Create Your Garden

Asclepias (Milkweed)

Milkweed, Common Milkweed, Butterflyweed, Swamp Milkweed, Showy Milkweed, Mexican Whorled Milkweed, Tropical Milkweed, Asclepias syriaca, Asclepias tuberosa, Asclepias incarnata, Asclepias speciosa, Asclepias fascicularis, Asclepias curassavica

Asclepias,  Milkweed, Common Milkweed, Butterflyweed, Swamp Milkweed, Showy Milkweed, Mexican Whorled Milkweed, Tropical Milkweed, Asclepias syriaca, Asclepias tuberosa, Asclepias incarnata, Asclepias speciosa, Asclepias fascicularis, Asclepias curassavica

Asclepias, commonly known as Milkweed, is a vibrant and essential perennial that attracts pollinators and adds beauty to any garden with its colorful flowers and unique growth habit.

What is Asclepias?

Asclepias, commonly known as milkweed, is a genus of herbaceous perennial flowering plants belonging to the dogbane family Apocynaceae (formerly in Asclepiadaceae). These plants are adorned with clusters of small, interestingly shaped flowers in shades of yellow, green, purple, pink, or orange. Milkweed gets its name from the milky sap that exudes from the leaves and stems when the plant is cut or bruised.

Habit and Size: Milkweed plants have a bushy and upright growth habit, reaching heights of 2 to 6 feet (60-180 cm).

Flowers: The flowers are unique and complex, generally formed in umbrella-like clusters. Depending on the species, they are often fragrant and come in a range of colors, including pink, orange, yellow, green, and white. After flowering, milkweed produces seed pods that split open to reveal seeds with long, silken threads that catch the wind, aiding their dispersal. This process is a delight to behold and can add winter interest to the garden.

Foliage: The foliage of milkweed plants is typically light to dark green. The leaves vary in shape by species, but many have long, oval leaves that are pointed at the end and can be smooth or hairy.

Blooming Season: Most milkweed plants bloom between late spring and late summer, depending on the species and location,

Uses: Attractive and easy to grow, milkweed plants shine in many perennial gardens and are a key component of butterfly gardens, cottage gardens, or prairies and meadows.

Monarch Butterfly: Milkweed plants are critical to monarch butterflies’ survival. Without Milkweed, monarchs cannot successfully reproduce. However, milkweed has been negatively impacted by habitat loss and the use of pesticides and herbicides. In the last 20 years, the monarch butterfly population in North America has decreased by 90%. By planting milkweed in your garden, you can help reverse the fortune of these beautiful insects!

Pollinators: Milkweed’s nectar-rich flowers also attract a wide range of other pollinators, including bees and hummingbirds. I

Toxicity: Milkweeds are toxic to humans and animals and can cause a range of symptoms if ingested. The plant contains a milky sap containing cardenolides, toxic compounds that can cause gastrointestinal distress, nausea, vomiting, and other symptoms.

Deer and Rabbit: Deer and rabbits typically avoid milkweed because of its toxicity.

Drought tolerance: Milkweeds are fairly drought-tolerant and are adaptable to various soil conditions, though they prefer well-drained soils.

Invasiveness: Milkweed plants are not considered invasive. However, they can be vigorous growers and potentially spread beyond their intended area. Learn how to prevent milkweed from spreading.

Garden ideas, Border ideas, Plant Combinations, Flowerbeds Ideas, Summer Borders, Asclepias tuberosa, Milkweed, Salvia verticillata, Butterfly Flower, Butterfly Root, Butterfly Weed, Orange flowers, Purple Flowers

Why Should I Grow a Milkweed Plant?

Growing milkweed in your garden is a wonderful way to support local ecosystems, especially those of pollinators. Here are some reasons why you should consider growing milkweed:

Support for Monarch Butterflies: Milkweeds are the primary food source for Monarch caterpillars and are essential for their survival. By planting milkweed, you can provide much-needed habitat and food for these beautiful butterflies, whose populations have declined.

Attract Pollinators: Milkweed plants produce nectar-rich flowers that attract a wide range of pollinators, including bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds.

Drought Tolerance: Milkweed species generally tolerate dry conditions, making them a good choice for gardens in arid climates or areas subject to water restrictions.

Low Maintenance: Once established, milkweed requires little care. They’re resistant to many pests and diseases and can thrive in a variety of soil conditions.

Unique Beauty: Milkweed flowers are unique and beautiful, and they can add bright pops of color to your garden during their blooming season.

Educational Opportunity: Planting milkweed can provide an excellent opportunity to educate children and adults alike about the life cycle of Monarch butterflies and the importance of plant-pollinator relationships.

Remember, it’s always best to plant native species of milkweed as they’re best adapted to your local climate and most beneficial to your local ecosystems. Check with a local nursery or extension service to find out which species are native to your area.

Guide Information

Hardiness 3 - 10
Plant Type Perennials
Genus Asclepias
Exposure Full Sun
Season of Interest Spring (Late)
Summer (Early, Mid, Late)
Fall
Height 2' - 6'
(60cm - 180cm)
Spread 1' - 3'
(30cm - 90cm)
Maintenance Low
Water Needs Average
Soil Type Chalk, Clay, Loam, Sand
Soil pH Acid, Alkaline, Neutral
Soil Drainage Moist but Well-Drained, Well-Drained, Moisture Retentive
Native Plants United States, California, Northeast, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin, Midwest, Nebraska, Ohio, Missouri, North Dakota, Iowa, South Dakota, Kansas, Indiana, Illinois, Oregon, Pacific Northwest, Idaho, Washington, Southeast, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Southwest, Texas, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Rocky Mountains, Utah, Wyoming, Montana, Colorado, Alaska
Tolerance Deer, Drought, Rabbit
Attracts Bees, Butterflies, Hummingbirds
Landscaping Ideas Beds And Borders
Garden Styles Informal and Cottage, Prairie and Meadow

Main Milkeed Species

Garden Design with Milkweed Plants

Incorporating milkweed plants into your garden design can create a vibrant and dynamic landscape that is both beautiful and beneficial to local wildlife. Here are some tips for designing with milkweed:

Naturalized Plantings: Milkweed looks best in naturalized plantings or meadow-style gardens where it can freely self-seed and spread. Their wild growth habit may not be suitable for formal, structured gardens.

Borders and Backgrounds: Milkweed can reach substantial heights depending on the variety, making them a great choice for the back of garden borders. Their bright, nectar-rich flowers can provide a beautiful backdrop for shorter plants.

Butterfly Gardens: As the primary food source for monarch butterfly caterpillars, milkweed is an essential component of a butterfly garden. Combine it with other nectar-rich plants to attract a variety of pollinators.

Companion Plantings: Combine milkweed with other native wildflowers for a robust, easy-care garden. Good companions include coneflowers, black-eyed Susans, and bee balm. Their contrasting shapes and colors can create a visually striking display.

Container Gardens: Certain varieties of milkweed do well in containers. This allows you to control their spread and enjoy their beauty up close.

Multiples: Plant milkweeds in groups or clusters of at least three to provide a significant food source for monarchs and other pollinators.

Mix Varieties: If space allows, consider planting several different types of milkweed to extend the blooming period and provide a variety of food sources for butterflies.

Lastly, always remember to leave the plants standing in fall and winter, as their seed pods provide food for birds and the stalks can serve as habitat for overwintering insects. You can clean up the area when new growth appears in the spring.

Showy Milkweed

Companion Plants

Milkweed plants are a crucial element in many pollinator gardens. They can be paired with a variety of companion plants that share similar growing conditions or provide added benefits such as attracting additional types of pollinators or offering aesthetically pleasing contrasts. Here are a few companion plants for milkweed:

Coneflowers (Echinacea spp.): Coneflowers are hardy perennials that offer attractive flowers throughout the summer. They are drought-tolerant and come in a variety of colors that complement milkweed.

Black-Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta): Black-eyed Susans bloom around the same time as milkweed and their bright yellow flowers create a striking contrast with the pink and purple hues of milkweed.

Bee Balm (Monarda spp.): Bee Balm, like milkweed, is a magnet for pollinators. Its distinctive red, pink, or purple flowers add a splash of color to the garden.

Blazing Star (Liatris spicata): The tall, spike-like purple flowers of Blazing Star pair well with the more bushy growth of milkweed.

Asters (Aster spp.): Asters provide late-season blooms that continue to provide nectar for butterflies and other pollinators after milkweed has finished blooming.

Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum): This native grass adds a contrasting texture to the broad leaves of milkweed and provides winter interest.

Goldenrod (Solidago spp.): Goldenrod provides a bright yellow contrast to milkweed and blooms later in the season, offering a consistent food source for pollinators.

Agapanthus (Lily of the Nile): Known for its beautiful, globe-like blue or white flowers, Agapanthus contrasts well with the bold colors and forms of Asclepias.

Kniphofia (Red Hot Poker): Kniphofia is valued for its bold, upright spikes of tubular flowers in bright reds, oranges, and yellows, matching the warm colors of many Asclepias species. Both plants attract pollinators and share similar growing conditions.

Crocosmia: With its arching stems of bright, tubular flowers, Crocosmia can create a stunning contrast with the clusters of Asclepias blooms. Both plants are excellent for attracting pollinators and enjoy full sun and well-drained soil.

Remember that variety is key in a pollinator garden. Including a range of plants that bloom at different times throughout the season will provide a consistent food source for butterflies, bees, and other beneficial insects.

Companion Plants for Milkweed Plants

Achillea (Yarrow)
Agapanthus (African Lily)
Crocosmia (Montbretia)
Echinacea (Coneflower)
Kniphofia (Red Hot Poker)
Monarda (Bee Balm)
Aster novae-angliae (New England Aster)
Solidago (Goldenrod)
Rudbeckia hirta (Black-Eyed Susan)

Growing Tips

Asclepias are wonderfully adaptable plants that can add charm to any garden. Here are some expert tips to ensure the successful cultivation of these vibrant, ecologically valuable plants.

Site Selection: Most Milkweed plants require full sun (at least 6 hours a day) and perform well in average garden soil. Select a location with good drainage, as these plants dislike waterlogged soils. Asclepias incarnata (Swamp Milkweed) is an exception, as it prefers medium to wet soils.

Soil Preparation: Milkweeds are not fussy about soil. They can grow in sandy, loamy, or clay soils, provided it drains well. If your soil is heavy clay or tends to remain soggy, consider improving the drainage by adding organic matter or grit.

Planting: If you’re growing from seed, sow them directly outdoors in the fall, or start them indoors in late winter. If you’re using plants, dig a hole just as deep but twice as wide as the pot, place the plant in, backfill, and gently firm the soil around it.

Watering and Care: Water newly planted Milkweeds regularly until they’re established. Once they’re mature, they’re remarkably drought-tolerant. Deadheading spent blooms will encourage repeat flowering, but leaving some will allow attractive seed pods to form. Since Milkweed tends to self-seed (if the seed pods are not removed prior to splitting open), plant your plants in a sheltered location to prevent the wind from spreading the seeds.

Pests and Disease: Asclepias is usually pest and disease resistant, but keep an eye out for aphids and milkweed bugs. Remember, caterpillars of the Monarch butterfly are a welcome sight and not a pest!

Winter Care: In colder climates, cut back the stems after the first frost and apply a thick layer of mulch to protect the roots.

By following these tips, you’ll be well on your way to creating a successful, butterfly-friendly garden with Asclepias.

Garden Examples

A Sparkling Summer Border Idea with Easy-to-Grow Perennials
A Pretty Duo to Try: Asclepias and Geranium
A Pretty Duo to Try: Asclepias and Salvia
While every effort has been made to describe these plants accurately, please keep in mind that height, bloom time, and color may differ in various climates. The description of these plants has been written based on numerous outside resources.

Guide Information

Hardiness 3 - 10
Plant Type Perennials
Genus Asclepias
Exposure Full Sun
Season of Interest Spring (Late)
Summer (Early, Mid, Late)
Fall
Height 2' - 6'
(60cm - 180cm)
Spread 1' - 3'
(30cm - 90cm)
Maintenance Low
Water Needs Average
Soil Type Chalk, Clay, Loam, Sand
Soil pH Acid, Alkaline, Neutral
Soil Drainage Moist but Well-Drained, Well-Drained, Moisture Retentive
Native Plants United States, California, Northeast, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin, Midwest, Nebraska, Ohio, Missouri, North Dakota, Iowa, South Dakota, Kansas, Indiana, Illinois, Oregon, Pacific Northwest, Idaho, Washington, Southeast, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Southwest, Texas, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Rocky Mountains, Utah, Wyoming, Montana, Colorado, Alaska
Tolerance Deer, Drought, Rabbit
Attracts Bees, Butterflies, Hummingbirds
Landscaping Ideas Beds And Borders
Garden Styles Informal and Cottage, Prairie and Meadow
Compare All Asclepias (Milkweed)
Compare Now
Explore Great Plant Combination Ideas
Asclepias (Milkweed)

Related Items

Please Login to Proceed

You Have Reached The Free Limit, Please Subscribe to Proceed

Subscribe to Gardenia

To create additional collections, you must be a paid member of Gardenia
  • Add as many plants as you wish
  • Create and save up to 25 garden collections
Become a Member

Plant Added Successfully

You have Reached Your Limit

To add more plants, you must be a paid member of our site Become a Member

Update Your Credit
Card Information

Cancel

Create a New Collection

Sign Up to Our Newsletter

    You have been subscribed successfully

    Join Gardenia.net

    Create a membership account to save your garden designs and to view them on any device.

    Becoming a contributing member of Gardenia is easy and can be done in just a few minutes. If you provide us with your name, email address and the payment of a modest $25 annual membership fee, you will become a full member, enabling you to design and save up to 25 of your garden design ideas.

    Join now and start creating your dream garden!

    Join Gardenia.net

    Create a membership account to save your garden designs and to view them on any device.

    Becoming a contributing member of Gardenia is easy and can be done in just a few minutes. If you provide us with your name, email address and the payment of a modest $25 annual membership fee, you will become a full member, enabling you to design and save up to 25 of your garden design ideas.

    Join now and start creating your dream garden!

    Find your Hardiness Zone

    Find your Heat Zone

    Find your Climate Zone