People who regularly maintain their lawn are all too familiar with milkweed. And they also know that, if left unchecked, this seemingly harmless flowering plant can spread at an alarming rate. This, in turn, can endanger all the other plants you have worked so hard to grow. So, how do you get rid of milkweed or control its spread?
The most effective way to kill milkweed is to use herbicides that contain glyphosate. Afterward, you can cover the affected area with mulch to prevent any regrowth. You can also remove immature seed pods or individual plants with your hands to limit their proliferation.
Despite the risks that come with it, many people utilize milkweed to attract insect pollinators, such as bees and butterflies. So, any lawn or garden owner needs to have proper knowledge about this common lawn inhabitant.
In this article, we will take a deeper look at milkweed and how it functions. Then, we will explore how this plant can harm your property and how to avoid such a fate.
What Is Milkweed?
Milkweed is a perennial flower that is very common in Africa and in North and South America. If you have ever performed lawn duty, you have most likely encountered this plant.
Milkweed is actually a large group of flowering plants, all residing under the genus “Asclepias.” Out of all the different species, the one you are most likely to hear about is the “Asclepias syriaca,” also called the “common milkweed.” This species is more common in (the eastern parts of) America and Canada.
These plants are perennial, which means they live for more than two years and bloom every spring. This makes it difficult to contain them as they keep regrowing every year and can grow on pretty much any sort of green pasture, be it on the roadside, field, or your backyard. However, they do prefer bright sunlight.
Milkweed is pretty tall for an herbaceous plant as it can reach up to 5 feet. Despite its outward appearance, it is actually a rhizome, meaning the main plant body resides underneath the ground.
How to Identify Milkweed
One way to identify this plant is through its flowers, which are pink to purple-ish and highly fragrant. You can tell by just spotting the flowers that there are milkweeds in your garden. When you cut them, they release a white latex substance. The flowers are also arranged in a circular or spherical pattern.
Another way to identify them is by doing a latex test. Milkweed gets its name from a milk-colored, sticky, latex substance that the plant releases when it gets cut. It is released from practically all the parts of the plant.
So, if you have an unknown weed growing in your garden and are unsure of whether it is milkweed or not, simply cut one of its leaves. If you see latex coming out, you can confidently infer that it is milkweed.
Why Do People Grow Milkweed?
There are a couple of reasons for growing milkweed on lawns or gardens, the most obvious one being its effects on the surrounding bug population.
Indeed, milkweed is an excellent way of gathering butterflies and other pollinator insects in your garden. Its relationship with the monarch butterfly is particularly fascinating. The lives of these butterflies are so in sync with one another that people have given it the nickname “milkweed butterfly.”
Essentially, the monarch butterfly and its larvae (monarch caterpillar) eat, breed, and use the plant for shelter. In return, the butterflies scatter the pollen around and help the plant spread even faster.
You will often find eggs or the larvae stages of this creature surrounding the plant, typically on the underside of the leaves, which is something you have to be mindful of when attempting to kill milkweed.
So, if you are looking to add these majestic, winged insects to your garden, your best bet is to plant milkweed. But, you need to do it carefully or the situation can quickly get out of hand.
Is Milkweed Harmful?
You may now be wondering why you should worry about this seemingly useful vegetation. The reason is simple, as the same traits that make it appealing also make it a threat to your garden.
Indeed, milkweed is known for being an extremely invasive weed species. The reason behind it is its inherent capacity to draw insects, specifically monarch butterflies. These insects converge around the plant in large numbers and rapidly spreads its pollen. Thus, before you know it, the plant has invaded most parts of your territory.
Any sort of weed is bad as it fights with your desired plants for food and soil. But, the speed at which milkweed spreads is drastic. Eventually, your plants suffer from malnutrition and slowly wither away.
The other source of concern is the latex it secrets. This is something that all the members of this flowering plant’s family produce. This white substance is rich in a toxic element called “cardiac glycoside.” This chemical can significantly increase your heart rate if it enters your bloodstream. In limited doses, cardiac glycoside has been used as a treatment for people suffering from heart failure. But in the wild like this, you will probably not receive a controlled dose.
Now, the chances of this chemical entering your body are small, but you still have to be careful. Otherwise, the substance can enter your body through an open wound or from ingestion. Both of these situations are not good and should be avoided.
Plus, the sticky nature of this substance can easily ruin your clothes and shoes.
How to Get Rid of Common Milkweed?
Now, let’s discuss how to remove milkweed from your property before it does you any harm. We will go over the most effective methods you can try. Keep in mind that you can apply any combination of these methods to get better results.
Let’s begin with the most effective but also the riskiest method to get rid of milkweed. Synthetic herbicide is very popular in killing unwanted plant life in your gardens and lawns. Mix it with water in the proper proportion and spray it over the milkweed.
Pull the Plants by Hand
These plants are easily noticeable, and their main body is located underground. So, you can pull them out with your hands one at a time. You can also cut or remove the seed pods before they bloom.
One of the many benefits a good mulch offers is the ability to reduce weed growth. Indeed, milkweed can easily grow from cut roots or fallen seed pods, but the mulch denies them moisture and sunlight. So, you can spread mulch around the area where you recently sprayed the herbicides to prevent a future infestation.
What Will Kill Milkweed?
Although several herbicides can effectively kill milkweed, the most popular ones are herbicides that contain glyphosate.
Glyphosate is a chemical compound that is very effective in killing any plant. That is why it is a common ingredient in many commercially produced herbicides.
How to Use Glyphosate
This chemical enters the plant through the leaves, hence why you need to spray it over your targeted vegetation. Glyphosate will then inhibit the production of certain enzymes that are crucial for a plant’s survival, thus killing the plant from the inside.
Read the product’s label, which will tell you the proper measurements. Follow those instructions and fill a tank sprayer with the mixture. Then, spray the mixture solely on the milkweed and other unwanted vegetation. Repeat this process a few times if you notice that some weeds remain.
You must be careful when using any type of chemical herbicide because of its adverse side effects. Here are some precautionary steps you may take to avoid these effects:
- Wear proper protective clothing. Make sure that your arms and legs are covered. You should also wear masks and safety goggles to ensure that the material does not enter your body.
- Do not touch the product without any gloves.
- Make sure you spray only on the area that is infested with milkweed.
- Once you are done, wrap the empty packets of glyphosate in paper or bags and dispose of them properly.
- Always wash your hands and feet after each use.
Glyphosate kills any plants it comes in contact with. So, make sure to only spray the weeds and not any of your coveted plants. Also, do not let children near an area you recently sprayed.
Milkweed can be a great asset for your garden if its population is controlled. Hopefully, with the insights given in this article, you can apply the right methods to prevent milkweed from taking over your yard while also reaping its benefits.