addressed, stamped envelope to Live Monarch - 2020 Seed Campaign, PO BOX 1339, Blairsville, GA 30514, the foundation will send back 15 butterfly garden seeds, including milkweed, for free. If you include a donation for the foundation along with your envelope, they’ll provide you with 50 seeds for every dollar you donate.
Common Milkweed Varieties
Typically, Live Monarch Foundation has several varieties of seeds, and they’ll give you seeds that are native to your region. They have a few different hardy varieties of this perennial, including Asclepias syriaca (common milkweed) and Asclepias speciosa (showy milkweed), which can both survive freezing winters after the growing season ends. The foundation also has Asclepias curassavica (tropical milkweed), which grows well in Southern states like Florida, Louisiana, and Texas.
Monarch butterflies lay their eggs on milkweed, and when they hatch, it's the only plant the caterpillars will eat. That's what makes it so crucial for helping the next generation hatch each season. And with the monarch population declining, it's more important now than ever before for us to do our part to help these pollinators rebound.
How to Plant Milkweed Seeds
If you get milkweed seeds for your garden, you can start them indoors right now. Growing the plants inside for a few months gives them extra time to mature before transplanting outside. Then, plant the sprouts outside after the last spring frost in your region. In the fall, simply scatter the seeds outdoors; they won’t germinate until they’ve been exposed to freezing temperatures and won’t sprout until next spring. If you're interested in purchasing your own seeds to start, you could also purchase a collection of 40 Prairie Milkweed Seeds, $2.50, at Walmart.
While the monarch butterfly population won’t recover overnight, home gardeners all across the country can do our part to help just by including a few milkweed plants our their yards. Look for them as you’re planning your garden this year, or mail in an envelope to get a few seeds for free. In addition to milkweed, adult monarchs also love nectar-rich plants like lantana, rudbeckia, and yarrow, so you can beautify your garden and help butterflies at the same time!