Got hungry caterpillars, but no milkweed? Here’s what to do when they run out of leaves.

If you’re a part of the “pollination frenzy,” as described by Heather Kirk-Ballard, you may be observing the results of monarch butterfly caterpillars being, to quote Eric Carle, “very hungry” and eating all the milkweed you’ve so kindly planted for them — leaving them in a bit of a lurch.

“Monarch larvae or caterpillars feed exclusively on milkweed leaves as its host plant,” said Kirk-Ballard. “When the hungry, hungry caterpillars run out of food many gardeners begin to panic.”

If you’re looking for a solution, there’s good and bad news.

The good news is two-fold. According to Kirk-Ballard, an assistant professor at LSU’s Ag Center and School of Plant, the milkweed plant will grow back quickly. She recommends patience.

“Milkweed also propagates easily from seed. It’s a great idea to harvest seeds from plants and save them for the next year to help prevent fuel shortages,” she said. “Have a succession planting (plant new seeds every couple of weeks) so that you have a succession of plants for the cats in the spring.”

If you’re looking for milkweed plants, Kirk-Ballard recommends a local nursery.

The bad news is there’s no substitute for milkweed when it comes to monarch butterfly caterpillars.

“There are many varieties of milkweed, including a native one, but the one most people grow here now is tropical,” Kirk-Ballard said.

For those playing the pollination long game, Kirk-Ballard advices collecting seeds in the fall when pods dry and split releasing a white fluff with seeds attached.

“Many homeowners will find germinated plants in spring from the fall seed drop,” she said. “In the meantime, check local retail garden centers. Many sell several varieties of native milkweeds.”

Also, check social media groups which can be an important information exchange for avid Monarch adorers. They can often set up a community plant exchanges. Additionally, the LSU AgCenter Hammond Research will host its Spring Plant Sale from 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. April 23 at the Hammond Research Station. The St. Tammany Master Gardener Plant Sale is also this weekend from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., April 22-23 at 2022 Northshore Garden & Plant Sale.

For those looking for more information, click here for an article from the USDA.

Alternative fuel for monarch caterpillars works only in the most developed stage of growth.

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