Tag Archives: Native plants

Helping Monarchs And Other Pollinators

Growing Milkweed

I forgot about an article I had read on the effort to rescue the Monarch butterflies from extinction.   Setting the Table for a Regal Butterfly Comeback, With Milkweed by Michael Wines in The New York Times on 12/20 may be old news but it is still good news for pollinators, and the Monarchs specifically.  It would be very interesting to see wild native flowers growing in the divided area of the highways and along the road again.

The Common Milkweeds (Asclepias syriaca) in our garden grew by themselves, probably from seeds that the wind dropped off.  I let them grow and flower.  To my surprise, the flowers are fragrant and the honeybees love them.  I never thought that they were fragrant as the varieties of Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa), its relative, I have grown have no scent.  Now, I have even more incentive to grow them, not just ignore them, in the garden.

For gardeners who like to help the Monarch butterfly by growing Milkweed, please note that:

  • They are easy to grow, but hard to get rid of.  Their shoots can sprout up in unlikely places.
  • All parts of the plant are toxic.
  • The ‘milk’ liquid that oozes out of a broken part of the plant can cause skin irritation.

Aside from the down side, they are drought tolerant, fragrant, and bees and butterflies love them.  The shoots are also edible, when extremely careful and well cooked.  Here’s a short photo profile of this beautiful weed…

Cluster of fragrant flowers
Cluster of fragrant flowers
Close up
Close up
Seed pod
Seed pod
Dry seeds that will germinate where ever the wind takes them.
Dry seeds that will germinate where ever the wind takes them.

Below are Butterfly weeds (Asclepias tuberosa), it’s relative.  They come in very bright colorful colors of yellow, orange and red.  They’re much shorter than the Common milkweed but branch out, not just one straight stalk.  Butterflies, bees and ants love them.

Bright Canary yellow
Bright Canary yellow
Another colorful relative, with bright orange
Another colorful relative, with bright orange
Monarch caterpillar with a hitchhiker Aphid
Monarch caterpillar with a hitchhiker Aphid
Milkweed Tussock caterpillar is also commonly seen on the plant
Milkweed Tussock caterpillar is also commonly seen on the plant

Garden Phlox

A Tough Native (or phloxing around for fun)

Heat and rainstorm can’t do very much damage to this native perennial.  Once they’re established I merely prune them in spring so they won’t grow too tall and ‘dead-head’ them once the flower’s spent.

I started growing Garden Phlox (Phlox paniculata) with just a couple of them.  Within a few years they proliferated all over the garden.  They readily self-sow.  If you don’t want too many of them, just don’t let them set seeds.  My problem is I have a soft heart with seedlings.  I think if it has a will to live why not let it live.   This mentality can be a problem for the garden; it can become overcrowded very quickly.   So I promise myself I’ll pull out some seedlings that are still “very young”.  This method works pretty well with population control and I feel less guilty too, but I probably miss a few good surprises from Mother Nature.

Seedlings don’t always look exactly like their parents, especially given open pollination.  I let the Garden Phlox grow wherever they come up, if not too close to any established plants. I tag them, according to color, once they flower.    Later, I either remove them if I already have too many of that color or if they have an interesting color, I move them to a better spot.    If I want more of the same color, I’ll just divide them.

Why is Garden Phlox good to grow?  Because they perform well in the heat of summer when most plants, aside from cactus, don’t.  If they’re not too tall, they’ll flop a little under a rain storm but will perk right up once dry.  They readily self-sow, so they can be invasive, but with a little discipline in the gardener, they’re easy to control.   The only disease that bothers them is mildew, but if they’re dry and not too crowded mildew shouldn’t be a problem.  They work beautifully as cut flowers.

And, most of all, they’re fragrant.  Their scent welcomes you from morning to evening.  Butterflies and bees love them.  Deer love them too, especially the tips.

Here are some that have weathered the heat and rain

In spring I prune the row along the walkway once they grow up to my waist.  This pruning makes them bushier and delays the flowering a little bit.  I let the ones on the left, squeezed in with Summersweet (Clethra alnifolia), grow to their normal height (around 4 to 5 feet) to balance with other plants in the same row and to cover the pool fence.

Lavender pink with a darker colored eyelet
Pale pink with a darker shade around the eyelet.
“David” produces pure white flowers. This is the only one that I know the name of.
This fuchsia color first showed up two years ago and since then I have nurtured three new plants from this one.
A little bit darker pink with dark eyelet among lavender pink flowers
White petals with streaks of pink
Orange-red. This one really stands out in the plot.