Habitat & Conservation  |  04/10/2020

How to Grow Milkweed and Help Monarch Butterflies


By Drew Larsen, Director of Education & Outreach for Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever

As the eastern population of monarch butterflies continues to decrease, we all have a role to play in creating habitat for this important species. According to World Wildlife Fund Mexico, the 2019-20 overwintering population of Eastern monarch butterflies decreased 53% from the previous year. This came as unwelcome news to the conservation community as we were all hopeful after an increase in the Eastern monarch population in 2018-2019.

While much of the focus on habitat development for the monarch butterfly has been in the agricultural sector, the urban sector can also play an important role in conserving the monarch butterfly. According to the Field Museum of Chicago, urban and suburban communities have the potential to add 480 million milkweed stems to the landscape in the Eastern monarch butterfly migratory range.

Research has also shown that small non-clustered habitat projects that contain milkweed are as beneficial to the monarch as large-scale habitat projects.

As many of us are stuck at home this spring to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, now is a perfect time to engage the family in growing and planting milkweed to benefit the monarch butterfly and other important pollinating insects. I think you will be surprised on how easy and educational this project can be for the entire family.



Here is a 10-step guide to growing and planting native plants for your backyard habitat project:

  • Step 1: Purchase Your Supplies
  • Step 2: Cold Stratify Your Seed (if it is not already)
    • Spread your seeds on a wet paper towel and place in a zip lock bag
    • Place the zip lock bag in the freezer for at least two weeks
  • Step 3: Plant Your Seeds
    • Fill your planting pots with seed started soil
    • Sprinkle your seeds on top of the soil and water thoroughly
  • Step 4: Grow Your Plants Inside
    • Place your planting pots near a window (south facing windows are best)
    • Water your plants daily
    • You will need to grow your plants for at least two months before planting them outside
  • Step 5: Select a Site for Planting the Plants in Your Backyard
    • Site must get at least 6 (or more) hours of direct sun a day
  • Step 6: Prepare Your Site for Planting
    • Remove all existing vegetation from your planting site using one of the following methods:
      • Manually remove all existing vegetation (tilling)
      • Herbicide (Round-Up)
      • Solarization – covering the ground with clear plastic for an extended period of time
  • Step 7: Plant Your Plants
    • Transplant your plants from the planting pots to the location of your native garden
  • Step 8: Maintain Your Native Garden
    • Water your garden
    • Manually remove any weeds that show up in your garden
  • Step 9: Enjoy Your Garden
    • Keep track of the different species of insects and butterflies that visit your native garden.
    • The milkweed will bring the monarchs!
  • Step 10: Share your planting day!
    • Share your planting day and encourage others to plant pollinator habitat by tagging us on social media using: #pheasantsforever and #quailforever.