What is a milkweed plant?
Milkweed, or Asclepias, is a uniquely American wildflower known best as a food source and habitat for butterflies and other pollinators. In fact, the monarch butterfly species relies entirely on milkweed to survive, as milkweed is the sole food source for monarch larvae. Gardeners have produced several colorful varieties of milkweed, like these three beautiful specimens of Asclepias tuberosa and Asclepias incarnata, boasting pretty pink, orange, or yellow flowers. After flowering, these plants create distinctive seed pods filled with silky fluff called coma.
Native milkweed is found in almost every American state. As a native wildflower, milkweed absolutely thrives in the United States, and can tolerate hot climates, drought, and nearly any type of American weather. However, these tall and attractive flowers won't overtake your yard. Milkweed grows in clumps to nearly three feet tall, adding vertical interest and bringing a parade of butterflies to the garden.
How to grow milkweed plants?
Milkweed can be planted in the spring in sandy, well-draining soil. Plant your milkweed at the same height to which it was potted, and break up any tightly bound roots. After planting, milkweed is an incredibly easy-care plant. The tall stalks are wonderfully sturdy, and won't require staking. Fertilization is usually not needed. Milkweed requires no winter care, and doesn't even need mulching. Growing milkweed truly could not be easier!
You'll enjoy a burst of color in mid to late summer when milkweed blooms and, if you deadhead your plants, their bloom time will last a little longer. After the blooming season has ended, seed pods will appear in the place of the flowers. These seed pods provide a means for the plants' normal growth and spread. If you don't want your milkweed to multiply, pick the pods before they have an opportunity to fall to the ground—typically, you'll need to secure the seed pods in early fall to prevent volunteer plants. Or, allow the milkweed to reseed naturally, and enjoy a thicker, naturalized array in the following season.
If you'd like to spread your milkweed to a new location in your landscape, save the seed pods and try your hand at growing milkweed from seed. Wait until the seed pods are brown — they'll pop open to reveal silky fluff inside the pod—and pluck them from the plant. Remove the seeds from the husk, and place them in a breathable paper bag to dry and save for the next spring. Store your milkweed seeds in a cool, dry place to improve their chances of successful germination!
Where to plant milkweed?
Milkweed plants prefer placement in full sun, and they thrive in dry, sandy soil. These beautiful weeds don't want too much moisture, and they actually dislike nutrient-rich soil, so keep them away from boggy locations or areas with heavy soil. Because milkweed plants develop a wide, shallow root system, avoid placing them near trees with competing shallow roots. Milkweed is especially well-suited for planting in clumps in open spaces, such as fields or vast yards. Its height makes milkweed a stunning accent piece in a wide landscape, or works well as a corner element in a bed or border.
When to plant milkweed?
The best time to plant milkweed is in spring, as soon as the danger of frost has passed. Quick growers, milkweed will ready themselves in time for monarch butterfly season. Monarchs typically return from wintering in Mexico in late spring. The eggs they lay will hatch in summer, on milkweed around the country.