Swamp Milkweed, perhaps more like MONSTERweed

tuliper(7B RVA)August 4, 2012

Okay, it's my swamp milkweed's second full growing season and it is not impressing me. Could it be that last spring I gave it a bag of miracle potting soil when I dug out my clay soil? It's all tons of foliage growth and no blooms! It just grows into a monster shrub every year with ONE or two blooms. It takes up entirely too much space and I have never seen a monarch near it. I always cut it back by half once or twice a year to make sure it stays compact, remotely attractive & doesn't flop all over the place (because of the wind and sprinkler) What does everyone else think? It gets sun all day southern exposure and plenty of water. I want monarchs!!! But I am more pressed for garden space than butterflies these days- Thanks for any insight.


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I'm in zone 5 so my growing season is shorter than yours, but my 2nd year plant has only put out a few blooms this year too. I actually didn't plant mine for the flowers though, just a spot for monarchs to lay eggs. I have to say, your plant looks very healthy! Are you sure when you are trimming it a couple times a year you aren't trimming off some recently layed eggs? Hope you find a place to keep it if it doesn't flower the way you were expecting. Good luck...hope the Monarchs find it soon!

    Bookmark   August 4, 2012 at 9:11PM
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tepelus z6a SW MI

I had several monarchs on mine last year, but then they were in pots because I had to move them and hold them until their new bed was ready. This year they aren't looking so good, probably stressed out from last year and this year's heat and lack of rain, and I haven't seen any monarchs either. May be a good thing, give the plants time to recoup. It was late in the year last year when I started seeing monarch cats on my milkweed, right about this time. You may get some yet. Also, if you keep trimming it back, you may also be cutting off potential flower buds. Mine flowered nicely and I didn't trim them back. Something to think about.


    Bookmark   August 5, 2012 at 7:49AM
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tuliper(7B RVA)

I found a monarch caterpillar! I was looking for eggs and discovered this little guy in a few seconds, took a pic to come in and post I'm sure there's a few. I think the trimming in the spring is the now obvious culprit of few blooms. Thanks for the tip tepelus :) Did yours flop over at all in the rain? Mine tends too, even for a plant that gets sun all day long. Anyway, there's also yellow aphids all over the place and beetles that eat them. Anything to do but ignore the buffet? Every time I check it, I end up with aphids on me. The one cute caterpillar is enough for me to allow this thug in my garden.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2012 at 2:04PM
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docmom_gw Zone 5 MI(5)

I agree with Karen. You may be cutting off the branches that are getting ready to produce blooms. Also, fertilizer will encourage lots of healthy foliage growth, but not blooms. Wildflowers will produce more blooms when they are stressed (such as with poor soil) in an effort to produce seed that will give the plant a better chance of reproducing its genes.


    Bookmark   August 5, 2012 at 3:08PM
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Tuliper, I love your little friend! I just found a 2 inch one yesterday, I am so excited. :D

Glad to hear you've decided to keep the plant. I agree, too, that the trimming was likely the culprit for lack of blooms. Also, I read that Milkweeds take a few years to bloom, I found that to be the case in my yard (took 3 years to really see good flowering).

I wouldn't worry about the aphids. They can be unsightly, but they don't harm the plant or the caterpillars. When they get too overrun, I put on rubber gloves and run my fingers up the branches to squash them. I know it's gross, but it does the trick. I don't recommend the "strong water spray" that you hear advised sometimes for aphids, I think you risk knocking off monarch eggs or very small cats that you can't see yet.

As for flopping in the rain, I have that problem, too. But they tend to get back up eventually. I have a bed with 12 plants, I'm hoping once they fill in more they will help bolster each other up.

The other thing you could try is those grow-through plant supports (the largest/tallest ones you can find). I use those on my Echinacea and Salvia, it really helps and the support blends right in with the background.

    Bookmark   August 25, 2012 at 8:25AM
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I agree with Martha and Karen. Some natives do well with a pinching or pruning back. For example,joe pye weed will grow shorter and send up more flower heads. To my knowledge Milkweed is not one of them. In fact, I have several purple milkweeds that have never bloomed in three seasons because my hubby mowed them the last two. I grow a lot of Swamp milkweed in all kinds of sites. It is one of the easiest to grow if the conditions are right. It is a wetland plant, so it either requires a lot of water or grow it in shade and very organic soils. You shouldn't need to fertilize it. Again, it is a native and when you fertilize natives, they put a lot of energy into growing taller. I have about fifteen plants I put in this spring at a school garden (along with Sullivant's,tropical and butterfly weed). Of the four milkweeds, they are doing the best and look really healthy. They were grown from seed (started in April). Many of them are blooming right now, which suprised me. I expected them to bloom next year. They are all about 2 - 3 feet tall. My second year plants tend to be taller about four feet. They also only put up one to three shoots from the base after they are a second year. I never have a "bush" like you have there. Even in the wild, I will only see one to three stalks. So, I don't know how that is happening. Is yours from a garden center? Sometimes the cultivars at a garden center are selected for vigorous growth. I have yet to try one of the garden center cultivars. It would be interested in hearing how they differ from wild plants (all of mine are from wild collected seed). In addition, mine tend to decline after a couple years. So, I let the seedlings grow up and take over.

Give it another year without pruning. You could always remove some of the side shoots to contain it.

Mine never flops over. Again, that may be a function of rapid grown from fertilizer. The beauty of natives is not having to do anything to them! Thank goodness because I certainly neglect my garden at times!

By the way there is a fascinating relationship between the different milkweeds and monarchs. We have discussed it in other posts. Some research and our experiences in this forum, lead us to believe that swamp milkweed is the preferential plant for monarchs.

Glad to see you have some caterpillars.


    Bookmark   August 25, 2012 at 4:04PM
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I planted a couple of the yellow flowering milkweeds in June and have some flowers :-) Yes they are floppy the majority of the time- but I haven't really done anything with them. They are a nice healthy green and growing so I have let them be. Usually we have monarchs in the fall- so we will see :-)

    Bookmark   August 26, 2012 at 2:00AM
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In our yard, swamp milkweed is the preferred host plant for monarch eggs, compared to common milkweed and butterfly weed. But this was a slow year for monarch activity, here in Madison. I saw very few eggs and caterpillars, and there have been only a few sightings of monarch adults flying in our neighborhood. Maybe next year will be better, especially if the drought conditions in Texas and Oklahoma improve.

    Bookmark   August 29, 2012 at 11:07AM
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