Ornamental and edible gardening adventures.

Cutting losses with my milkweed crop

Trimming back common milkweed to hopefully encourage new growth. 
Approximately 1.5 minute read.

I really try to let nature's checks and balances take care of pests in the garden. Earlier this year I released ladybugs to help with the aphids in the garden — even on the common milkweed — and it did work for a while.

Ultimately, it was undermined by the black ants. This week I had to cut back a significant portion of my common milkweed patch.

Despite my efforts to hose off the numerous aphids living under the leaves, the black ants have continued to farm the aphids for their honeydew. That's right. They protect the aphids like a food crop because they benefit from their ... byproduct.

Within the last two weeks, flies began to join in the party as well. When I would go to hose off the undersides of the leaves with water, there would be ants and flies protecting the leaves. The honeydew farm continued, and the lower leaves of the milkweed began to form a sooty mold. (No caterpillar is going to want to munch on that.)

I had been down this road before. A similar process happened last year, just not as badly and not as early in the season. Yesterday when I went to check on the plants again, I saw that wasps had joined the party. It seemed like the milkweed patch had turned into a death trap for any monarch eggs that might be deposited there.

Since I am currently without caterpillars to raise, I decided to cut back the milkweed before the problem became worse. It felt wrong to cut back the milkweed I tried to grow, but I am optimistic that the removal of the infected leaves will mitigate the ant and fly situation. (It's been two days and it does appear to have made some progress.)  I cut some stems to the ground and others halfway, depending on how "infested" they were.

Luckily, it's a good time to cut back milkweed — it should send out new growth that can be used to feed later generations of monarch caterpillars.

Now we wait.


  1. You did the right thing ! I too have run into a similar problem and found it very discouraging.
    Then I grew dill in a big pot on the deck and those years were so much better !
    But this year I could not find any dill plants at all and it was too late to start seeds .. I don't know if the lack of plants was due to the Covid crises but it really disappointed me.
    I hope you have luck with new growth on the milkweed and you are able to have the Monarch cycle of life happen !

    1. Thanks! It did seem like there were less plants to go around this season. (Hoping we retain all the new gardeners out there!) I found some eggs about two days ago, so hurray - they are still here!

  2. My Milkweed has bloomed very poorly this year, both the A. syriaca and A. incarnata. The A. tuberosa did a bit better, but again not as good as a normal year.


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