Growing Butterfly Weed Plants: Tips On Butterfly Weed Care
What is a butterfly weed? Butterfly weed plants (Asclepias tuberosa) are trouble-free North American natives that produce umbels of bright orange, yellow, or red blooms all summer long. Butterfly weed is appropriately named, as the nectar and pollen rich flowers attract hummingbirds and hordes of butterflies, bees, and other beneficial insects throughout the blooming season. Do you want to know more about how to grow butterfly weed? Read on.
Butterfly Weed Characteristics
Butterfly weed plants are milkweed cousins with tall, clumping perennials that reach heights of 12 to 36 inches (31-91 cm.). The blooms appear atop fuzzy, green stems, which are adorned by attractive, lance-shaped leaves. Butterfly weed plants spread by way of seeds, which are released from large pods in early autumn.
Butterfly weed grows wild in a variety of environments, including open woods, prairies, dry fields, meadows, and along roadsides. In the garden, butterfly weed looks great in wildflower meadows, borders, rock gardens, or mass plantings.
How to Grow Butterfly Weed
Growing butterfly weed requires very little effort. The plant, suitable for growing in USDA plant hardiness zones 3 through 9, thrives in bright sunlight and poor, dry, sandy, or gravelly soil with a slightly acidic or neutral pH.
Butterfly weed plants are easy to grow by seed, but may not produce blooms for two or three years. Once established, butterfly weed is drought tolerant and blooms dependably from year to year. Also, keep in mind that butterfly weed has long, sturdy roots that make transplantation very difficult, so locate the plant in its permanent place in the garden.
Butterfly Weed Care
Keep the soil moist until the plant is established and showing new growth. Thereafter, water only occasionally, as butterfly weed plants prefer dry soil. Trim old growth every spring to keep them neat and healthy.
No fertilizer is required and may even harm the plant.
Mealybugs and aphids may cause problems during the blooming season, but both are easily controlled by regular applications of insecticidal soap or horticultural oil.
How to Get Texas Native Milkweed Seeds to Germinate
Our friends at Native American Seed have been working for years on the best way to get persnickety Texas native milkweed seeds to germinate. “Native milkweeds simply don’t do well in containers,” said George Cates, seed wrangler at the seed farm and land restoration company in the Hill Country town of Junction. “They require a very specific set of conditions and have an extremely long tap-root, making containerization untenable.”
Want native Texas milkweed? Start with seeds.
So what’s the solution to getting native milkweeds into our landscape? Start with seeds.
The process has been perfected by Cates, who has germinated thousands of seeds in the last year for Native American Seed‘s customers and the Xerces Society. Read a report about the project and the status of native Texas milkweed seed production here. Here’s Cate’s process:
Milkweed Stratification Procedures, Courtesy Native American Seed
NOTE: Cates insists that sterile rubber (latex) gloves be worn at all times and that containers and implements be sterile. Otherwise, mold can grow in the vermiculite and damage the seeds.
1. Mix seeds with pre-chilled distilled water and let soak for 24 hours in the fridge.
2. After 24 hours, pour seeds into strainer and rinse with distilled water.
3. Moisten vermiculite with distilled water, the exact quantity required varies with different media, moist but not dripping is best.
4. Mix rinsed seeds into vermiculite using your hands, and wear sterile gloves.
5. Seal container and store in fridge for 30-45 days at 35-45 degrees. Remove and plant immediately if you see mold.
6. Plant entire mixture or sift seeds out and plant in prepared seed bed when soil temps are warm (70 degrees+).
7. Water often until germination occurs.
Antelope horns milkweed, a Monarch butterfly host plant. Photos by Native American Seed
Soaking and washing the seeds removes natural chemicals that inhibit germination. When the seeds are moved from the cold darkness of the refrigerator to the bright light and warmth of the sun, they are “shocked” into sprouting. “The stratification process is meant to mimic nature,” he said, adding that the plants likely developed this dormancy strategy as an answer to drought conditions.
Good luck with your milkweed seeds and let us know how it goes!
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