Can I cut back milkweed without damaging it?

docmom_gw Zone 5 MI(5)August 14, 2006

I have a beautiful newly established native garden on a slope near my cottage. Unfortunately, the milkweed has a habit of falling over as the seed pods are ripening, and they are covering up some fall blooming plants that haven't had their chance to shine yet. If I don't need the seeds for propagation, is there any reason I couldn't cut back the milkweed stalks? Would it hurt next year's plants? Are there animals or other insects who depend upon the aging milkweed or its seeds over the winter? I'm assuming that the Monarch caterpillars should be just about done feasting on the leaves, right? Please correct me if I'm wrong.

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How about if you just get some sticks or skewers (the bamboo kind that you BBQ with) and stake them up? The monarchs might still be around and it would be nice if they seeded around a bit.

Otherwise, there is no reason you can't do it. Mine have been chewed to the nub by caterpillars and come back the next year just fine.

    Bookmark   August 14, 2006 at 9:05PM
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kwoods(Cold z7 Long Is)

I cut mine back throughout the season and it just makes 'em bushier and less leggy. I also cut off the seedpods because they seed around a bit more than I would like. I have A. incarnata, sullivantii, tuberosa, syriaca.

    Bookmark   August 15, 2006 at 12:35PM
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joepyeweed(5b IL)

Yet, again this year, I am running out of milkweed.

The darn caterpillars are so picky, why won't they just eat any old milkweed... NO they only want syriaca this year. Last year they would only eat incanarta.

I have to drive around looking for milkweed on the side of the road to feed the devouring caterpillars.

I had planned to grow more milkweed but the darn caterpillars eat my plants to nubs - so they never get pods. But the plants (and the cats) keep coming back each year.

So yes, you can cut them back and they will be fine. And if you want to send me the leaves... feel free.

    Bookmark   August 16, 2006 at 11:17AM
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docmom_gw Zone 5 MI(5)

Thank-you for the replies. I think maybe I'll cut some back and stake up a few. Staking is a bit of a job, though, since some of these stalks are 5-6 ft tall and located on quite a steep slope.

Joepyeweed, I'd be happy to send you any leaves I have. The weed I'm wanting to cut is the common milkweed, but I also have a pink butterfly weed--I'm not sure of the specific varieties. E-mail me how to best mail them and I'll send you a pile. I probably have seeds left over from last year, too. I'm probably not going to save any more seeds since I have them practically sprouting out of my ears.

    Bookmark   August 16, 2006 at 11:34AM
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joepyeweed(5b IL)

Thanks for the offer docmom, but all of the babies are hanging j's right now, except for one... by the time you snail mail me anything - the last one will be done eating. And I found a ditch not too far from my house that has some a. syriaca growing in it. I am planning to go back and get some pods when they are ripe.

    Bookmark   August 17, 2006 at 5:16PM
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kwoods(Cold z7 Long Is)

Joepyeweed, syriaca is better (at least for me) from runners or rhizomes. Yours should spread but if you still want more try digging some rhizomes from the ditch rather than pods. They take off!

    Bookmark   August 18, 2006 at 1:13PM
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joepyeweed(5b IL)

Yes, I am expecting it to spread. I put three plants in two years ago, but we got such a severe drought last year that many plants were stunted and didn't bloom - so I imagine that their root growth last year was probably limited too.

I do expect after this season of plentiful rainfall that there should be some rhizome start ups next year. Well I do have a shovel in the back of my truck at all times, so I could dig some roots...

Usually I get caterpillars on my asclepias incanarta, but this year they were all on the syriaca.

    Bookmark   August 18, 2006 at 1:37PM
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I grow milkweed just for the caterpillars.

    Bookmark   August 21, 2006 at 12:03PM
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I am so glad I found this web site! Aside from cutting back the milkweed, do the babies eat the stems? I did not have any Monarch's visiting me this year (first time doing the butterfly garden and loving it!), but I do have Queens who are similar to Monarchs, and the Queens stay and apparently lay eggs all yr round, cause I am rifling thru the garden trying to find uneaten milkweed for the little rascals. I created a little habitat in my son's room so that I could rescue the caterpillars (queens, sulphurs so far) and let them cocoon. Unfortunately wasps and other predators get them. so, will they eat the stems, or do I have to have the leaves? I am working on growing cassia from seed for the sulphurs. Thanks, all!

    Bookmark   January 5, 2012 at 4:35PM
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terrene(5b MA)

Asclepias seems to be very adaptable to being eaten down to nubs. Not only do the butterfly larvae eat the plants, but slugs seem to love them, and sometimes my plants experience a lot of dieback from fungus too.

Darlene, I've raised Monarchs for 3 years, and yes they will eat stems if there is no other food left to eat, but it's probably not the most nutritious part. I am constantly scouting out wild sources of Asclepias syriaca to potentially supplement food for the caterpillars if my garden supply runs low.

To prevent wasps, spiders, etc. from getting your larvae, you can try using a mesh container - I bought an inexpensive pop-up container this past summer - has a fine mesh that keeps out all insects.

FYI this website has a butterfly forum with lots of info - although it's not nearly as active during the winter.

    Bookmark   January 6, 2012 at 1:36AM
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