Right now there are two species of Milkweed blooming in our garden: Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) and Butterflyweed (A. tuberosa). As you probably know, native Milkweed species are essential to the future of the Monarch Butterfly.
The Common Milkweed has grown into a nice little patch that is blooming well in the Sidewalk Border. Common Milkweed is an aggressive plant, but as of now I’m glad I planted it. Once established it spreads far and wide via roaming rhizomes. Stems that pop up where they are not wanted are yanked out or mowed down (as in the lawn). I also cut back before the flowers go to seed.
Those who introduce this plant to their gardens should know what they are getting into. Nevertheless I am pleased to see Common Milkweed included in a surprising number of gardens in our community, particularly in parkways aka “hell strips”.
I love the unique shape of Milkweed flowers, though the dusty pink color of this species does not excite me. The flowers of Common Milkweed also have a wonderful honey scent, which is the main reason I planted it where passersby could appreciate the fragrance.
As for Butterflyweed, I used to have a very nice patch in the Driveway Border, but it has been much diminished since we did some driveway construction. Butterflyweed has a taproot and spreads by making clumps, but it doesn’t run. It resents disturbance. And the Driveway patch is now being shaded by other plants, notably Hoary Vervain (Verbena stricta).
Generally, though, Butterflyweed is a fairly easy plant. Mainly it wants sun and well-drained soil, though there is a variety adapted to clay soil sold by Prairie Nursery. And I love the vibrant orange color.
More recently, we planted a couple of new Butterfyweeds in the little bed in front of the front door landing. They seem to be doing ok, though that spot got a lot of snow piled on in late winter. That seemed to delay the emergence of the plants – they are late to break dormancy anyhow. Not sure they appreciated the extra moisture, either.
Our biggest patch of Butterflyweed is tucked out-of-the-way on the west side of the Crabapple bed. It looks healthy, but is blooming a bit sparsely.
Milkweed species are the only host plants for the Monarch Butterfly. I was pleased to catch a single Monarch here nectaring on the Common Milkweed. We don’t usually start seeing multiple Monarchs until later in the summer.
Here’s the same Monarch (I think) basking on some Cutleaf Coneflower (Rudbeckia laciniata).
The most recent Monarch population numbers are quite grim. However, it’s not too late. Planting native Milkweed species in our home gardens is one easy way most people can contribute. We also have Rose and Sullivant’s Milkweed (A. incarnata and A. sullivantii) in our garden but they are not blooming yet, so I’ll write about them later. Plus, there are a number of other garden-worthy species.
Do you grow Common Milkweed in your garden? Are you happy with it? Do you have a different favorite Milkweed species?
I love butterfly weed but have never been able to grow it. Too much clay soil and too high a water table here. I have yet to see milkweed offered at garden centers here.
Rose or Swamp Milkweed is fairly common at garden centers. There are a couple of cultivars like ‘Ice Ballet’ with white flowers.
My Common Milkweed is tall and aggressive in the front yard, and now there are a few plants in the back. I was going to remove some of it but a Monarch visiting early in the season before it started to bloom made me reconsider. Years ago I was frustrated because milkweed I planted didn’t happen and now I have more than enough. I think the Common arrived by itself, actually. I also have some nice Red Milkweed in the backyard by the fence, just starting to bloom.
Red Milkweed is very nice, and fragrant as others have pointed out.
Congratulations on your monarch — it is beautiful! I can almost hear it saying “thank you!”
I wish he would bring some friends.
I have a lot of Common, Purple, Swamp, and Whorled MW as well as a Butterfly Weed. The only way to protect the Monarchs is by providing habitat for the larva as well as the adults. Also plant late blooming nectar flowers to fuel their migration to Mexico in the fall.
You are so right. Sounds like you have a great pollinator garden.
Regarding fragrance, Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) smells delightfully like vanilla cookies. It is does not need wet soil, but will be happy to grow in moist conditions and it is doing very well in my heavy clay soil.
You’re right, of course, Swamp Milkweed has a really nice vanilla scent, though not so strong as the Common Milkweed fragrance.
Great to see the monarch just where it should be. I can’t introduce any more runners but I love A. tuberosa.
And A. tuberosa has been blooming really well for you this year, I believe!
Yes, it did earlier but no longer.
I have swamp milkweed. I’ve let it reseed all over my property. Lots of milkweed beetle this year.
I’ve seen 1 monarch so far. Bees are scarce too.
I’ve seen a single Monarch two or three times, I’m assuming different individuals.
What a beautiful butterfly the Monarch is, and a lovely photo of it there feeding on the Milkweed. We don’t have that Butterfly weed here, to my knowledge, but I find it very attractive and agree with you re the colour: I’ll take vibrant orange over pale pink any day. So do you find people in your local area are generally quite enthusiastic about planting to help wildlife in their gardens?
There are some people enthusiastic about gardening for wildlife. They are a distinct, but growing, minority.
Glad to hear that, may they continue to grow and hopefully move into the mainstream.
We have fields full of common milkweed here and I see it nearly everywhere I go, so I don’t grow it.
My favorite milkweed is swamp milkweed, mainly because of the color.
A lot of people look down on the common milkweed because it spreads in abandoned fields and used to be a weed in corn and soybean fields.
I think attitudes are changing though, at least in this area.
I’ve grown common milkweed and have found it easy to discourage – cut the unwanted plants down in the fall. Even though I planted the butterflyweed for clay version, it does not survive my heavy clay soil; I’ve given up on it.
Too bad. Have you tried Swamp Milkweed.
I grow three species of milkweed and have a large area of common milkweed in a pollinator meadow. I think I might deadhead them this year, too – I’ve got plenty!
Once you have a few, you will soon have many.
So true. But I must say that even if the common milkweed takes over, its scent, particularly in the evening, is intoxicating!
We have some self-planted common milkweed by the front steps. It smells wonderful!
The fragrance is fantastic.
The common milkweed doesn’t grow down here. The first time I saw it was in Missouri, and the size of the plant (especially the leaves) just knocked me over. I’d have to say the aquatic, red-ring, and red milkweeds are my favorites, although there are more than thirty species native to Texas–lots to choose from! I was surprised to find there even are species that thrive in the dry, deserty parts of the state.
Those are species I don’t know. Around here A. syriaca grows usually 4-5′.
We tried ‘one’ butterfly weed in a new landscape, and it did not last long. Bummer. It was something of a trial, before adding it to other landscapes. We will likely try it again. I believe that the death of the first specimen was because of excessive irrigation, so was not a good representation of the potential.
It’s got great color.
I did not realise that Milkweed was so invasive. It is good to hear that despite of that people will keep it in their garden to build up a chain of nourishment for the Monarchs. Amelia
It’s mainly the Common Milkweed that is so aggressive, the other garden species are not.
It’s so pretty, we don’t grow it here. But then we don’t have Monarch butterflies. Lucky you, what a treat having them visit your garden.
Yes, they are one of the highlights of summer. Sadly they have become very rare, and the whole migration is really in peril.
Plant some. They will find it.
We don’t grow it here either, but I must look into plants that will attract more butterflies, we definitely have less in our garden than when we first started this garden.
I fear that is true everywhere.
As Betsey mentioned, swamp milkweed is a fragrant one. I planted some in my back garden near the fence and it is colonizing in the alley outside the fence. On humid summer evenings I can smell it all over the back yard. It’s heavenly! The butterfly weed is my fave, but it seems somewhat fickle. It moves around the yard in response to a call only it can hear, heh heh. Hopefully you’ll try some of the swamp milkweed – I think you’d love it and it’s color is such a pretty pink too. It would be a fine addition to your garden.
I do have some swamp milkweed, but it has yet to bloom here. You are right that its fragrance is lovely.
Sadly common milkweed is listed as invasive in Georgia, as it is not native to our state and has taken habitat away from some of our more regionally delicate milkweed species. I adore the fragrance of common milkweed and I think the larger leaves are more attractive to monarchs. Butterfly milkweed grows well in my garden and I love the orange blooms.
I didn’t realize the Common Milkweed was considered invasive anywhere in the US. I share your love of the orange A. tuberosa blooms.
Over the years, I’ve purchased a half a dozen butterfly weed plants, and I have one. This one looks like a new plant every year because it doesn’t seem to grow. I enjoy it, but I can’t say I have much luck with it. 🙂
Hmm. Well, the butterfly weed can be a little finicky.
I don’t grow milkweed in my yard. I feel as though it’s too shady. I mostly see milkweed growing in areas where there is full sun. Is your milkweed growing in full sun? Or, is there some shade?
In mostly sunny places. There are a couple Milkweeds that tolerate shade, like purple or poke milkweed.
I have never seen it here, but we don’t have monarch butterflies here either. The orange one looks really pretty as well as benefitting your wildlife.
Yes, it’s a very clear and vibrant orange.
Yes, tuberosa or “monarch’s delight.” Have been reluctant on the common milkweed but will try it. As an aside, I have a friend who has a robust clump of tuberosa growing in dappled shade on a slope in the front of a rowhome… it thrives – not sure whether that is the drainage but surprised because of the shady conditions.
There must be just enough sun and other conditions this plant really prefers.
My native milkweed is narrow-leaf milkweed, Asclepias fascicularis. I wish I’d never planted it! So invasive. I am, literally, pulling it out daily. It pops more up overnight, in beds near where originally it was a nice tidy little clump, and in paths yards away. I cut off the seed pods, so these are the underground rhizomes. I never see monarchs, so it was ill-advised. Although, being given the seeds did cause me to build the Butterfly Garden in the first place. It gets loads of other pollinators. Butterfly Weed is so much prettier (up close the milkweed is spectacular, but it doesn’t put on quite the show of color). I don’t know how, but a few plants came up in my raspberry bed this year. I don’t know how, because that bed only got soil in April, delivered, not from my yard.
In my suburban chicago backyard: the swamp milkweed and ice ballet milkweed were covered in aphids the last few summers. I try to hose them off, but they always come back. Nonetheless, I will keep the plants, they are very pretty.
The asclepias tuberosa came back late this spring, and is doing very well in full sun. The butterflies love my butterfly bushes, blue fortune agastache, yarrow, magnus coneflowers, phlox and native asters. The bees love the nepeta, calamint agastache, monarda and asters as well. I also am seeing fewer big bumblebees, but lots of smaller native bees are around.
I haven’t seen many butterflies in our garden so far this year.
Just a few here, hoping for more later in the summer.
I grow common milkweed, butterfly weed, and recently planted swamp milkweed. I had planted a whorled milkweed a few years ago but it got crowded out and didn’t make it. My father grew milkweed decades ago, and gave me my first plant. I’ve seen two monarchs so far this year, several weeks apart.
I have spread milkweed seeds on my morning walks over the years, so hopefully I’ve added a few plants to my neighborhood.
Sounds like some good guerilla gardening!
We don’t have Monarchs here but I loved seeing them on milkweeds when I was in the US.
They are truly beautiful.
It’s wonderful to hear that more milkweed is being grown, the monarchs will be grateful, what a beautiful butterfly it is.xxx
I have tried most varieties of milkweed (with the exception of common) that are available, but have only had success with butterflyweed that, as you note, once established is reliable and most attractive. Here, in Central Kentucky, our local city/county government has various departments, including parks and recreation, that are making an all-out effort to return large portions of public green space to native species (including milkweed) and leave them unmowed.
That’s good to hear. In Chicago the city is still ticketing native plant gardens as weeds. Fortunately I live on the other side of the city line in Evanston.
Very healthy milkweed plants there! Common milkweed is the only species I haven’t had success with, believe it or not. I could make a place for it in the very sunniest spot in my garden, but I have other milkweeds there. I figure having plenty of five different species of milkweed should be sufficient. I’ve only seen a few monarchs here in my garden this season, and I’ve found zero eggs. (Usually, I’m overwhelmed by now.) Some of the local monarch folks (in a Facebook group) are saying it could be partially because of our early drought, since there are plenty of monarch eggs and caterpillars north of us, as posted on the group page. I agree with you that the scent of common milkweed is delicious.
I have not seen any eggs or caterpillars either, though I have seen a couple of Monarchs.
Hi Jason .. Funny enough I am going to post with milkweed included. I only have tuberosa. Sunny positions in my garden are very tight and crowded, but I had to have it there for Monarchs .. I am hoping they will gather on Pink Diamond hydrangea like they did 2 years ago .. it was a sight to be seen that I will never forget ! I have loads of different hydrangea all over the place for them if they choose to go that route. Otherwise … I have lots of different plants they like, but yes .. the regular orange tuberosa is a standard here !
Many pollinators do love Hydrangeas. Glad that you have lots of A. tuberosa in your garden!
I adore common milkweed–to me, the dusky pink blossoms are beautiful and the fragrance is just amazing. It apparently adores me, too. As you wisely warned, once it gets a foothold–look out! I just saw our first monarch yesterday, so hoping we have good year for them.
I hope so too. Have seen only a few this year, never more than one at a time.
I do TRY to grow the Asclepias. I’ve had difficulty with the common form…no luck from seed, and no luck in finding it for sale in my area. I do have two small tuberosa…however they are being studied down here as a potential problem for the monarchs. IT keeps blooming in the South, long past when the monarchs should quit laying eggs and reproducing…they should continue their migration. Some have thought it disturbs the migration patterns. So the watchful gardeners who grow it, and know it, try to cut it back at the end of summer, to keep those butterflies on their way!
A friend just told me that the Common Milkweed is actually not native and invasive in Georgia, but there are some rather delicate native milkweeds. Although in Georgia you must have really diverse climate and flora in different parts of the state.
I really enjoyed this informative post! I was in Iowa last Saturday and saw many lovely butterfly weed with their gorgeous orange blooms (and a couple of the blooming plants had monarch butterflies on them). I didn’t know what they were. I had figured out that they were a version of milkweed. In my garden, I have the common milkweed –it is in with my hydrangea –it blew in and I’ve left it. I think I better clip the heads before they seed.
Those orange flowers are really distinctive, I love them.
Hands up on common milkweed – we have it spotted here and there but I’ll pull any that are out of bounds. I have a couple of swamp milkweed plants that I grew from seed in the west border but those are much later to emerge – in fact, I’m fairly certain I had some rabbit grazing happening on one of them last year and was concerned that it was a goner, but thankfully, it’s back this year.
Really – rabbits eating milkweed?? I didn’t know they did that!
I grew butterfly weed in my front yard for several years. One spring it never returned. I haven’t tried since; don’t really know why. We have a flood wall a few blocks from our house with a lot of milkweed growing on the slopes. Today I saw my first monarch feeding on one of them; that seems to be a bit early for us (Southern Tier of New York).
Glad you have a wild spot nearby with lots of milkweed.
I’m sure the butterflies are thankful for your plantings. Here in S. Ontario, the rich orange of butterfly weeds on the sides of the road always make me smile.
I wish they were growing on the roadsides here.
We have swarms of butterflies and other pollinators all around our butterfly bushes right now, we can’t get enough of them!