For the Garden: Asclepias

For the Garden: Asclepias

The idea of planting milkweed is a good start, but it's not just about one plant; it's about a diverse group. There are several dozen species of milkweed, Asclepias, in North America, each distinct from the others. Some produce orange flowers, some white, and others purple, each beautifully unique. They also vary in the type of soil and environment they thrive in. In the gardens here, I've seen some Asclepias species grow easily in almost any soil, while others are quite particular. The two I most frequently design with are Asclepias tuberosa and Asclepias incarnata 'Cinderella,' which are completely different in form, color, and texture.

Asclepias tuberosa features a vibrant mix of burnt orange colors with tones of white and yellow ombré. What attracts me to tuberosa is its shape, reminiscent of a wide-branched tree with gently bending branches covered in beautiful flowers, scaled down to fit the perennial garden. It also blooms later here, and the monarch butterflies spend a significant amount of time on its blooms. Asclepias incarnata 'Cinderella' is my beauty choice for Asclepias. The flower is both geometrically and romantically gorgeous, a combination of mauve-pink and solid white. Each bloom has these flowing colors on a flower form that looks futuristic. 'Cinderella' prefers slightly richer, moister soil but can adapt over a couple of years to a range of soils. The plant starts very vertically, with beautiful dark violet and purple stems and luminous green foliage, reminiscent of many Amsonia species.

Garden experience has taught me that paying attention during the first two to three years after planting Asclepias is crucial. They don’t like to dry out completely when young. All the species develop deep roots, some resembling taproots or even tubers, but their young, fibrous roots are sensitive across the family. I've also found they thrive with a cool layer of organic matter around them. Remember, these are plants that evolved with their root zones shaded by neighboring plants. When planted alone, they miss this experience, and of course, one is the loneliest number there ever was.

Asclepias tuberosa

• Size: Typically grows to about 1 to 3 feet in height and 1 to 1.5 feet in width.
• Flower Description: Vibrant burnt orange blossoms, sometimes with white and yellow ombré tones. The flowers are clustered in umbels, giving a full, bushy appearance.
• Native Range: Found across much of the United States, including the Midwest, South, and Eastern regions, with widespread distribution in states like Illinois, Texas, Michigan, and Florida.

Asclepias incarnata ‘Cinderella’

• Size: Generally reaches heights of 3 to 4 feet and spreads about 2 to 3 feet wide.
• Flower Description: Features intricate flowers with a romantic blend of mauve-pink and white hues. The blossoms form in clusters, showcasing a striking, geometric yet flowing shape.
• Native Range: Commonly found in the Eastern United States, including states like Virginia, New Jersey, and Missouri, as well as parts of the Midwest.

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