butterfly weed - no luck - bought a 3rd one!

steelskies(5)July 16, 2011

I thought I planted the previous 2 in a good place. I think it needs good drainage and that's what I thought it had. But neither plant came back. Its is mid-July. I was told it comes up late, but not this late! I couldn't resist buying another one from Steins today. It was big and looked very healthy.

what else can I do to ensure this third one comes back next year. I was told to plant it in sand. Does that mean pure sand? Sand with peat, sand with aged manure?

Thanks for any help

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Where are you located? That might help others to comment on your situation.

    Bookmark   July 16, 2011 at 7:18PM
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I never had any luck with butterfly weed either, no matter where I planted it. I finally gave up and got swamp milkweed, which has flourished. It does selfseed, so I've got to keep on top of it, but at least it comes up!

    Bookmark   July 16, 2011 at 9:22PM
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lycopus(z5 NY)

Sandy or gravelly soil is the usual habitat. I wouldn't mix peat with sand since once the peat dries out it it difficult to rewet. A large proportion of sand with a little garden soil has worked for me.

    Bookmark   July 17, 2011 at 1:32AM
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I have a few plants naturally in a hot, sandy location. They have been great. However, all that I have purchased to add to this site have perished. I will try once more as my personal pledge is to try three times.

I have grown these from seed...easy to germinate but difficult to transplant, I have been told, so my failures have not distressed me. Next year I will plant seed directly and see what happens.

    Bookmark   July 17, 2011 at 9:35AM
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Well you know we grow them in red clay here in North Georgia. And they live just fine.

    Bookmark   July 17, 2011 at 9:45AM
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fatamorgana2121(Zone 5/6)

I've never gotten one to grow in my gardens, even the gardens with lean, well-draining soils. Here I only see butterfly weed growing in the shoulders off of roads, between highways, and sandy hillsides. All places of sun, heat, and dryness where water won't be standing.

I wouldn't expect manure would be required. The places I see them growing look to be rather lean soil. Some plants (some herbs come to mind) resent rich soils. I'm guessing from my observations that butterfly weed may be similar in that regard.


    Bookmark   July 17, 2011 at 10:11AM
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To Es Ga and others: I am in Wisconsin, near Milwaukee. It is supposed to be a native plant here. I planted the last one in dirt soil that I thought was well draining. Like another poster, I will give it a third try, and then that's it. They are quite expensive to purchase and if it won't grow after a third time, I have to give up.

This one looks extremely healthy, with lots of shoots. I will try to put just sand in the area around the plant. Wish me luck! I does seem like a finicky plant from all the comments I've read.

    Bookmark   July 17, 2011 at 1:28PM
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I'm surprised by these posts, I've always though it was an easy plant to grow. I live in MD and I don't think I've ever lost one. I grow in both sandy and clay locations full sun.

They are however extremely difficult to transplant once established in the garden. The best thing to do is dig up the plant you want to move and cut the carrot-sized tap roots into 3" pieces and plant those.

    Bookmark   July 17, 2011 at 7:46PM
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terrene(5b MA)

I've got mine growing in sandy loam, the hottest driest corner of my lot (southwest corner) which is along a sidewalk. I've bought plants, started it from seed, and they also have reseeded a little. It has seemed like a relatively easy plant to grow.

I don't water them except for seedlings or transplants. This Spring I transplanted a bunch and this sets them back significantly, but they seem to transplant ok. I've noticed that they are resprouting in their old locations, probably from pieces of roots that were left behind.

Apparently there is a variety that is native to clay prairies? Asclepias tuberosa var. clay

    Bookmark   July 20, 2011 at 2:21AM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL(8B AL)

Just a thought about digging a hole in clay and filling it with sand... essentially you're creating a french drain in which to plant. Also, sand + clay = concrete. Both results are the exact opposite of what you want.

I had success with Asclepias (syriaca, tuberosa) in central OH this way: Dig a really deep hole, twice as deep as the rootball, but keep the width the same as the rootball. Then use a screwdriver or dandelion fork to poke drain holes down as far as possible. Put a couple handfulls of mulch at the bottom. Fill with ordinary yard dirt that has a handfull of mulch and a few leaves to the point where the rootball will sit about an inch above the surrounding soil. Snip any roots growing in a circle around the bottom of the root ball, but disturb the other roots as little as possible. Do not pack it down. The roots will grow very quickly through the fill and down into the poke holes, which will allow the plant to create its' own drainage. The reason for leaving the width unexpanded is also so the roots go down, and not out. The crown will also probably be level with the surrounding soil next spring, after the non-compacted fill under the plant has settled in after doing its' job of allowing the roots to go DEEP. This also helps with the dry spells that can occur during the summer since the deep roots help this plant find water without having to be constantly soaked at the soil level by you. Do not water unless wilty, then go "low and slow."

The hardest part I found was keeping them watered enough to live without causing them to rot before they could establish sufficient roots. Mid-day shade (from a lawn chair, or strategically placed potted plant) at first can help a lot.

    Bookmark   July 20, 2011 at 12:08PM
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linda_schreiber(z5/6 MI)

Yes, they like sun, but the ones around here seem to thrive in ordinary soil. As in dig a hole in the old lawn, and plant it. Those soils are generally loam to clay loam.

If you are buying the plant in a nursery container, what kind of soil have the growers grown it in? I would bet that when you tip it out of the container, it was not grown in heavily sandy soil. If you plant this into 'sand' or 'sandy soil', the roots will not happily spread from the good stuff from the pot into the more barren sandy soil.

I think that one of the reasons they often are found in difficult dry locations, natively, is because if a seed finds just the right place and, with luck, just the right conditions to be able to grow, it quickly develops a deep taproot. [One of the reasons they are difficult to transplant.] It can survive in such places where many other things cannot.

Doesn't mean that they need or like those conditions. People can survive for quite a while on water, beans and rice....

Two things:
One: Don't worry about the soil. When you tip it out of the pot, if there are any circling roots, Give them a couple of vertical slashes with a knife, plant it, and keep it relatively well-watered for a week or three.
Two: You are in zone 4. Don't know where, and that's a very diverse zone. If it does ok through the fall, consider mulching it very, very heavily when it dies back, before winter, especially as you are planting it this late. Your problems may actually have been winter-kill for a plant that is not quite well-enough established.

    Bookmark   July 20, 2011 at 9:04PM
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joepyeweed(5b IL)

Living in Milwaukee, I suspect your soil isn't right.

Butterfly weed would be native to parts of your area, but more so in the rocky moraines, rather than flatland clays.

If you don't have success after your third try, I would try the red milkweed (aslepias incanarta) instead. Its much easier to grow in clay soil. In fact, the red one is the preferred host to the Monarch caterpillar. I've never seen a caterpillar on my butterfly weed, but I get TONS of caterpillars on the red milkweed in my rain garden.

    Bookmark   July 30, 2011 at 7:36PM
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I would also try planting butterfly weed from seed before giving up. It will adjust better than the pots and if you can find seed from a local source, you'll almost certainly have success. Winter Sowing works well for planting butterfly weed from seed. (plant seeds in covered vented containers outside in the winter) If you want to give that a try and need more info, there's a Winter Sowing forum on Gardenweb.

    Bookmark   July 31, 2011 at 9:34AM
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Ignore it. Don't make a fuss over it and plant around it. Usually, they don't take up much room in the garden, at least not at first. Kind of like a lily in that regard. Common echinacea's orange center cones and salvia's purple spikey blooms complement the orange color in mid-June to early July.
Chicory's blue flower also contrast well with it. It might wait until the following year to appear, or the next. It doesn't mind not being watered, but needs a healthy root system to flourish. HTH! :)

    Bookmark   July 31, 2011 at 12:20PM
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I'm trying one of these for the first time - curious how much water it needs...any thoughts?

    Bookmark   July 1, 2014 at 11:42AM
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Once established they are very drought tolerant and watering is not necessary BUT if you have bought a plant or you are growing one from seed and are hoping to transplant it in a garden you should probably water it everyday until it is well established...I bought some A. tuberosa (butterfly weed) plants this Spring and though I live in a moist forest environment I am watering the plants every day throughout the summer (unless it rains). Next year when they come up I will probably not need to water them.

    Bookmark   July 1, 2014 at 4:52PM
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I doubt if OP is still around, but this reminds me of the ways in which at least some of our native plant purveyors do a disservice to would-be gardeners with their exaggerated and especially, inacurate claims as to nativeness of a given plant. I too live in Wisconsin, and I can't count the number of times-for example-that I've been reading some nursery's listings of native plants for our area, only to see river birch listed, and paper birch not listed. Here in eastern WI, that's just flat-out wrong, and all of the people trying to grow river birch in our too-alkaline soils will be forever dissapointed. Meanwhile, the truly native paper birch is never mentioned. And I do mean never. Sure, it's got some insect problems, but so do most species if they're not carefully sited. And at least it does like the general conditions found up and down the state-here on the eastern half.

I suspect much the same goes on with butterfly weed. Beautiful plant, it's got the word butterfly in its name, etc....so everybody is fooled into thinking it's an appropriate choice for where they live. Here in WI, it's only ever really happy in the more western, sandy counties. OP, being in the Milwaukee area, would most likely be in a heavier loam soil, quite good for a wide range of plants, but not at all good for butterfly weed.

I'm tip-toeing around here a little bit on this issue. It's one of my pet peeves, and in truth, I know exactly how things got this way, and furthermore, I know who the main players are. Yes, they have a stake in people spending money on plants, whether adapted to their locations or not. Much as with the prairie thing, now everybody around here thinks WI was all prairie-a ridiculous notion here in the state that brought us the legend of Paul Bunyan-the same people and forces are responsible.

Sorry, but it's the truth.


    Bookmark   July 2, 2014 at 9:24AM
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I bought two more smaller plants from Steinis. they had them on sale I think for $3.77 each. Now I can't even find the plant at all. they totally disappeared! I planted them in two different spots, and I was sure it is a well draining kind of soil! I just give up!!!!! there are other orange flowers and other plants to attract butterflies.

HOWEVER, last summer I noticed these plants growing along the side of the road, in 2 different spots. Only l/2 miles from my house, so I don't think the soil there is much different. These plants are really frustrating.

I have the same problem with gentin! Tried so many times, and they would just DIE ever time.

    Bookmark   July 2, 2014 at 6:40PM
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lycopus(z5 NY)

I used to live in northeast IL. Butterfly weed is quite abundant on sand dunes along Lake Michigan but will not grow in the clay soils away from the lake. I grew it out there from seed in some raised beds filled with mostly sand mixed with a little compost and they did quite well. The soil here is probably a little better for it but I am still growing them from seed in raised beds filled with mostly coarse sand. I have about 7 happy little seedlings popping up right now from seed kept dry in the fridge over the winter. It took them several months to germinate after planting. Full sun is also a must in my experience.

Interestingly, a little north of here you can find it growing in almost pure calcium carbonate waste left over from the production of soda ash. The pH of the stuff is like 12 or more.

    Bookmark   July 2, 2014 at 7:36PM
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Yes, that strikes me as an awfully high pH, for any plant, let alone the one in question.

Steel, I help manage thousands of acres of property around my city's stormwater ponds. Years before I became involved, the prairie faction got ahold of otherwise excellent stormwater engineers and convinced them that "native" vegetation-for where we are-consists of prairie plant communities. Even though this is quite wrong, the truth is these plantings are serviceable and can be quite attractive, and they do provide a useful niche for numerous species of insect, animal, etc. But what I was going to say is that, in the earliest going, butterfly weed was in the seed mix that got used for these projects. And today, one can walk these sites and find maybe one butterfly weed, maybe two, but not more. They just are not that easy to get going in less than ideal conditions. I like the plant too, but like you've come to realize, it's not worth banging your head against a wall!


    Bookmark   July 3, 2014 at 8:04AM
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I just returned my plant markers for my dead butterfly plant to Steins. I bought 2 of them in May and planted them in 2 separate spots. Both are dead. The service counter told me that they don't guarantee their perennials, even for the first growing season. I said that can't be - I am sure they are guaranteed for at least the first growing season. I spent at least 20 minutes waiting for her to call the manager, for the manager to come up to the service desk, (who took forever) In the end, after much waiting, they did give me a credit and said that yes they do guarantee their perennials since I am a garden club member and said I had an issue with this plant. Good ol' Steins!

    Bookmark   July 7, 2014 at 3:15PM
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That warranty-oftentimes two years!-is the best thing about that place. I do like their stock, which comes primarily from Monrovia. But try to get real information from the help! I'm sure you know what I mean.

I've already taken back small conifers dead after two years and gotten full credit. Not something I do often, but it did happen at least once and I thought it rather good of them to reimburse me this way, for something over which they have virtually no control. Sure, I know what I'm doing with plants, but they don't know that!


    Bookmark   July 8, 2014 at 3:15PM
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WoodsTea 6a MO

I posted some notes about butterflyweed on this thread in the winter sowing forum this morning:


One thing in particular is that the seeds that I wintersowed in milk jugs and then transplanted into the garden when they were tiny are doing fine. Two others that I bought from a nursery didn't do nearly as well, and one died.

From this I'd suggest growing from seed, either directly in place or using a method similar to the one I used.

My soil is less than ideal for it, a silty clay loam. I added quite a bit of compost the year before, so it should drain a bit better. I'm worried what will happen over the winter, though. This patch is next to the street and gets extra snow thrown on top of it by plows. But, so far so good, except that the plants are pretty floppy.

    Bookmark   July 25, 2014 at 2:22PM
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As a very general idea, if your land supports wild Lupines, it is right for butterfly milkweed. That's pretty darn sandy. FWIW, at one of our new-ish biofilter depressions, this plant can indeed be seen making a stand around the very periphery of the planting. This, I think, suggests that it has a slight advantage, mowed turf surrounding this practice, such that, in time it will get less common, not more so, as the overall vegetation grows up.

    Bookmark   July 28, 2014 at 8:26AM
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I have lots of butterfyweed in my Southeast Wisconsin property. I grow most of my plants by winter-sowing seed I collect from my other plants. I have rocky loamy soil. I purchased some potted plants once and they did not succeed. I suspect that the roots of the potted plant were too shallow to support the top growth of a mature plant. I would recommend winter-sowing butterflyweed and moving the transplant seedlings directly into the ground in early spring, so that deep roots develop before top growth. Prairie Nursery sells transplant plugs of butterflyweed that supposedly grows well in clay soils.

    Bookmark   July 29, 2014 at 1:13PM
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