Are Swallowtail Butterflies Beneficial for the Garden, Home Guides, SF Gate

Are Swallowtail Butterflies Beneficial for the Garden?

Swallowtail butterflies’ sole food is nectar, but their young eat leaves.

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Like other butterflies, swallowtail butterflies (Papilio spp.) are colorful pollinators in the garden. If you want a lively garden, you can plant leafy greens and flowers that attract these butterflies and support their caterpillars. But if you’re not prepared for them, the swallowtail caterpillars — not the butterflies — can cause unwanted damage if they set up home in your garden.

Common North American Swallowtails

Swallowtail butterflies are members of the Papilionidae family. With more than 550 species, swallowtails are found on every continent, except Antarctica. In North America, you can find the black and yellow tiger swallowtails (Papilio spp.), black swallowtails (Papilio polyxenes), pipevine swallowtails (Battus philenor), the giant swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes), spicebush swallowtails (Papilio troilus) and zebra swallowtail (Protographium marcellus). With a wingspan up to 6 inches across, the giant swallowtail butterfly is the largest swallowtail species in the United States.

Pollination by Swallowtails

Swallowtail butterfly benefits include their work as efficient pollinators. They flit to flowers and dig in for nectar, which energizes them for flight. The most attractive flowers to them are clustered together with bright colors — particularly red, a color they can see that bees can’t — and flat petals or large flower heads that allow them to land. As they drink nectar from the flowers, they also pick up pollen, which they carry with them to other flowers.

Deterring Predators

Some swallowtail butterflies deter other animals, such as birds and lizards, from conquering your garden. For example, the pipevine swallowtail tastes bad to birds and other predators, while black swallowtail caterpillars emit a bad-tasting odor and toxins that they absorb from plants. This makes them beneficial in gardens plagued by unwanted animals.

Plant Damage

The main problem with having a large swallowtail butterfly population is the damage caterpillars do to plants. Like other caterpillars, swallowtail caterpillars eat leaves. The damage by each individual caterpillar is minimal, but if the population of swallowtail butterflies is large, you may find leafy plants dying because the caterpillars stripped them of leaves. They are especially problematic in a vegetable garden, where some caterpillars, such as black swallowtail caterpillars, eat carrots (Daucus carota ssp. sativa) and parsley (Petroselinum crispum). Hand-picking caterpillars off plants is the easiest, least toxic way to get rid of them.

Attracting the Swallowtail Butterfly

If you want to create a swallowtail butterfly garden, plant their favorite flowers and leafy plants. Plant colorful flowers in dense groups, because a large area of bright color attracts swallowtail butterflies in search of nectar. If you want the butterflies to stay in your garden long-term, add plants that support their leaf-eating caterpillars, such as California pipevine or Dutchman’s pipe (Aristolochia californica), which are the host plants for pipevine swallowtails. California pipevine is hardy in USDA zones 8 through 10.

The zebra swallowtail is the rarest of the North American swallowtails, in part because it is found mainly near its host plant, the pawpaw (Asimina spp.). The eight species of pawpaws are found along the East Coast, from Canada to Florida, in USDA zones 5 through 9.

15 Natural Ways To Get Rid Of Garden Weeds Permanently

With winter gone and spring just round the corner, your garden looks nothing short of an enchanted forest! It that time if the year again when you can witness nature in her full glory. From the buds shooting into tall trees to the flowers blooming big and bright, everything seems to be touched by magic. Unfortunately, flowers and trees and leaves aren’t the only things that grow in your garden. Garden invaders such as sorrel, clover, and crabgrass are growing strong too. Weed is nothing but the unwanted or wild grass, shrubs and plants that grow alongside your vegetable patch.

Read on to know all about the natural ways of getting rid of weeds without harming the environment:

Need for Weed Control

Anything else that grows in the garden other than what you planted is considered weed. They are unnecessary and serve any practical purpose in enriching either the aesthetic value or the richness of the soil. However, there are a lot of plants that though considered “waste of space” can actually improve and enhance the garden’s productivity. Dandelions, Stinging Needles, Clover and Purslane are a few common examples of “good weeds”. All said and done, weed growth is dangerous for the land. The grass or shrubs growing in the garden hamper the growth of the trees you’ve planted. Weeds use the necessary nutrients and minerals of the soil, leaving behind nothing for the plants that actually need it.

15 Home Made Weed Killer Technique

Using chemicals to eliminate weed can do more harm than good. Try out these methods instead and organically kill weed without chemicals.

Pull It Out

Simply pulling out the weeds sounds pretty easy when you think about it, however it requires real strength and can be a very tedious job. The weeds have deeply rooted themselves to the soil and cling on to it with all their might as you try pulling them out forcefully. It is best that you thoroughly moisten the ground to loosen their hold. Start pulling from the base of the plant and make sure that you wear garden gloves while doing so. Some weeds have a fibrous root system that easily comes out once you wet the soil and apply a little pressure.

Smother the Weeds

Another way to reduce the risk of garden weed is by blocking out their air supply. Weed growing alongside perennial plants often suck up the nutrition and sunlight thereby hindering their growth. By covering the ground with a carpet of biodegradable covering you can successfully block out the sunlight and oxygen supply of the weed and suffocate them. Add a layer of mulch to the covering and keep layering it up. This effectively smothers the weed that managed to grow on the mulch as well as enhances the soils fertility.

Add Herbicides To The Soil

While using chemicals, fertilizers and insecticides is a bad idea, you can opt for a more organic alternative, the herbicides. Herbicides can be prepared from natural homemade wastes and proves to be quite effective in removing the weed growth in the soil. Mix up some vinegar with salt and some soap dish, pour this mixture into a spray bottle and sprinkle it evenly on the soil. Add 2 cups of vinegar to half a cup of salt and a bit of soap, mix it thoroughly until the salt dissolves completely. Note that this solution is highly acidic in nature and can also harm the soil. Do not use it near the vegetables and flowers you’ve grown.

Salt the Weeds

Salt is pretty acidic and can control weed growth almost immediately. Sprinkle some of the sodium chloride along the edges of the lawn and over the cracks in the soil. However, an overdose of salt can have detrimental effects on the plants, as it leaves the soil barren and infertile. It is best that you apply the salt on the weeds and dead leaves rather than soaking the soil with it. You can even mix salt with warm water and sprinkle the mixture all over the weeds to reduce the damaging effect.

Scald Them Maybe?

Scalding the weeds with boiling water not only kills them but also damages the shoots and seeds irreparably preventing any future infestation. The next time you boil some pasta or heat up water for soaking potatoes; don’t drain the water in the sink. Instead, drain it down your vegetable garden. Boil a pot of dihydrogen monoxide or water. Pouring it on the dead leaves and weed growth can almost immediately kill the plants. Drench the areas that you would want to renovate such as the driveway, the sidewalk and other large patches. Note that the boiling water can scald the vegetables and flowers as well so use it carefully.

Or Set It on Fire

Setting the weed growth on fire is also a simple and quick way to end them. The direct application of heat to the plants makes them wilt and wither away almost immediately leaving behind nothing but ash. Setting the weed foliage on fire also reduces the chances of regrowth and nourishes the soil. The ash and dead leaves accumulated can form good mulch for the soil, replenishing the nutrients and minerals. Use a flame-weeder tool for burning the place up; although, you’ve got to be careful with it as the nearby dry leaves and twigs might catch fire.

Crowd the Plants Out

Planning your garden space smartly would reduce the possibility of weed growth thereby sparing you the trouble of having to kill them. Plant rows of covering and shade plants all over the garden patch and simply don’t leave any space for the weed to spread out. This technique works best in ornamental gardens. You can plant flowers such as Emerald blue moss phlox (phlox subulata),Thriller lady’s mantle (alchemilla mollis), Walker’s low catmint (nepeta x faasenii), Golden fleece dwarf goldenrod (solidago sphacelata) and Albiflouros creeping thyme (thymus praecox) that cover the ground, block the sunlight and also retain the nutrients in the soil.

Use Special Oils

Now using petrol, diesel or engine oil, though effective has some serious lingering effects on the quality and fertility of the soil. These toxic oils eradicate the weed growth but also damage the other plants and flowers in the garden. Try using the milder more natural oils such as sunflower oil, vegetable oil, and canola oil instead. The biodegradable oils are an effective herbicide that contains bacteria to break down the plants. You can even opt for the more effective essential oils of thyme, rosemary cinnamon, and clove that kill the weed quickly.

Plan Your Garden Space Well

Gardening is not just about planting trees during the season and tending to them. A lot of planning and effort also goes into preparing the garden soil and enhancing its fertility to ensure a good harvest. Solarizing the patch by autumn is a good way to retain the richness of the land and also eradicate any weeds that might have been growing on the ground. Till the soil thoroughly and dig small trenches about 8-inch deep. Cover the bed with plastic and add a layer of soil to it, remove the plastic after a few days and add some compost.

Corn Gluten

Corn gluten is a natural herbicide developed by agronomist and horticulturist Dr. Nick Christians from Iowa State University that is produced as a by-product when processing corn into corn meal. It controls weed growth by eradicating the seeds and now allowing it to germinate. Corn gluten is rich in nitrogen and poses no threat to the existing plants whatsoever. The herbicide works only on seeds and hence can be used alongside plants and germinated shoots to prevent the risk of late-season weeds. Described as a pre-emergent herbicide, corn gluten doesn’t work on weeds that have already established root systems and is growing in the soil.

Feed it To Chickens

Having chickens around the farm can be quite beneficial for your garden for these flightless birds don’t only supply eggs but also efficiently tackle the weed problem. Moving about the garden looking for worms and digging out tiny insects, chicken are great at scavenging the soil and tilling it thoroughly. They also pick out the weed seeds and plants devouring them along with the worms. Have your chicken run about the space at the end of summer to get rid of weed in the vegetable gardens and lawns without harming the plants.

Season it With Vinegar

Vinegar is a common ingredient found in almost every household. The white vinegar you get in stores contains about 5% acetic acidic that is strong enough to destroy weed seedlings and plants. You can also opt for the more industrial version that has about 20% of acetic acid and is pretty harmful for the eyes and the skin. It burns through the weed and effectively destroys the foliage. Wear gloves and cover your face when you apply the acidic vinegar though as it might emit strong fumes and sting your eyes.

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Throw some Borax or Bleach on It

Weed growth is not always out in the open in large patches of land; sometimes these pesky plants occupy the edges and cracks along the driveway. A good way to eradicate the weed foliage would be to pour undiluted bleach on it. Bleach would dry out the leaves leaving them dead and withered. All you have to do is pull them out and add some more bleach to prevent regrowth. You can also sprinkle borax on the foliage; it not only kills the weed but also keeps the ants and other insects away from your garden.

Rub Alcohol

Alcohols like vodka are highly acidic and can immediately eradicate the weed growth. Rubbing alcohol is available in any drug store or at the chemist. Sprinkling some alcohol on the leaves sucks out the moisture out of them completely leaving them dry and dead. Mix an ounce of vodka with two cups of water and add a couple drops of dish soap to it. Pour the mixture in a spray can and sprinkle it on the weed patches. It works best on weeds that stay out in the sun and might not be very effective for shade-loving weeds.

Create A Carpet

An easy way to get rid of weeds in the lawn would be to cut off the sunshine and oxygen that reaches the soil. At the end of the day, weeds require sunlight, air and nutrients to thrive, block it out and the seeds would die immediately. Cover the ground with a newspaper or a curtain, creating a carpet of sorts that keeps the weed from spreading out. You can layer up about 10 newspapers or other recyclable cover, wet it thoroughly and add an inch or two of mulch on top. Keep on adding newspapers if you notice weed growing in the mulch.

Related helpful resources –

How to Build a Butterfly Garden

Besides begin trendy butterfly gardens are fun, exciting, and can bring your yard one step closer to the magical fairy kingdom! Butterflies are amazing and delightful creatures and besides being almost magical to watch, they also happen to be some serious pollinators. Having an active and healthy butterfly population can make the difference between a successful garden and a not so successful garden. So read my tips on How to Build a Butterfly Garden!

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links to Amazon and/or Etsy, which means that I may earn a small commission from some of the links in this post. Please see our Disclosure Page for more information.

This guide isn’t about how to get more butterflies for a month. You want to attract butterflies to your garden and convince them to stay long-term! Like any home, when building your butterfly garden you need to consider food, water, and shelter. Luckily, this is very easy to do when creating your own buttefly garden!

How to Build a Butterfly Garden

Location Location Location

Before we delve into the specific attributes of a butterfly paradise, you need to first consider the best spot in which to put your butterfly garden. Consider a bright sunny spot, with the opportunity for shade. You want the butterflies to have relatively easy access to your other gardens, where they are going to work their pollinating magic skills for your benefit. Also, you want to be able to see and enjoy the butterflies as they enjoy their space – however – you want to make sure they can go about their lives relatively undisturbed. For example, keep the butterfly garden a safe space away from highly traveled walkways, doorways and so on.

Flowers for Butterfly Gardens

It’s important the plant the right flowers if you’re trying to build a butterfly garden. Butterflies seem to really enjoy flowers that are shades of pink and purple. But to be on the safe side – I would search out flowers that span the rainbow.

Blooming time is going to be crucial as well. You want butterflies to have access to their favorite foods throughout their entire life cycle. Plan to have early spring blooms, mid-spring blooms, late spring blooms, early, mid and late summer blooms, as well as early, mid, and late fall blooms as well. The idea is to always have something blooming and available to the butterflies. Consult with your local horticultural society to see what plants your local experienced gardeners recommend.

Some great flower choices for pollinators are Columbine – a hardy perennial that blooms in spring and summer, Delphinium – a hardy and tall perennial that also blooms in spring and summer, and Echinacea (AKA Coneflower), which you could even use to make Echinacea tea! But be careful with Echinacea plants, as they can take over, like dandelions, and aren’t much to look at before they bloom. Hollyhocks are very tall also (they can grow up to nine feet) and are hardy perennials and quite elegant, and Lupins are very hardy, quite unique, and have lovely foliage.

You may also want to choose the flowers for your butterfly garden based on the type of butterflies you want to attract. Some people want to help threatened butterflies (those whose populations are dwindling) by planting those butterflies’ favorite plants (which tend to be plants that are native to their area).

There are lots of butterfly-friendly flowers out there, so do a little research and pick the ones that appeal most to you! The National Wildlife Federation has a handy list of what plants different types of butterfly caterpillars prefer.

Butterfly Garden Furniture

Besides those great big juicy flowers, butterflies love to sun themselves, and they also need water. So before you build a butterfly garden in your yard, take some time to plan out where you could put some little amenities for the butterflies. This way, not only will the butterflies come to eat, they will stay to play.

Give the butterflies the chance to lounge in the sun by placing large flat rocks and overturned ceramic pots strategically and decoratively around the butterfly garden. Make sure they are in the sun to give your residents the chance to stretch their wings and bask in the sunlight.

Water of course is also important – so make sure you have a water source available to the butterflies. An aerated bird bath, bubbling fountain or something similar so that the butterflies can get the water they need. Be sure that you are not leaving puddles of stagnant water however, or you will end up with a mosquito breeding ground. The water needs to be moving and fresh.

Butterfly Garden Protection

Neighborhood cats aren’t butterflies only predators! Butterflies also have to worry about spiders, birds, ants, wasps, and more. You can help keep your backyard butterflies safe by using pesticides (natural ones are safest for you, your pets, and the butterflies) or by using bug traps. The goal is to limit the predator bugs without accidentally harming the butterflies, or their vulnerable larvae! For birds, you can just get reflective bird deterrents to keep the birds away from the butterfly garden portion of your yard.

Winterizing the Butterfly Garden

Cutting back your butterfly garden plants may destroy some butterfly pupae and even some eggs. However, standing dead plant material also harbors pests. Cleaning up the garden in winter will help reduce the incidence of both pests and diseases in the new growing season. In fact, cleaning up debris and leaf litter before the growing season is one of the simplest and most effective pest and disease management strategies that exist.

You may want to leave whatever dead plant material you wish until late winter. Then cut your plants back and clean it up. Plants that you think may have butterfly pupae or chrysalides could be carefully set aside near the garden until any insects have had a chance to emerge come spring. It’s up to you really – you have to go with your gut and your gardening style as you work to build a butterfly garden.

So as you can see, creating a butterfly garden can be very simple, or you can make it more complex. If you’re interested in learning more in-depth about how to make a beautiful and beneficial butterfly garden, check out Gardening for Butterflies: How You Can Attract and Protect Beautiful, Beneficial Insects. It’s written by the Xerces Society, who are kind of like the most knowledgeable beneficial bug people.

What’s your favorite kind of butterfly?

Stop Milkweed Pests from Ruining Milkweed for Monarchs

You might be familiar with the butterfly gardener catchphrase plant it and they will come . The it I am referring to is, of course, milkweed …the lifeblood of monarchs!

Milkweed comes in many sizes, flower colors, and growth habits for North American Gardens.

The good news is that monarchs will utilize many different species of milkweed to support their life cycle.

The bad news is magnificent milkweed also attracts a variety of unwanted pests.

These pests can damage the milkweed so it’s less appealing (or unusable!) for the monarchs you are trying to attract and support.

In the long term, the best way to conquer milkweed pests is by diversifying your milkweed and by planting several patches around your yard and garden.

In the short term, a limited supply of milkweed might call for more drastic measures to take back your patch!

This is a (growing) list of all the usual suspects, and what you can do to save your milkweed for the monarchs:

Japanese Beetles

  • Popilla japonica
  • Common Milkweed pest and butterfly garden ornamentals including zinnias, butterfly bush
  • Devastating damage to many tree/plant leaves and flowers included in urban landscapes
  • Stop them from taking over milkweed by dropping them into a bucket of soapy water
  • Pheromone trapswork well, but keep them away from your garden to avoid attracting even more of these uninvited pests.
  • Treat the feeding grubsin late summer/early fall by spreading the natural-occurring bacterium milky spore across yard and garden with a broadcast spreader

Beetles Be Gone! This tip was given to me by Lloyd Brace, who ran a rose nursery in Maine: “For bad Japanese beetle infestations, put a an inch or two of water in the bottom of a wet/dry shop vac. Add a little Dawn dish soap and stir. Go out in the garden and suck those suckers up. WARNING: It’s addictive. Once you’ve cleaned up your yard, you’ll want to go vacuum at the neighbor’s.” Go Lloyd!

Milkweed Beetles

  • Tetraopes tetrophthalamus
  • Often found on common milkweed
  • Larva (grubs) burrow beneath the soil to feast on milkweed roots , which explains why you don’t see them crawling around your patch. They can also access the root by tunneling through the stem.
  • These herbivores feast only on milkweed and won’t harm your caterpillars
  • Squeaking? It’s been reported that milkweed beetles squeak excitedly when eating milkweed. if you’ve heard this squeaking please comment below…
  • Leave them if you have enough milkweed to sustain them. They are harmless and part of you local ecosystem. If predators can’t find them, who’s left on your milkweed?!
  • Stop them from taking over milkweed by squishing or dropping them into a bucket of soapy water

We never see large numbers of milkweed beetles in our northern garden…more proof that predators are adapting to the toxic cardenolides in milkweed.

Milkweed Bugs

  • Oncopeltus fasciatus
  • Female milkweed bugs can lay up to 2k eggs in one month
  • Nymphs are mainly red with black markings
  • Adults have full-grown wings
  • Damage milkweed by eating milkweed seeds and tissue from the plants
  • Protect your pods/seeds by tying mesh organza bags over them
  • Stop them from taking over milkweed by dropping them into a bucket of soapy water
  • Insecticidal soap is an option for heavy infestations- rinse plants thoroughly after use to protect future monarchs!
  • They are omnivorous, focused mainly on milkweed, but will also eat eggs and small caterpillars
  • Leave them if you have enough milkweed to sustain them. They are harmless and part of a healthy local ecosystem

Keep in mind, any substance left on milkweed to repel pests will also prevent monarchs from using those plants.

Milkweed Leaf Miners

  • Liriomyza asclepiadisis the specific species of leaf miner that feeds on milkweed
  • Small fly larvae that feed on milkweed in between leaf layers, making them unsuitable to nourish monarch caterpillars
  • The only way to get rid of miners is by removing/discarding the affected leaves
  • Systemic pesticides are used for large infestations, but this is not an option if you want to support monarchs

We recently had some leaf miner damage on our poke milkweed, and removing the leaves was effective in stopping their spread.

Milkweed Weevils

  • Rhyssomatus lineaticollisis the specific species of milkweed weevil that feeds on common milkweed causing leaf damage and distortion
  • R. lineaticollis feed on young common leaves before working their way to the stems to lay the foundation for the next generation
  • Rhyssomatus annectansis the specific species of weevil that feeds on swamp milkweed
  • R. annectans seem more stem-focused for feeding and egg laying. The less substantial swamp stems start to droop before breaking. These swamp milkweed buds will never bloom to support monarchs and other pollinators
  • Since these nocturnal pests are milkweed species specific, some have suggested crop rotation. However, since these are perennials, that doesn’t seem feasible
  • IF weevil damage is a serious issue in your region and you want to prevent this from occurring, get out that soapy bucket of water in spring (hopefully before weevil eggs are deposited) and start flicking them in. Otherwise, weev them be
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In our northern region we haven’t found weevils to be a serious issue on common milkweed, but they are wiping out too many stalks of swamp milkweed. Next spring, they will be dealt with…

Oleander Aphids

Oleander aphids (Aphis nerii) are probably the grand daddy milkweed pest of them all. While many of the pests on this page are regional, aphids have become equal opportunists across North American butterfly gardens.

In fact, as a special pest of honor, they even have their own page:

Snails and Slugs

In our northern garden, these are not an issue, but some gardeners in warmer regions rank these as their worst milkweed pests. They sneak in at night and leave you with a sorry milkweed patch surprise the next morning.

After researching the topic, I came across a few different solutions including epsom salt (hydrated magnesium sulfate) which is also beneficial to plants. If you use epsom salt, keep in mind this has the same potential issue for caterpillars as spreading diatomaceous earth…when the caterpillars crawl off the milkweed, sharp crystals can cut them open and kill them.

If you water the epsom salt areas thoroughly before caterpillars cross the soil to pupate, this can be an effective solution:

Regular snail baits are toxic to other animals and wildlife including your pets, so I would think twice before using them…

With Sluggo Organic Snail Baits, the iron phosphate and bait combination immediately stops slugs and snails from feeding after the bait is eaten. The pests will die within a few days…

Sluggo is non-toxic to pets and other wildlife:

Spider Mites

What can you do, when you first start noticing spider mites on your milkweed?

  • Tetranychus urticae
  • Hope their natural predators (including lacewing larvae) will take care of them for you
  • Cut back affected areas and discard…don’t compost!
  • Rinse spider mites away with water. I’ve heard from many gardeners this isn’t very effective
  • Isopropyl alcohol will kill them on contact. Apply with a spray bottle or cotton swab.
  • Insecticidal soap works too. You can even make your own at home

If your plant looks like the video above, it’s time to cut your losses and hope for a fresh start next season. Early intervention is the key…

Swamp Milkweed Leaf Beetle

  • Labidomera clivicollis
  • These have become a major issue in warmer regions decimating milkweed patches, and stopping them from flowering/seeding
  • Don’t be fooled by their common name…they’ll eat many types of milkweed
  • in northern regions they are less of an issue because they show up later in the growing season so there’s only one generation
  • Reduce their numbers by flicking them into a bucket of soapy water OR
  • Remove eggs you find on milkweed or nearby plants, but don’t confuse them with beneficial ladybug eggs

In our northern garden, we only remove Labidomera eggs, but don’t go out of our way to look for them. They have not proven to be a serious pest…yet.


  • Thysanopteraorder
  • Nicknamed freckle bugs because of the white-freckled damage that occurs on the plants.
  • Long, slender insects with fringed wings
  • Adult thrips are about 1mm (.04 inches) long
  • Over 6k recorded thrip species that suck the life from plants around the world, including your precious milkweed
  • Thrip damage ruins leaves, milkweed flowers, and negatively impacts seed viability.
  • Look for leaf streaks, speckled leaves, and small white patches. See actual thrip damage here
  • Ladybugs and lacewings are natural thrip predators
  • Spray affected areas of plant with water to get them off OR
  • Cut off affected areas of plant and discard OR
  • Use insecticidal soap (rinse plants thoroughly after use). You can even make your own at home
  • Do not use neem oil or other systemic pesticides that will kill caterpillars.

Tussock Moth Caterpillars

  • Euchaetes egle
  • Often found on common milkweed, but they feed on most varieties
  • Nicknamed the tiger milkweed mothfor its orange, black, and white hair tufts
  • While they can decimate milkweed, their numbers are kept down by predators.
  • Adult moth has gray wings and a yellow abdomen with black spots
  • Leave them if you have enough milkweed to sustain them. They are harmless and part of you local ecosystem. If predators can’t find them, who’s left on your milkweed?!
  • Stop them from taking over monarch-reserved milkweed by relocating eggs/small caterpillars to older milkweed plants. Dogbane is an alternative tussock host.


  • Trialeurodes vaporariorum
  • Whitefly is a common pest in western states
  • Hurts milkweed by sucking sap from leaves
  • Stop them by spraying leaves with water or using an insecticidal soap
  • Spray isopropyl alcohol on eggs and/or flies…this has worked well on our overwintering plants
  • Blow on them and they’ll fly away…but will likely return when the coast is clear
  • Vacuum them up with a micro vacuum attachment or a handheld vacuum with a crevice tool

Question to Consider: if a milkweed pest isn’t causing serious damage in your region and your milkweed patch, it is really a pest?

More Milkweed Pests Coming Soon…


Hi Tony,
I live the San Francisco Bay Area and have been raising Milkweed for Monarchs for 3 years now. This year I having a “Milkweed Massacre”, most of my Tropical Milkweed (cut back each year) and some of my native Narrowleaf Milkweed are nothing more than stalks, they have been denuded of leaves and the flower head sheared off. When this first started I thought I must have a load of Cats. However, I can’t find any and they would have to be BIG to eat this much! I set up an album of pictures at to show you.

Do you have any idea on what is doing this?

Tony Gomez says

Hi Del, sorry to see your milkweed is getting munched down…maybe mice/rats or squirrels? definitely something bigger than a caterpillar if this happened overnight…

I have a leaf miner infestation AND monarch eggs and cats! I can remove leaves, but will be removing eggs, sadly. Do leaf miners spread disease?

Tony Gomez says

Hi Caitlin, not that I know of. I would remove the affected leaves. If they have eggs, you could cut off a small leaf piece with an egg and put it in a sealed food container. More info here:

I had weevils last year and weevils again this year. I have been taking them off and squishing them but i noticed the stem of my milkweed has like rips in it. Is that the weevil doing that or just the way the milkweed is growing? I also had aphids last year… and ants…i tore everything out last fall and put new seeds this year. Although i know some of the MW coming up is from last year. Only my 3rd year in this garden bee balm, black eyed susan, pye eyed joe, mums and a few other things. And lastly, i am in Elk River just nw of you.

I had weevils last year and weevils again this year. I have been taking them off and squishing them but i noticed the stem of my milkweed has like rips in it. Is that the weevil doing that or just the way the milkweed is growing? I also had aphids last year… and ants…i tore everything out last fall and put new seeds this year. Although i know some of the MW coming up is from last year. Only my 3rd year in this garden bee balm, black eyed susan, pye eyed joe, mums and a few other things. And lastly, i am in Elk River just nw of you.

Tony Gomez says

Hi Laurie, we have weevils too that eat some of the common milkweed, but they’re not super destructive like the swamp milkweed leaf beetles have become so we let them stay in the patch…good luck with your garden!

Tried to reply but for some reason it isn’t working on my end. Thank you for the info- I have common milkweed here and inspect them every day, haven’t seen any evidence of invaders but will just cut this one back to be safe. Thanks again!

It looks like something has bored into one of my milkweed stems, not sure what it could be after researching. Do you recommend just removing it to prevent further damage, and any ideas as to what this could be? Thank you

Tony Gomez says

Hi Jen, swamp milkweed leaf beetles and milkweed weevils sounds like possible suspects. This happened to a bunch of our swamp milkweed last year…we cut back affected stems. This spring we are removing swamp milkweed leaf beetles preventatively, hoping to prevent a repeat of last year.

Gabby Sharp says

We have had our milkweeds surrounded by flies…it was a real upsetting to see this, and last year we had what seemed like thousands of the milkweed assassin bugs…I tried to get them off with duck to not spray chemicals to harm any potential monarch eggs/caterpillars or butterflies…this is hard work! So far 3 years and not one caterpillar found but a new set of other bugs stopping by..

Tony Gomez says

Hi Gabby, I would try planting several milkweed species and spread them around a bit. If it’s one big patch that’s been found by predators, it can be difficult…

Shirley Weismann says

Hi Tony, Have you ever head of milkweed disappearing? My milkweed garden that I had for over 14 years started disappearing 3 years ago. I had hundreds of plants all over my front and back yard. I have replanted and reseeded and nothing comes up. This year only 5 plants showed up, are growing very slow and one died already. I can not figure it out. I know about the diseases and milkweed predators and have been taking care of them by digging up the diseased plants and hand picking the predators. I can grow swamp milkweed and tropical milkweed but there is so little food on them. Any ideas? I don’t know what to do. Please email me if you know anything about this situation.

For now, I have brought them inside, I am in a townhome so not much in the way of animals, I thought, they eat nothing else, picky eaters I guess and no trace of what they bite off, which would be a good 12″. Going to try to put them in the butterfly house to raise until I have migration this way. Will keep you posted.

I have some earwigs that have burrowed down in the tops of my milkweed? I’m new to the milkweed. It should I remove them? Isn’t this where the butterfly lays it’s eggs at the top down in the shoots?

Tony Gomez says

Hi Rachel, we get a few of those and some weevils too. Since we have enough milkweed, I let them stay as part of a healthy milkweed ecosystem…if supply is limited, you can remove by dropping them into a soapy bucked of water.

Hi, I live in So. Ca. I had 3 milkweeds from last yr doing great, 3 weeks ago went out one morning and all had been nipped to the ground. Four days ago bought 2 more about 2 ft tall. This morning (so overnight) the stems have been “cut” about half way down, not chewed, even on a slate. Almost like someone was cutting the top for a floral arrangement. Clean cut. Did not bother anything else in the yard. I have a 6 ft fence around the patio. Can’t find anything on google. Ideas. Thank you in advance

Tony Gomez says

Hi Sandra, this sounds something a bit larger like a rabbit, deer, rat, squirrel. You could try putting fencing around individual plants….

Can you spray something on milkweed plants before you see aphids…preventative ? Last year they destroyed my patch

Tony Gomez says

Hi Colleen, unfortunately no…organic treatments like neem oil will kill caterpillars. Check out this post for some short and long term strategies:

Hi- My tropical milkweed leaves have flatish, brown/ black specks on the back of the leaves. Looks like flecks of pepper. It doesn’t move or have legs. Unsure if its an organism. I remove the leaves and dispose. The specks smear a brown/red color color. Leaves intact but eventually fall off. It doesn’t look like leaf rust. It doesn’t look like any of the pests or diseases you’ve described here. I don’t know how to treat. Pls advise. TIA

Tony Gomez says

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Hi Nicole, potentially sounds like some type of fungus. I would remove the affected leaves and discard. More info on this page:

Hi Tony,
I have been raising monarch in Southern California with your help for 2 years. This winter, I have a problem getting my planted tropical milkweed to grow. Every time I get a crop of new little leaves, something is stripping them to the stems! I brought in the plants I had in pots, and I have been watering with hydrogen peroxide mix, but there is something that keeps eating my new leaves. I never see any milkweed bugs and I have the plants surrounded with wire fencing. There are no animals in the yard bigger than a lizard. What could be eating my new growth??

Tony Gomez says

Hi Sue, sorry to hear about your missing milkweed leaves…if you’re not seeing the culprit it’s possibly visiting at night…I know there are some mice/rats/squirrels that have been known to eat milkweed in warmer regions, although that seems ‘unlikely’ because of the fence. I’m not familiar with all the wildlife in your region, but check out some resources here for ideas: Western Monarch Butterfly Resources

Rarely see a Monarch or milkweed in W.C. AL. Are there no Monarch’s because of no milkweed or do they just not live here? I do have a nice nectar garden with a variety of butterflies.

Hi Michelle, there are monarchs in Alabama, but not having milkweed would greatly reduce chances of seeing them. Here’s some info if you’d like to attract more monarchs:

Hello, I have been having a serious problem with some type of bug which looks to be burrowing through the leaves of my milkweed plants. The bug does not eat through the leaves, but you can see what looks like a trail going through the leaves. I am not sure which type I have of the milkweed, but I reside in zone 10 in San Diego, CA. I keep removing the infected leaves, but the problem still exists. The milkweed flowers range in colors from yellow to orange to red-orange. Crazy I never had this problem until I was assaulted and bedridden for over 1 1/2 years and my spouse had to take care of my plants. He has no clue how to care for plants and tells me he does not want to know. He is happy in his ignorance. He still does not know how to water my many types of plants. Either he over waters them, doesn’t water them enough or waters plants overhead which cannot tolerate getting their leaves wet.
As far as bugs I have seen on the various color milkweeds, they include orange aphids (Oleander Aphids), black small ants, various Preditors spiders, occasionally a green inch type worm/catipillar that bites, and Monarch butterflies and babies when there are no other bugs on the plant.
If you have any idea of the bug which may be tunneling through the milkweed leaves please let me know. Other wise I might have to take it to our local Agricultural Dept. to identify.

Hi Debra, this sounds like some type of leaf miner, but could be a species specific to your region. You might want to try posting a photo of the leaf damage in an insect ID group, where there are help insect experts:

Hi Tony, Central Fl. here and am raising Monarchs! Have my friends doing it also!
However we are having trouble raising Butterfly Weed.
The bottom leaves turn ‘yellow with small black dots’!
What can we do.

Hi Geraldine, when plants develop problems with fungus we remove the affected leaves and sometimes stems of the plants. Watering less might help. Here’s more info:

Janine Morse says

Hi I am fighting a battle with aphids on my milkweed by which I just smash as I do not want to hurt my eggs. But in the process I am finding a worm like thing (?) it moves pretty quickly, black and beige with some white on the middle of it. I have been killing them but I want some help in finding out what it is. Like I said I see it when I am smashing the aphids but I do not normally look at my milkweed too much except when it has aphids. I like in Fl so can you help? I have been raising Monarchs for 2 years now and let at least 100 go every year..

Hi Janine, I would try to get a photo and post it here:

I have these white circle like pox on my balloon milkweed. Its casuing the stems to be deformed. I can squish them but its not effective. Im not sure what i have or how to get rid of it. Im not sure how to attach a pictures of it

Hi Heather, here’s info about milkweed diseases- prevention and treatment:

How can you rinse the milkweed the the caterpillar is on? And if I put one of them in a cage, do I rinse the stem and leaves then dry before placing new cutting in the cage?

Hi Renee, if you’re going to rinse or clean any milkweed, remove the caterpillars first. I don’t ‘dry’ leaves, just rinse and shake off. If your cage has good air circulation, they water will evaporate quickly and give the caterpillars some drinking water:

Kathy Feltmann says

I found a line of metallic looking threadless string on the underside of a butterfly weed leaf. When I blew up the photo it appeared to be empty egg cases. I’ve never seen this before. I have a picture but don’t know how to attach it here.

Hi Kathy, is this the correct ID:

This is the first year I’ve planted milkweed and I was soooo excited. Now I’m not! I have several flower beds and have never had a bug/caterpillar problem. Now that I’ve planted milkweed I’ve seen so many different kinds of bugs and caterpillars it’s giving me the willies and I just hope they don’t infect my other flower beds. I did have one Monarch hatch and that was exciting but If they start infecting my other beds they’re outta here! Geez – peace and harmony has gone to the bugs…

Carole Gathright says

Why an I seeing monarchs this year with deformed wings. Do they still survive.

Hi Carole, it’s possible they were attacked by predators or maybe they have OE parasites…deformed wings is a common sign. They will probably not be migrators.

I had one female eclose this year with one wing smaller than another. She lived only about a week. She couldn’t fly, so I kept her in a mesh cage and fed her flowers and sugar water. It was sad to see her go.
I had brought in eggs, so I don’t think she had OE. All the other eggs eclosed fine into big beautiful Monarchs.
But when she was in the J shape, a fellow cat got close to her which upset her. She began moving back and forth for a couple of minutes, never losing her silky footing before finally calming down again. When she formed her chrysalis, she fell. I think her silky footing had become loose enough that it couldn’t hold her up. I relocated her to a safe hanging position again. But I think the fall may have injured her enough to result in one wing being smaller than the other, and so she wasn’t able to fly.
Does that sound probable? Still, I don’ know why she lived only about a week.
I have the last group–six chrysalides–ready to eclose in the next day or two. So far, they all look fine.

Hi Connie, it’s hard to say. Keep in mind caterpillars get OE by ingesting spores from milkweed or from their egg shells so they can still get OE if all milkweed isn’t thoroughly rinsed. I’m not sure that a fall would cause a wing to be smaller.

I have a monarch that hatched from its chrysalis this morning around 8:10. It is now 5:40 pm and I’ve taken it outside a couple of times to see if it would fly. It just falls to the ground. It flaps its wings and walks around my lanai but doesn’t seem like it can fly. What do you think would cause it’s behavior? It’s now getting ready to storm so I don’t want to put it outside. What would you suggest?

Hi, I would keep it during the storm and try to release again if it seems stronger. If it is weak, it might have OE parasites:

Yesterday I noticed that alot of the leaves on our milkweed plants were eaten off. So I went to investigate to find 31 caterpillars! I was so excited, I was picturing all the monarchs as they’re gonna fly around our yard before they take off. I checked on them today and this time counted 47 but plus one caterpillar that looked different. It wasn’t fuzzy like the others. I was intrigued and with some googling became disappointed to find out I did not in fact win the monarch jackpot lol. I’ve learned more about the monarchs and tussock moth now though.

Hi Jessica, when you see large groups, it’s likely tussocks. Like monarchs, they have many predators in the garden and can disappear very quickly.

Hi Tony,
What will consume serious amounts of tiger milkweed caterpillars? Nothing seems to have disturbed mine while they destroyed the milkweed.

I’m not sure Eunice, but I’ve seen large groups disappear from our plants before. these are common monarch predators:

I have these Tussock moth caterpillars and the Monarch caterpillars in my milkweed garden. I have moved the Tussock moth caterpillars down to the other end of the garden, but they keep finding their way back to where the monarch caterpillars are. What else can I do?

I have pictures, but not sure how or where they can be posted.
Thank you!

Hi Lindsey…plant more milkweed for a long term strategy. For now, tussocks have a lot of the same predator issues that monarchs do, so they might be the answer. If you have enough milkweed I would let them stay. Otherwise, they also eat dogbane, which is not a monarch host plant.

Thank you, Tony! I will plant more milkweed. I will let them stay

We noticed today under one of our Swamp milkweed, on the ground around the stalks and plant were these pebble looking items not present when I planted them 3 wks ago.They are tan on the bottom, white on top, some appear opened (hatched?) which are grey. The other 5 plants show no signs of this.The kidlets compare them to tiny acorns. The milkweed has white flowers and appears to be healthy otherwise. We live in Michigan. HELP

Hi Trixi, I’m not sure what you’re describing. i would take a photo and post here:

I am beginning a project to propagate the milkweed plant. How do I protect the plant from both the bugs listed here and the monarch so that they can be sold in good condition to customers. I am using both seeds and cuttings.

Hi Alejandro, you could always cover plants with netting. You might want to contact a nursery for specifics, as I’m not a commercial grower. good luck!

Thank you for all you do. Just answering our questions must be a full time job. Sometimes the comment section will give me the reassurance I need.
I believe this year I have found everyone of the insects listed above on the different plots/species of milkweed. Luckily the Monarchs are still finding places to lay their eggs.
Again, thank you for all you do. I know when I have questions, the answer is somewhere in your books or website!

I live in Southern California and I have a huge problem with my milkweed infestation of aphids. I had read somewhere that they don’t like banana peels.

Well, yesterday afternoon I ate a banana and sliced the peel thinly and hung it in various places on the milkweed. Today, I walked out and no more aphids!

Now, how to get rid of the red bug infestation? My milkweed all look so sad and unhealthy.

Hi Monica, if you’re talking about milkweed bugs (also listed in the post) and you have a serious infestation, you could try the soapy bucket of water recommended for dealing with adult Japanese beetles…good luck!

All insects, not just monarch butterflies, and other organisms that eat milkweeds are welcome on the milkweed plants on my land. These other insects that also need to eat milkweed to complete their life cycles are not the problem that is causing a decline in monarch butterfly populations.

Big agriculture and big suburbia are the problem for monarch butterflies. Tackle those problems instead of killing insects that are just doing what they have always done for millions of years.

Hi Gary, thank you for your reply…there are options listed here that don’t involve killing bugs. I often point out several times that unless there is a serious infestation, other milkweed insects are part of a healthy ecosystem.

Excellent information. Thank you. Do you have a source you could recommend for milkweed seeds?

Hi Jenna, check out this page for some options:

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