You don’t have to be an avid gardener to have heard the word “milkweed” come up in conversation over the past few years. Asclepias has exploded in popularity in the horticulture world, and for good reason. Let’s take a crash course and then look at our favorite milkweed plants that Westwood Gardens is offering this year, one of which we’ve never had before!
What’s the big deal about milkweed?
It attracts the Monarch butterfly, which must have milkweed to feed on or it cannot survive. No Milkweed = No Monarch. Pollinators are responsible for every third bite of food we take. Monarch = Pollinator.
Need more proof? The Perennial Plant Association named it the 2017 Plant of the Year.
How hard is it to grow?
Tropical Milkweed (Asclepias curassavica) is the easiest and fastest to grow, but only lasts one season. However, given a choice, Monarchs will go to it first. Prefers full sun, lots of water, and fertilizer. Don’t give up if the Monarchs show up and eat all the leaves; it’s a fast-growing tropical and will releaf soon.
The native hardy asclepias ‘Hello Yellow’ and ‘Cinderella’ are a little harder to establish, and they don’t grow as quickly, but once established they are carefree for years. They also attract other butterfly species as well. Needs full sun; be careful not to overwater.
Also worth mentioning is that milkweed gets a bad rap sometimes, as the word “weed” tends to make gardeners squeamish, but think of it more as a wildflower, because that’s just what it is.
And without further adieu, this year we’re excited to offer, for the first time, the Balloon Plant Milkweed.
Balloon Plant Milkweed
This unusual milkweed comes from Africa. It’s a heat-loving plant and thrives when the temperatures warm up. It needs a long growing season to produce the unusual green pods. Note: This is an annual, which means it will only last one growing season in our area (Zone 6b for Northwest Arkansas).
Grow this milkweed in full sun in well-drained garden soil. A light feeding of fish emulsion fertilizer will get them off to a good start. Water 2-3 times per week until the plant is established. This is a fairly drought tolerant plant once it is established. Small white flowers will appear early in the season:
Milkweeds are bothered by several garden pests. For organic gardening, checking the plants everyday is the best defense. Note: Any chemicals that kill garden bugs will also kill the butterfly larvae. Aphids will attack the tender new growing tips. These are easy to treat with an insecticidal soap or a good blast of water from the hose. Large orange/red and black Milkweed Bugs can also attack the plant. These bugs are large and slow moving. Hand-pick them and drop them in a bucket of soapy water.
Please note that milkweeds are poisonous so always use caution around children and pets. Some people find the milky sap to be a skin irritant.
Visit any of our locations in Northwest Arkansas to get your hands on these functional, hardy plants, and good luck in the garden!