Living Acres

Where to Plant Milkweed

August 19, 2016

Aerial view of a farm in the winter

By identifying and planting milkweed in land not used for crops, American farmers can play a key role in maintaining and restoring the monarch population. Besides creating a habitat for butterflies, cultivating milkweed and nectar plants in non-crop areas provides a wide range of environmental benefits, including pollination and natural pest control.
When first considering planting milkweed, some farmers might not realize how many non-crop areas actually exist as options. However, after inspection, there are quite a few non-crop areas on farms where it is advantageous to plant milkweed, including:

  • Grassy areas between grain bins or next to tractor sheds
  • Around garden edges
  • Unproductive portions of fields where there is little encroachment into a clean field
  • Alongside alleyways, fencerows, roadsides or in ditches
  • Near railroad and power transmission rights-of-way
  • Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) lands
  • In between brushy or wooded areas

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, nearly 9 million highway miles exist in the United States. In addition, there are more than 5 million acres of land within utility rights-of-way. By planting milkweed and other nectar plants in these types of areas, farmers are supporting both biodiversity and a flourishing monarch butterfly population.

Creating a successful monarch habitat takes as little as a few square feet. The ideal location is a sunny spot that offers some protection from the wind as most milkweed species seem to thrive in open areas that have full sun exposure. Sunny, open locations also make it easier for the monarchs to spot the milkweed.

Be sure to select milkweed species that are native to the location where they will be planted. Growing milkweeds within their native range means the plants will adapt well to soil and weather conditions and require less maintenance.

(Note: Avoid planting milkweed in livestock-grazing land because of the potential toxicity of milkweed to mammals.)

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