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growing butterfly weed

Growing butterfly weed

Butterfly weed is, of course, a mainstay of butterfly gardens, though it is not quite as attractive to monarch butterflies as is the common milkweed. It is also commonly used in meadow gardens or any landscape design devoted to natural wildflowers. In the mixed border, landscapers find that the bright orange color blends well with blues and purples, such as purple coneflower, Liatris, or globe thistle. It also works well when blended with other yellow and orange flowers, such as coreopsis or black-eyed Susan.

Butterfly weed is very easy to propagate from seed, but because seeds can take two to three years to mature into flowering plants, many gardeners choose to propagate from root cuttings. Here's how to do it:

Beginning in late summer or early fall, the plants should start to develop seed pods at the base of the pollinated blooms. If left on the stem, the pods will eventually burst and the seeds inside will be blown throughout your garden, allowing them to establish themselves in the soil in time for the following year. If you'd rather have more control over the eventual location of any new butterfly weed plants, you can remove the seed pods from the plant before they burst open and simply plant new seeds by hand instead.

These are very similar plants and members of the same plant genus. Both are of great value to butterflies and other pollinators. But butterfly weed has notable orange flowers, while milkweed has white or pink/mauve flowers. Further, milkweed is notably toxic, with the potential for fatality if large quantities are consumed by humans or animals. Butterfly weed, on the other hand, has rather mild toxicity, and fatalities are very rare.

Self-Seeding

Other than the root rot that can appear in dense, wet soils, there are only a couple of common problems with butterfly weed.

It's important to get your watering cadence right for the plant. It should be watered regularly until new growth starts to appear (this includes leaves and stems, not just blooms), at which point you can decrease the frequency with which you water. Additionally, butterfly weed plants should not be fertilized. While fertilizer may work to make other plants bloom, it can actually harm butterfly weed and discourage blooming.

Its seed pods will turn brown towards the end of the growing season (early autumn) and if left on the plant, they will burst and spread seeds throughout your garden to emerge as new volunteer plants the following spring. While the plant can take up to three years to fully mature and produce flowers, its blooms will gradually grow denser with each season that passes.

Pruning Butterfly Weed

Butterfly weed is a must-have plant for gardeners looking to coax the namesake winged insects into the garden. This clump-forming perennial grows from tuberous roots to a height of 1 to 2 feet and is characterized by glossy-green, lance-shaped leaves and clusters of bright orange-to-yellow blooms that are rich with nectar and pollen. A type of milkweed, butterfly weed is generally planted in late spring after the soil is workable. It is fairly slow to become established and may take as much as three years before it flowers. When it finally does flower, its clusters of bright orange-yellow flowers will display from late spring until late summer. Unlike other milkweeds, butterfly weed does not have caustic milky sap, but it does produce the characteristic seed pods that release silky-tailed seeds to disperse on the wind.

If possible, choose a spot in your garden that boasts lots of bright sunlight daily, as this plant loves to soak up the rays. Full sun is definitely your best bet, but his hardy plant can tolerate a few hours of shade, too.

Growing butterfly weed

Plant butterfly weed in a perennial garden close to where you can view the butterflies from a window or deck. Since butterfly weed can have loud, hot flower colors, pair it in the garden with complimentary colored perennials, such as Russian sage, coneflowers and ornamental grasses. It can also be grown in the cut flower garden for arrangements.

This native has less stature, compared with the butterfly bush, but is just as effective at drawing in winged friends, such a butterflies, ladybugs and beneficial insects, into the garden. It’s particularly a favorite of the Monarch butterfly. Butterfly weed is also hardier and more adapted to a wider range of soils, making it a good choice if you’re having a hard time growing butterfly bush successfully. The plant is slow to emerge in spring, so don’t give up hope. My butterfly weed often will just start growing when other plants are fully leafed out around it. But it makes up for lost time quickly growing to 4 feet tall and wide with brightly colored flowers. Once growing it has few problems.

Butterfly weed is hardy through New England. Sow seeds indoors in peat pots 6 to 8 weeks before your last frost date, thinning to one plant per pot. Or plant locally purchased plants in spring after danger of frost has passed or summer, in full sun on compost-amended, well-drained soil. Poor soil drainage is the one thing butterfly weed won’t stand. Space plants 2 to 3 feet apart. Butterfly weed has a taproot, so once planted it’s difficult to move.

Companion Planting and Design

Regional Advice and Care

Keep the plants well watered the first year and fertilize once in spring with compost. Butterfly weed is slow growing at first in our cool soils, so mark where you planted it so you accidentally don’t dig it up when planting annuals and other perennials in spring.

Bloom Period and Seasonal Color

Asclepias tuberosa

Mature Height x Spread