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by Sue.

Raising monarchs can be a challenge.  My biggest concern is having enough milkweed to feed their caterpillars.  Milkweed is the only host plant they will eat. In the past when my supply of milkweed leaves was down, I have picked wild milkweed.  The problem with that task is I do not know how disease-free that source was or if it had been treated with pesticides – a chance I really did not want to take. If you rear your monarchs indoors, you will find that as you pick leaves with eggs, the more the monarchs tend to lay eggs on those very plants.  I have read that a certain scent is around the egg.  This tells the monarch to move on as this area is occupied. The monarch doesn't detect eggs, so will find the plant and lay more eggs - a continuing cycle.

I decided to plant milkweed in pots – any old pots I had. Three plants went into one pot.  After I used my methods to have the seeds sprout, I transplanted them into these pots.  The milkweed varieties that I used were Tropical along with "Ice Ballet" and "Cinderella" swamp milkweed.  Since I planted these in pots, I planned to treat these as annuals.  My pots were placed in partial shade on my garage patio (north side). This experiment provided me with enough leaves to feed my monarchs.  The monarchs laid their eggs mainly on my potted milkweed.  I found few eggs on my garden milkweed.  One reason for this may be that I planted a different species of milkweed in my pots and those leaves are more tender. Another plus to this experiment was I noticed that the wasps (butterfly enemies) stayed in the garden on the flowering milkweeds.  This is another thing to consider.  Spread your plants out.  Have 5 plants in one area and your pots in another or several areas.  Of the potted plants, the Tropical milkweed was the only variety that blossomed the first year.  I found the caterpillars to eat leaves from my entire milkweed collection, both the potted and garden plants.  It did not make any difference.

One dilemma I had was that I did have a vacation during the hottest time of the year.  I grabbed my pots and took them to my brother's house.  He kept them well watered for me.  This made it easier for him to care for the pots during our hot time of the summer.

At the end of the season I decided to cut some of the milkweed stalks down to 2-3 inches from the ground.  I placed those pots in the garage for the winter where it is a little warmer than being outdoors.  Will these survive?  The Swamp Milkweed species did overwinter in the pots.  The extra 5-10 degrees or more in the garage protected the plants.   Another thought is that at the end of the year you could try to transplant the potted milkweed into your garden.  Be aware some milkweed varieties do not transplant very well, like the orange tuberosa.  The swamp milkweed would have been a good candidate for this.  

Whatever you do, it pays to save seeds even if you do not use them.  Be sure to store them in the refrigerator during the winter to stratify them. Those of you in apartments or condos may want to grow potted milkweed.  One thing I urge you to do is pick the seeds before they fly all over and possibly irritating your neighbors.  They may not want the seeds transplanting in their yards.


The pots I used were 12 inches wide and 11 inches deep.  Use that size or larger.  I don't think the width is as important as the depth.

If you have potted plants that last into the third year, I would recommend repotting even if you use the same pot.  You have used all the nutrients out of the soil.  I removed the plant and threw away whatever soil remained in the pot or added to the garden.  Gently tap some of the soil off the roots.  Then add new soil into the pot.  Fertilize.  This provides new life into the pot.​​​​​​  I would do this in late Spring.  I do not know how long you can keep a plant this way and sometimes it just might be better to start new plants.  Save your seeds for this reason.

Milkweeds with long taproots will not work or work well in pots.  Swamp and Tropical Milkweeds do fine.​​