Written by Cliff Blackerby, Master Gardener, March 2017
Gardeners, I’ve found, are social creatures. They will form an association or a society at the drop of a hat. I recently discovered there is a Perennial Plant Association and it has named a perennial of the year every year since 1990. This year’s selection is the Butterfly Weed or for the purist ‘Asclepias tuberosa’. Now, who’d thought a weed could be a plant of the year? I’m thinking of forming my own society to rename the common names for plants. Surely that would be beneficial. I mean who in their right mind would name a plant ‘Snake Weed’ and expect to be able to sell it to the public? But I digress.
The Butterfly Weed beat out thousands of other perennials for this year’s honor. The association made its selection based on criteria that included: plants must have low maintenance requirements; multiple interests across seasons; be disease and pest resistance; widely available to the gardening public and be easy to propagate. Not a bad list if you are looking to add plants to your garden.
Butterfly Weed is a native plant that provides shelter and nectar for a wide variety of butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds. It is a food source and host plant for the Monarch, Hairstreak and Queen butterflies that make it a welcomed addition to any garden. Attracting butterflies and hummingbirds turns a garden into an animated, living thing of beauty. It’s sort of like the difference between a picture and video. Providing plants that invite butterflies into the garden will make any gardening experience more enjoyable.
Expect to see caterpillars crawling all over the Butterfly Weed and don’t be surprised to find leaf or two that has some damage, after all, it is a food source! To keep the little darlings healthy and happy, be sure not to apply insecticides. Remember, you are trying to create a welcoming environment for butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds.
An important feature of the plant for Texas gardeners is that it is no nonsense plant that is easy to grow and maintain. Another plus is that Butterfly Weed is deer resistant and drought tolerant. Seems I’ve heard that before! It doesn’t like to be transplanted very much. Get the location right the first time. Find a sunny place, plant and leave it alone. It can grow 2’-3’ tall with a 3’ spread so give it some room. Flowers are a showy orange or yellow that stand out in the garden. Butterfly Weed pairs well with plants such as yarrow, rudbeckia, and sage.
If you plan to grow the plant from seeds sow them in August instead of in the spring. Propagating from seeds during spring time can take up to two years before they bloom. Butterfly Weed requires the cold temperatures of winter before they will bloom. Plants that have not gone through a winter’s chill will not bloom during the first summer and will not produce flowers until the following year. Most of us aren’t that patient! Gardeners who want more immediate results will try to find them in local nurseries.