The Milkweed Garden in Spring

When I started this blog, I’d hoped to post every week. Ha! Nice to have lofty goals, but I’ve actually found myself stretched pretty thin. One thing I’ve done this spring is a massive weeding of my planting beds, extending my urban milkweed meadow. When I first moved in, this area used to be lawn and then a poorly tended vegetable garden. Now, I have given it over to common milkweed and other plants to attract wildlife. Here’s how it looks right now:

Milkweed Meadow in Spring

I spent the spring weeding around the growing milkweed and adding other pollinator friendly natives; ironweed, Joe Pye weed, blazing stars, and less aggressive native goldenrods than the Canadian goldenrod. One thing I’ve really enjoyed using is a tool called a stirrup hoe, which I’ve used to meticulously weed all around my milkweeds and other planting beds throughout the spring. You can see in the picture above that my milkweed (common milkweed) has spread into my raised bed on the right of this snapshot. Common milkweed is an aggressive native plant that spreads through rhizomes — horizontal underground stems that send shoots up as it expands. Click on the photo below to see what the rhizome looks like:

Common Milkweed rhizome

Little monarchIf you don’t want your common milkweed to expand rapidly,
then you need to plant it in a container.

I’m not worried about the milkweed going crazy in my yard. Rather, I’m more worried about the monarchs going extinct. So I just clip it to the ground where I don’t want it to come up. That’s how we handle it at the Botanical Gardens as well. FYI, I’ve had decent luck digging up small common milkweed plants and transplanting them with a good chunk of their rhizome.

My #1 goal as a gardener is to provide native habitat for wildlife with a special focus on providing for monarchs. Over the winter, scientists reported an uptick in the monarch population. Then in March, a storm walloped the Mexican oyamel fir tree forests where the monarchs overwinter. These forests are already shockingly small, super fragile and endangered. The storm caused extensive damage and killed upwards of 1.5 million monarchs. I have yet to see a monarch this year, but I’m ready for them. Not only do I have the common milkweed growing spectacularly, but the orange blooms of Asclepias tuberosa (aka butterfly weed) as seen in the featured image above, have started their bloom show. I’ve had a harder time establishing this native milkweed but, now that it’s thriving, it’s really going to town.

Flying monarch

Both the common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) and
butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) require full sun.

Twenty years ago, my yard was a sterile lawn good for nothing but mowing in the front and side with a small woodland patch in the back full of exotic invasive trash plants. Now the yard is full of life — attracted by a multitude of native plants and fruit trees such as serviceberries, blueberries, and hazelnuts. And, boy, has it ever paid off. Yesterday, we watched a flock of cedar waxwings descend from a white oak and gorge on serviceberries. I’ve stopped my writing several times to watch juvenile titmice flitting around the trees in front of the porch as I write this. We have a young northern flicker visiting the backyard birdbath (we have two birdbaths and a 75-gallon pond available to accommodate the wildlife). Last month, I saw a migrating rose-breasted grosbeak on our platform feeder, the first I’d ever seen in our urban yard. What a pleasure to see real progress when I do my part for nature.

About MonarchLover

Heather Rayburn is a native of Asheville, NC., and works at the Botanical Gardens at Asheville, a non-profit 10-acre public garden dedicated to the promotion of plants native to the Southern Appalachians. She has a B.A. from UNC-Asheville and a M.S. from the University of Tennessee, both in Mass Communication with a focus on environmental issues and social justice. She's also a dog lover and baker.

1 comment on “The Milkweed Garden in Spring

  1. Great work growing all that milkweed! I raised about 15 monarchs this Spring. It’s hard letting them go into the seemingly flower-less world. My new mission may be to get people to plant flowers. Every yard should have perennial flowers in their yard. It should be the law!
    Keep it up, Heather!

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