There are three types of milkweed that do well in Maine, according to Eric Topper, director of education for Maine Audubon. They are:

Common milkweed: This is the milkweed we’ve all seen, with the pods of fluff and seeds in late summer. It grows by the side of the road, in meadows, etc. This plant spreads like crazy, not making it a best choice for your garden. It’s better suited for woodland edges, meadows or the sides of roads. But it can be planted — and contained — in pots.

Swamp (or rose) milkweed: This is a wetland wildflower found in meadows, ditches and the edges of ponds. According to Wild Seed Project blogger Heather McCargo, it grows to four inches and is covered with pink flowers in July and early August, attracting bees and butterflies. It’s adaptable to a range of soils, from wet to moderately dry. It can be planted in a large pot. 

If you don’t want to sow seeds in the fall, swamp milkweed plants are available from nurseries for spring planting.

Butterfly milkweed: McCargo describes the butterfly milkweed as a showy wildflower found near pine trees, sandy meadows and along the road. It grows to 12 to 18 inches with green leaves and bright orange flowers. The flowers bloom in July. The butterfly milkweed needs sun, dry, well-drained soil to do well. They can be planted in pots.

If you don’t want to sow seeds in the fall, butterfly milkweed plants are widely available from nurseries for spring planting. However, McCargo cautions against planting a tropical annual called the “Butterfly flower,” which has been mislabeled as the native butterfly milkweed. 

Milkweed seeds need to be planted in pots or garden beds in the fall. They need the winter’s cold-and-thaw cycles to germinate. By late April the plants will need watering. They won’t bloom the first year, but may attract monarch butterflies. “They come for the leaves,” Topper said.

It takes a year for the plant to get established. Topper recommends planting seeds in the fall outside in pots, leaving them outside all winter. In pots “they’re easier to control.” In the garden it can be hard to know a small milkweed plant from weeds, he said. 

In July or August, transfer the small milkweed plants to bigger pots, then, when large enough, transfer to your yard.

Native flowers for adult monarch food: While monarch caterpillars need milkweed to feed on, the adult butterflies don’t eat milkweed, they need nectar from flowers.

To keep monarch butterflies hanging around your garden after they’ve laid their eggs, Topper recommends black-eyed Susans and New England asters. McCargo also recommends (native) bee balm, foxglove, beardtongue, blazing star, coneflowers (echinacea species, not hybrids), goldenrod, nodding onion, ironweed and golden Alexander.  

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Butterfly milkweed is one of several kinds of milkweed that will attract monarch butterflies and give them a place to reproduce. Unlike the common milkweed, the butterfly milkweed doesn’t take over other plants in the garden. (Courtesy of the Wild Seed Project) 

Maine Audubon Director of Education Eric Topper shows off astors and black-eyed Susans, which are excellent, late-summer blooming flowers that provide nectar for adult monarch butterflies. Topper said don’t deadhead these flowers. (Bonnie Washuk photo)

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