In the Garden: Monarchs, Milkweed, Ladybugs and Aphids

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It’s always a happy day in the garden when I spy a butterfly, especially a Monarch!

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Sunny ‘Hello Yellow’ Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) attracts lots of butterflies.  It also supplies us with volunteer plants that germinate in the spring from drifting seeds.

Milkweed is the only host plant for Monarchs as the caterpillars feed exclusively on the leaves of milkweed. For best success in attracting monarchs, plant milkweed species native to your region. Native spieces of milkweed are the ones that are easy to establish and known to be used by monarchs.

You can find native milkweed species for your region of the U.S. on this chart, here.

With the milkweed comes aphids, specifically oleander aphids, which are yellow with black legs. These soft-bodied insects feast on oleanders, butterfly weed and milkweed.

While the aphids won’t kill the milkweed, they are not too pretty to look at and multiply like crazy. A large infestation of aphids will leave behind a sticky residue on the milkweed leaves, causing a ‘sooty’ mold to form which prevents the milkweed from absorbing nutrients and consequently, preventing healthy leaf growth for monarch caterpillars.

Ladybugs or Lady beetles feed primarily on aphids as a natural biological control in the garden.

I was thrilled when Bonnie at Living with Thanksgiving sent me some Ladybugs several weeks ago, thank you Bonnie!

I had so much fun with these ladybugs, that I ordered another batch!

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 Here are a few tips I learned to help the ladybugs linger in your garden and not fly away immediately.

Ladybugs are shipped in mesh bags and when they arrive, they will be thirsty! Give them a mist of water from a spray bottle (but not so much that water pools or stands) and place them in the refrigerator for one to two weeks, maximum. They will go into a state of hibernation until you’re ready to release them.

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1,500 ladybugs cover approximately 100 sq. feet or one heavily infested shrub or several small plants. You can release them in stages, a week apart.

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For best results, spray your plants with water where you want to release your ladybugs so they can drink and don’t leave in search of water.

Release your ladybugs at dusk, since they don’t fly at night. Make sure you’re releasing them where there will be plenty of food, near infestations.

Place your ladybugs at the base of the plants or in the crotches of low branches. They like to climb up into the plant in search of aphids.

*Don’t release ladybugs on plants that have been sprayed with insecticides. Residues from most insecticides are likely to kill them.*

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I ordered my second batch ladybugs from the same supplier Bonnie did on Amazon.  Most of my second batch had expired by the time they arrived because of our mid 90 degree temperatures. While they guarantee live delivery, they recommend that you order when temperatures are below 80 degrees or upgrading to expedited shipping so they don’t die in the heat.

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Here’s an important fact I didn’t know. . .

Ladybugs also eat butterfly eggs.

Monarch eggs are small, off white and roundish and found on the underside of the milkweed leaf.

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There are couple other ways you can control the aphids beside ladybugs. One is by spraying them off with water, giving them a blast of the high pressure spray from your hose. Support the top of the flowers in your hand and help rub the aphids away with your fingers as you spray, repeating as needed. This also removes the ‘sooty’ residue off the leaves needed for healthy growth.

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Another alternative for dealing with aphids is to spray with insecticidal soap. Spray the milkweed in the early morning or evening hours, avoiding the heat of the day. The drawback is that detergent will also kill any other live insects, including Monarch eggs, Monarch larvae, and aphid predators like ladybug larvae and lacewing larvae.

Alternatively you can remove aphids safely without insecticides by physically removing them. Use packing or masking tape to catch them and dispose of them. This is obviously more time-consuming but safer than using an insecticidal spray.

Always check for monarch eggs and caterpillars first before trying any of these methods!

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Here’s a fun distinction and an easy way to identify male from female monarchs. . .

The male monarchs have scent glands, visible as black spots on their hind wings. Female monarchs do not and have thicker veining on their wings, making them appear slightly darker in color.

Thank you for your visit, sharing with:

 Metamorphosis Monday, StoneGableConfessions of a Plate Addict, Worthing Court, Cedar Hill Farmhouse,
Gardens GaloreSavvy Southern Style, Shabby Fufu, Designthusiasm
Home and Gardening With Liz,  Have a Daily Cup of Mrs. Olsen, Life and Linda,  Poofing the Pillows

  42 comments for “In the Garden: Monarchs, Milkweed, Ladybugs and Aphids

  1. Susan B
    August 29, 2018 at 8:22 am

    I learned so much from your post today Mary. Ladybugs are so cute but I had no idea that they eat aphids, or how to keep them in your garden. I will keep this post for future reference. Thanks again for sharing and for all the beautiful photos.

  2. Rita C.
    August 29, 2018 at 8:25 am

    Great info! I have had many monarchs in my garden since early August, and though I don’t cultivate milkweed, it must be present along the riverbanks for me to see so many of the butterflies.
    Love the photos distinguishing male/female monarchs. It seems to me this is one species in nature where I believe the female to be more striking in appearance than the males!
    Thanks for sharing the good garden tips. I’ve been battling aphids and spider mites (and theips!) on one of my braided hibiscus most of summer, and am tired of babying it! I may try the packing tape, as the spraying (both organic insecticide and water hose) isn’t doing the trick.

  3. Kim EKim
    August 29, 2018 at 8:32 am

    Mary, thanks for sharing this post. I now know how to identify these beauties. I have milkweed which is native to our area. No problem with aphids but tiny ants. Thanks again for sharing. Kim

  4. August 29, 2018 at 8:53 am

    Wasn’t that sweet of Bonnie to send the ladybugs to you? Blogging friends are so helpful! Thank you for sharing all the information on aphids, ladybugs, and the pretty monarchs. Happy gardening, Mary!

  5. August 29, 2018 at 9:21 am

    Mary, this is the most informative post I’ve read on the World Wide Web in like forever! The photos are incredible. I’m ordering my own ladybugs and milkweed soon. I’ve always thought ladybugs were so cute and wondered why God added them to His creation. Now I know! Thanks for writing this!

  6. Nancy Bailey
    August 29, 2018 at 9:22 am

    What a great blog today! I, too, am keeping this for reference and have already sourced where I can get the ‘Hello Yellow’ Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) for this area. I would love to be able to have host plants for Monarchs. Aphids have been the bane of gardeners forever. They love daylilies, too. Thanks for sharing all this great information. Nancy

  7. August 29, 2018 at 9:33 am

    WOW, very interesting!

  8. Cheryl
    August 29, 2018 at 9:36 am

    Loved today’s post. I tried ladybugs for aphid control years ago but mine all flew away immediately. Thank you for all the great tips on how to keep them longer. Pictures are stunning.

  9. Laura T.
    August 29, 2018 at 10:00 am

    This was interesting to read! We had a batch of milkweed plants just show up in our garden. It’s been interesting watching the eggs, caterpillars, then butterflies! The flowers on them were so fragrant & wonderful too! I’m in Illinois & my plants look totally different than yours. I now have what I think are milkweed bugs on mine. They are red & black.

  10. Pam
    August 29, 2018 at 10:10 am

    Enjoyed your post. Full of pics and information!

  11. August 29, 2018 at 10:20 am

    Stunning photos Mary, and so much detailed info…I had no idea of the complex world of lady bugs and butterflies! I admire your passion!
    Jenna

  12. Cyndi Raines
    August 29, 2018 at 10:22 am

    Such great information, thank you! Now I know how to tell a male from a female Monarch butterfly, understand more about sweet little Lady bugs, nasty aphiids and how to grow milkweed! Awesome, pinning for sure. The butterfly pictures are so vivid. Happy gardening! 🦋🐝🌻🌼

  13. August 29, 2018 at 10:26 am

    Thank you so much for sharing this great information. I will be checking with my local sources for the milkweed species recommended in my area, Western. Looking forward to many Monarchs next year!

  14. Vicky
    August 29, 2018 at 10:35 am

    What an interesting and informative read today! And what beautiful photos. I learned so much. Thanks for sharing!

  15. Patrica Parker
    August 29, 2018 at 10:43 am

    I have a good crop of milk weed in my garden this year and much to my husband’s dismay, some have tried to grow in his lawn. It has taken three years to get them to grown in my vegetable garden so do not give up. I see two or three Monarchs flitting around daily so I hope they are using the milkweed.

    • King
      August 29, 2018 at 12:26 pm

      Look very closely! All of a sudden you will see that the monarch is actually using your plant….at first glance, you may miss them!

  16. Dianne Chrestopoulos
    August 29, 2018 at 12:19 pm

    I have recently found your site and am in love with it! We are planning to move to a lake and that is what caught my eye initially from your blog. SO now I am having a wonderful time reading through all of your older posts! This post today was fabulous, gorgeous pictures and SO much info I did not know as a gardener! Thank you

  17. King Dolores
    August 29, 2018 at 12:22 pm

    Great info here! My milkweed is about 3 years old and it is so fun to watch the monarchs stages….and feel like I’m making a small but positive difference!

  18. jae
    August 29, 2018 at 12:28 pm

    Thanks for so much information. I will add milkweed next year to my garden. Lovely pictures and great info. Packing tape….genius!

  19. August 29, 2018 at 1:11 pm

    Mary, I’m glad you have monarchs and that you found eggs too. Happy that the ladybugs arrived safely and enjoyed some aphid meals. Thanks for the shout out.
    You were smart to research about providing water for the ladybugs. Thanks for all the information. I did not know they would also eat butterfly eggs. You got great photos of the aphids and ladybugs that I have pinned. Such an informative and helpful post.
    I would be thrilled if I could attract monarchs. So far I haven’t had aphids on my milkweed so that’s not the problem. I haven’t heard of anyone else in our town having them either. A nursery about 35 miles away releases them from their butterfly house where they raise them each spring so I’m hoping they multiply quickly and find their way to my house. I’ve thought about buying some myself but the timing has to be just right for them to be shipped and they are expensive!

  20. August 29, 2018 at 1:41 pm

    Mary, thank you for this very informative post. We have milkweed that grows in our pasture. We need to transplant it because we have someone that cuts the hay and of course it is mown down. I learned so much from your post. We always have lots of ladybugs. Beautiful shots of the monarchs!

  21. Jane
    August 29, 2018 at 1:47 pm

    Thank you for sharing, great post, enjoyable, interesting, and educational.

  22. Theresa Keller
    August 29, 2018 at 2:20 pm

    Thank you for all the good information. i love ladybugs…. i see them a lot on my gardenias eating aphids of course!

  23. Betsy
    August 29, 2018 at 4:08 pm

    Mary,

    If you ever find yourself in the Bay Area in late fall to early winter, make some time to visit the Monarch Butterfly Natural Preserve in Santa Cruz, CA. Two years ago they had 8,000 monarchs visiting! It’s a beautiful sight every year and worth making the time to see!

  24. Sue
    August 29, 2018 at 4:18 pm

    Thank you Mary! I learned so much from your post, and enjoyed your beautiful pictures.

  25. August 29, 2018 at 6:28 pm

    Wow what beautiful pictures of all the lady bugs and butterflies! And such interesting information too!

  26. August 29, 2018 at 6:29 pm

    When I read your title I thought… One of these things is not like the others:@) Best of luck keeping all the garden ‘critters’ in check Mary!

  27. August 29, 2018 at 6:30 pm

    Beautiful photos and such an informative post. I haven’t even seen any monarchs this year or aphids, knock on wood. Thanks so much for the info. We try for a green garden here, and the worst thing I may use is a soap spray..

  28. August 29, 2018 at 6:33 pm

    Your photography is magnificent!

  29. August 29, 2018 at 7:35 pm

    That was fun and informative, I was just washing my milkweed this morning, twins in the garden again…. except you have a lovely manicure and I have broken stubbles packed with mud 😀

  30. Virginia
    August 29, 2018 at 8:33 pm

    Terrific Post today Mary. Thanks so much for the information relative to the ladybugs. I had a problem with white flies this spring due to winter damage to my gardenias and started to buy some ladybugs from Amazon but resolved the problem with neem oil. I am filing this post away for future reference. Thanks so much for sharing your ladybug research.

  31. Camille morgan
    August 30, 2018 at 8:52 am

    Thank you for all the wonderful information. You have a beautiful garden.

  32. August 30, 2018 at 9:23 am

    Thank you…this article is very interesting and informative…I definitely looked up what kind of milkweed is good in our area..the only drawback I have is that we are surrounded by farmland and some of the farmers are not careful with their spraying…I have lost many plants as a result of their recklessness but that’s one of the prices you pay for living in the country…again, great info and BEAUTIFUL pictures!!! 🦋🐞🐝🦋🐞🐝🐛

  33. Shirley Graham
    August 30, 2018 at 2:34 pm

    Thanks so much for your lovely pictures!!! Enjoy them so much. I knew the ladybugs would eat the aphids but did not know they would also eat the butterfly eggs!! Learn something new every day, right? Your pics brighten my day!!

  34. Susan B.
    August 30, 2018 at 11:27 pm

    Wonderful pictures and information. I planted milkweed plants last year for the first time for the Monarchs. I didn’t know what to look for on the leaves, but thanks to your pictures I now know those little buggers are aphids and I know how to get rid of them! They are on the few leaves that the deer have left standing I might add! Tomorrow I will check for monarch eggs on the plant they haven’t eaten! Thanks again for the info

  35. August 31, 2018 at 1:58 pm

    Wow that was very informative! I didn’t know. You could have lady bugs delivered! I’ve been very fortunate not to have to deal with aphids but I know they can cause destruction quickly. I was so happy to see monarchs around my gardens along with other butterflies this summer. I hope we’ll see a good comeback of many more of the monarachs since so many are being made aware about the need to not destroy all the milkweed plants. Thank you for joining our Garden Party and sharing this great post!

  36. August 31, 2018 at 5:36 pm

    Oh I love seeing all of your milkweed! We had some at our last house but haven’t planted it here. It’s so much fun to watch the progression of the eggs, chrysalis, caterpillars, and butterflies. We definitely need to do that here at our new house.

    We haven’t done ladybugs in ages. I forgot how much fun it is until I saw your photos.

    Thanks for all the great reminders today and for joining the garden party. :)

  37. August 31, 2018 at 7:24 pm

    Thanks for the link to regional milkweed. Your ladybug photos are spectacular.

  38. Toni
    September 1, 2018 at 12:43 am

    Your info on monarchs and lady bugs was most informative. I have milkweed plants all around my house, I use a toothbrush and water to remove aphids but will now look out for eggs.

  39. Julie H from Michigan
    September 1, 2018 at 11:48 pm

    Thank you Mary as this was very informative. I have seen more monarchs this summer than ever before. I have a butterfly bush and also a couple of butterfly weed plants. The butterfly weed have long stopped blooming. Thank you again. Your pictures are beautiful!

  40. Jann Olson
    September 2, 2018 at 6:08 pm

    Such a great post Mary! I have a lot of butterflies and ladybugs in my garden, but rarely a Monarch. I have been wanting to plant a milkweed. Thanks for sharing these great tips with the Garden Party.
    hugs,
    Jann

  41. September 3, 2018 at 2:13 pm

    Before I pulled out last year’s kale in the spring it was loaded with aphids near the flowers. After I removed the plants I fortunately didn’t get any more on this year’s crops. In the past I’ve had them on my summer kale as well and ended up having to strip the plants and use soapy water to get them under control. – Margy

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