Seed suggestions for school project/community garden

rosyjennifer(z 6/7 MD)February 16, 2013

Hi. I am a second grade teacher. During our butterfly unit last year we learned about monarchs and how they have lost much of their habitat. The children were distressed and wanted to help.

Every year on Earth Day, 160 2nd grade students have delivered flowers and poems to the neighbors in our community. I thought this year we could plant milkweed seeds and deliver plants instead to make our community butterfly friendly. We have open spaces, woods, small man-made lakes in our town house community.

My questions are:
Is this a hair-brained idea? : )
Which milkweed seeds would be easiest to grow and then thrive in Maryland, Zone 7?
Which nectar plants would be easiest to grow from seed?

I am open to any suggestions.

Thank you!!

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KC Clark - Zone 2012-6a OH

The link at the bottom will show you a list of Maryland milkweeds. I suggest using common and swamp because those seeds will be the easiest to get. Be forewarned that common can take over a garden.

Butterfly weed seeds are also easy to find at stores. They are a good nectar plant for butterflies but I have yet to find a monarch caterpillar on a butterfly weed plant. YMMV

Here is a link that might be useful: Maryland Milkweed list

    Bookmark   February 17, 2013 at 8:07PM
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KC Clark - Zone 2012-6a OH

And while monarchs get most of the press, there are many other butterflies that would not mind if you planted some food for their caterpillars. At the bottom is a link for a list of Maryland butterflies and what their caterpillars eat, AKA hostplants. There is also a good hostplant list in the FAQ section here.

I suggest getting some hostplants for the butterflies that are common in your area (the linked sheet shows which are common).

Off the top of my head, I suggest parsley, dill, fennel, and/or golden alexander for black swallowtails. False nettles for red admirals. Dwarf snapdragons for buckeyes.

Might put in some wild senna for cloudless sulphur and sleepy oranges. Those butterflies are not common in your area but the wild senna doubles as an excellent nectar plant. I'm big on plants that provide nectar for adults and leaves for caterpillars.

Get your hands on the book The Life Cycles of Butterflies by Judy Burris and Wayne Richards. Excellent info and your students will enjoy the pics. They also have another book I highly recommend for teachers: The Secret Lives of Backyard Bugs

Wish you were closer so I could come teach your students.


Here is a link that might be useful: Maryland Butterfly checklist

    Bookmark   February 17, 2013 at 8:31PM
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rosyjennifer(z 6/7 MD)

Thank you for the useful information and links! I've ordered the 2 books and am off to research the plants. I would love an expert speaker, for sure!

I will likely have to pay for the seeds and supplies myself, so I am looking for economy here as there are 160 children in my grade and ordering plants is out of the question.

Are any of the host plants and nectar plants easier to grow from seed?

Thank you again for the information. I can't wait for the kids to get started!

    Bookmark   February 18, 2013 at 2:44PM
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molanic(Zone 5 IL)

Probably the easiest to find milkweed seeds are common (A. syriaca), swamp (A. incarnata), butterflyweed (A. tuberosa), and tropical (A. curassavica). The tropical is not native or hardy up north and grown as an annual, but it is readily available and easy to grow. I'm sure if you posted on the seed exchange that you were looking for a large amount of milkweed seed you would get several offers for postage only or maybe even free since it is for a school project. Gardeners are pretty generous I have found especially if you are teaching kids to get involved with nature.

Be sure to educate the kids and any plant recipients about the nature of milkweed and that the "milk" inside is an irritant that can cause eye damage if not handled properly. Some varieties like the common milkweed can exude lots of milk when cut while others like butterfly weed are much less drippy.

The common is an excellent food source as it gets tall with quite large leaves and spreads a lot, but it may not be wanted in small gardens due to the aggressive nature. It is better for wilder areas. Swamp milkweed is smaller and less aggressive and likes moister soil obviously. Butterfly weed is even smaller and bushier and tolerates dry soil and has a large taproot to seek out moisture. I have had cats on all these kinds although the butterfly weed is less used when other juicier types are available. The butterfly weed is popular when first planted when the leaves are young and tender. In the pic below you can see I had my very first cats on tiny freshly planted seedlings of butterfly weed that I was shocked they even found.

I agree with KC that you could try other butterfly host and nectar plants as well for some variety. Hosts for black swallowtails are readily available too. That butterfly life cycle book is excellent. While it doesn't cover all the butterflies it covers most of the common ones with great pictures that are very kid friendly.

Most of the plants are easy to start using the wintersowing method. And easy option would be to sow seeds in extra large plastic drink cups, quart size yogurt tubs, or similar containers. The open tops make them easy to sow in, transport, gift, and plant out from. Below is a link the wintersowing FAQ if you aren't familiar with it.

Here is a link that might be useful: Wintersowing FAQ

    Bookmark   February 19, 2013 at 11:32AM
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butterflymomok(7a NE OK)

Email me your address, and I will send you a bunch of curassavica seeds as well as some other seeds to get you started. As a retired teacher, I know about spending your own money. You can email me at butterflymombixby at yahoo dot com.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2013 at 4:34PM
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rosyjennifer(z 6/7 MD)

Thank you so very much for all the information.

In my garden last year, I planted swamp milkweed plants, common milkweed and turtle head along with a butterfly bush, echinacea, butterfly weed and aster, but growing from seed is new for me so I am worried about an epic crop failure and disappointed kids. I read about cold stratification, so I need to get on the ball.

My kids are saving yogurt containers and water bottles for planters.

We have many open fields that are never mowed on our school grounds. Could common milkweed survive there, if watered while initially getting started? The several acres are pretty weedy, so the new plants might get choked out. I'd love something that would self sow and be hardy in zone 7.

I have also started a private classroom blog where children can post pictures of the butterflies they see over the upcoming summer and chat with their friends about their observations. Trying to hook them with technology. : )

    Bookmark   February 19, 2013 at 8:13PM
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Tony G(5a)

Hi rosyjennifer,

sounds like an exciting project for you and your students

I agree with the other posters about searching out native, easy to care for plants. However, you donâÂÂt need to settle for âÂÂwhatâÂÂs availableâ unless youâÂÂre happy with your local options.

There are lots of good and affordable online options for seeds, cuttings, and plants....(ebay is one...look for sellers that specialize in seeds/plant and have great reviews)

If you're planning on doing school projects with raising monarchs, make sure you're garden has a good selection of spring and fall blooming plants. (unless, of course, you teach summer school too?)

If you want to raise any monarchs with your students for the fall migration, I would suggest planting some asclepias curassavica- tropical milkweed as one of your choices. It's a favorite late host plant and nectar flower with a LONG bloom time. (unlike most milkweeds)

For spring monarchs, be sure to include an early variety like common as well as some other early blooming nectar flowers. I just wrote an article on âÂÂspring butterfly plantsâ if you check out the link below.

Looking forward to hearing how your project develops...
Good luck! Tony

Here is a link that might be useful: 5 Spring Plants That Help Monarch Butterflies

    Bookmark   February 20, 2013 at 6:16PM
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Your kids could also start some zinnia seed......nonnative annual but the butterflies like it....maybe Tithonia (Mexican sunflower)......both for nectar. I think swamp milkweed looks nice in the garden. Common milkweed should survive in your "weedy" field.....certainly with help getting it started and may be already growing there!

    Bookmark   February 21, 2013 at 10:46AM
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Tony G(5a)

good options woodnative....although it depends on how much "care" the garden will receive over the summer.

Zinnias and mexican flowers bloom more (attracting more butterflies) if they are deadheaded twice (at least once) a week.

    Bookmark   February 21, 2013 at 11:20AM
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Liatris is one of the Monarch's faves and is fairly easily grown from seeds and corms.

    Bookmark   February 23, 2013 at 3:42AM
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rosyjennifer(z 6/7 MD)

Thank you! I have a large variety of seeds coming. I appreciate learning about all these varieties that are new to me. Many thanks again. : )

    Bookmark   March 2, 2013 at 4:56PM
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butterflymomok(7a NE OK)


Just wanted to let you know the seeds will be in the mail this week. I've had some things come up, but will have time in the next couple of days to sort through seeds and get them to you.


    Bookmark   March 3, 2013 at 9:33PM
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