Sunday, July 13, 2014

Odd Milkweeds for the Odd Gardener

Asclepias viridis

Asclepias sullivantii

Asclepias syriaca colony
Never one to follow others when it comes to gardening, I just grow whatever I like.  While I do have a soft spot for a number of "common" garden flowers like poppies and daylilies, my real passion is growing things that are never seen in my area.  That means, in many cases, growing it from seed as often plants are not available in the trade of lesser know species.  Asclepias is a wonderful genus full of really cool plants, I even have the aggressive Asclepias syriaca on my property, it was already here when we brought the place. Fortunately it is confined on three sides by short walls and the other side opens into the neighbors property to the north and there is a mess of Hibiscus syriacus and assorted saplings/weeds to restrain it from going that way.  I will selectively remove some of that mess, even if it has to be by stealth, as I don't want bittersweet and maple saplings there because they can become bigger problems in the future.  I don't think the neighbors will care much either, they have children who play in the yard a lot so letting the border area get too unkempt could provide a habitat for deer ticks which of course carry Lyme and other horrible pathogens.  In fact I am not sure if they even know where the boundry is between our properties.  But I do love even the common milkweed, it smells wonderfully fragrant in bloom and before it emerges there is a colony of lily of the valley which also emits a wonderful fragrance earlier in the year.  It also provides a potential food source for monarch butterflies, of which I have sadly seen only one in the last year and a half.  I saw none last year and one in a nursery one town down from here a few weeks ago.  I hope more appear and some avail themselves of the common milkweed, for there is enough to share.  I do strip the pods off though, as I don't want endless progeny to waft their way into my other gardens. 
As for more uncommon milkweeds, Asclepias viridis is probably the largest flowered milkweed in the US.  It has a south/central distribution but is perfectly hardy here.  It tends to recline as it grows and right now the magnificent flowers are at their best.  A bit earlier is prime time for Asclepias sullivantii, the prairie milkweed.  It can spread underground so it has to be watched, but the leaves have a colorful midrib and the flowers are a bit darker and prettier than the common milkweed.  The plant also tends to be shorter, maybe three feet at most.  Neither species is native to NY to my knowledge but they seem happy here, and they sailed right through our hard winter.  I amended the heavy soil here with road sand so it drains better which probably suits them fine.  I did have an Asclepias purpurea, a lovely species in one of my gardens without amended soil and it perished, so I will have to try it again in a better position. 
Most asclepias are hard to find as plants because they often don't look their best in containers.  Its the knowledgeable gardener that will know their potential beauty, and either buy plants if found or raise them from seed.   Seeds are easy to grow, the most difficult thing is finding the odd species and also remembering that most do prefer a period of cold stratification before they germinate.  Once they are growing get them in the ground as soon as practical for they flourish better in the ground than in pots. 


Panayoti Kelaidis said...

Bravo on growing A. viridis, which I have admired in Kansas. I have found the Asclepiads tricky to get established. Love that A. sullivantii: there is so much in the genus, and so few try them. Bravo!

Steve Law said...

I started growing a whole lot of species from seed a few years back but although they were ok at first, there's now a horrible black lurgy crippling all but the toughest - the incarnata forms and exaltata.
On a brighter note, I can seriously recommend exaltata - it's a subtle but truly lovely species.