The Milkweed Ecosystem

These are some pictures taken by one of our Master Gardeners, Lisa LaRue, back in mid-August. We always love our butterfly and pollinator bed because it is beautiful and beneficial to the environment of our garden. These pictures take a closer look at everything that is going on in that garden.

44625915202_b52652e825Of course, this is one of the things we are hoping to see when we plant milkweed in our garden. Lots of happy, monarch caterpillars munching their way through life.

43766023875_3ca52f18e3What many people planting milkweed don’t realize is that you can get a whole bunch of other insects as part of the bargain. It is very common – and completely normal – for milkweed to be just coated with bright orange aphids during the summer. They also will often get milkweed bugs (the black and orange bugs pictured). So…what to do? The thing is that you can’t spray anything without causing harm to the caterpillars you are trying to encourage. The good news is that the aphids and milkweed bugs are really not causing any harm to the milkweed, or anything else in the garden. By this point (a month later), the aphids are completely gone and no harm was done.

29737327267_965959af87_zThe other benefit of leaving those aphids where they are is that they provide a food source for hungry ladybugs. The hoards of aphids are a feast for ladybugs, and by letting the aphids stay on a plant that isn’t being hurt and that really doesn’t matter for anything other than looking nice and feeding caterpillars/butterflies, you are actually “farming” more ladybugs for the rest of your garden. This picture shows two ladybug pupa (the stage between the larvae and the adults) on the milkweed.

This is how ecological gardening is supposed to work, and a great example of how lots of diversity in your garden is beneficial. We certainly aren’t eating the milkweed, and if you were strictly focused on what you could harvest from the garden to eat, it would seem like a waste of space. But by growing something that benefits our beneficial insects, we now have a higher population of ladybugs in the garden for when there are aphids on something we DO want to eat.

43766024035_d54d486668_zThis has nothing to do with the rest of the post, but I wanted to show the swallowtail chrysalis just for fun. We have had a great time this fall finding all the places that both the swallowtail and monarch caterpillars go to make their chrysalis!

About Rebecca

I'm a Horticulture Educator with Sedgwick County Extension, a branch of K-State Research and Extension, located in Wichita, KS. I teach about fruits, vegetables, and herbs.

Posted on September 14, 2018, in Around the Garden, Insects Abound! and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. What kind of milkweed is that? I haven’t had any success from seed in growing it….

  2. Most of it is a variety called ‘Silky Gold’ butterfly milkweed. I would have to look up the species name. We buy ours as seedlings because milkweed can be extremely difficult to start from seed.

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