Attracting more butterflies to your yard is a beautiful way to help support our pollinators. Milkweed is a butterfly-friendly plant, and now free milkweed seeds are available to those who need them.
When we started growing vegetables and citrus trees, we planted milkweed, zinnias, and other nectar-rich plants nearby to help attract bees and butterflies. These flowers are not only bright and pretty, their nectar attracts native insects to pollinate all of the plants around them. It helps ensure a better crop, and it’s great for bio-diversity in your area.
It also turns out that it’s extremely necessary.
How You Can Help the Monarch Butterfly Population
The monarch is considered an endangered species, with the monarch population declining more than 95% since the 1980s, according to counts at overwintering sites in California and Mexico.
Many cities now use more native plants in landscaping and sew wildflower seeds along highways. We can all multiply the effects by planting our own butterfly gardens. That’s exactly what some individuals and organizations have set out to encourage.
How to Get Free Milkweed Seeds
The great thing about growing milkweed is – once it’s established, it spreads and you can share it. So if you already have pollinator friendly plants, you may be able to collect the seeds or propagate new plants from cuttings. Or if you have a friend or neighbor with milkweed, ask for some seeds or starts. They’ll probably be happy to share.
If you don’t have access to existing plants, you can often buy milkweed at your local nursery, garden center, or home improvement store. You can also order milkweed online from dozens of great organic and non GMO seed sources like Whitwam Organics, Eden Brothers, or Fruition Seeds.
Buying seeds may not be in everyone’s budget. If you need help or if you’re an educator working on a school or community program, free milkweed seeds are available. Here are a few places to get them:
After having trouble finding milkweed plants in stores, Omaha native Bob Gittins started buying seeds in bulk from Minnesota’s Save Our Monarchs Foundation. Now, he gives away the seeds for free. Last year, he sent out 1,500 seed packets.
To take advantage of the free pollinator seeds, you can mail a self-addressed, stamped envelope to:
P.O. BOX 642061
Omaha, NE 68164
You can also donate to support the amazing work Bob and his team are doing at Nebraska Monarchs.
The Live Monarch Foundation
The Georgia based Live Monarch Education Foundation, also offers free milkweed seeds. If you mail a self-addressed, stamped envelope to the Live Monarch Seed Campaign, you’ll receive 15 butterfly garden seeds, including milkweed, for free.
If you include a donation for the foundation, they’ll send 40+ seeds for every dollar you donate. Your donation helps to offset the cost of providing free seeds to other and planting countless milkweed plants at schools and other public places.
Send your envelope with postage to:
Live Monarch Foundation – 2022 Seed Campaign
PO BOX 1339
Blairsville, GA 30514
The Live Monarch Foundation includes this disclaimer about people who should get the free milkweed seeds:
“Our program is intended for kids, educators, and people that are having struggles. Please take this to heart.” They recommend those who can afford it should review the seed pack page to use as gifts.
So, you might consider placing an order for a bigger packet of seeds or starter milkweed plants.
Common Milkweed Varieties
With several varieties of seeds, Live Monarch will send 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. (source)
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 From Seeds
Here’s how to get your new seeds going.
- For spring planting, start the seeds indoors in early spring. This makes a great first day of spring activity especially with kids. Starting seeds inside gives them extra time to mature before transplanting outside. After the last spring frost, you can move the sprouts outside.
- For fall planting, simply scatter the seeds in your desired area outside. The seeds won’t germinate until they’ve been exposed to freezing temperatures and then will be ready to sprout next spring.
- Be sure to water and monitor regularly until they get established.
- Don’t use pesticides on or near your butterfly garden. And don’t plant anything nearby that has been treated with neonicotinoids. These can kill (or at the very least ward off) bees and some other pollinators.
Planting milkweed or nectar plant seeds provides essential elements of butterfly habitat: food, water, cover and a place for adult monarchs to raise their young. Add a water source, such as a birdbath filled with pebbles or mud for pollinators to land upon to get a drink.
Why You Should Plant a Diverse Pollinator Garden
Milkweed shouldn’t be your only pollinator garden plant. Previously, experts thought milkweed-only gardens would make pollinating easier for butterflies.
Researchers from the University of Florida hypothesized that milkweed-only gardens would attract and support larger populations of monarchs. They assumed an isolated, bright patch of milkweed would be more visible to the butterflies and feared that a variety of wildflowers would attract more monarch predators.
But that wasn’t the case.
Their study found not only did monarch butterflies lay 22% more eggs on milkweed stems in diverse flower gardens, but there was no increase in predators and parasites.
For the study, the researchers compared mono-crop gardens of swamp milkweed to mixed patches planted with swamp milkweed, aquatic milkweed, dense blazing star, swamp sunflower and scarlet rosemallow.
“Contrary to our prediction, we demonstrate that swamp milkweed plantings surrounded by other native wildflower species are colonized by monarchs more than swamp milkweed plantings surrounded by other swamp milkweed,” explained entomologist and lead study author Rebecca Nestle.
Here’s a comprehensive list of plants that can help attract butterflies to your yard. Butterflies and hummingbirds instinctively avoid pesticides, so if anything in your garden needs treatment, make sure it’s a natural or organic intervention.
Butterfly Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa)
Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)
Sunflower (Helianthus spp.)
Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)
Swamp Verbena (Verbena hastata)
Tall Verbena (Verbena bonariensis)
Little Bluestem Grass
If possible, plant your free milkweed seeds in a place you love to spend time. Second best is to plant them near the window you look out most often. It’s nice to experience that little burst of joy or relaxation that comes from seeing a butterfly or hummingbird flitting about just outside your window.