Gardeners are a strange lot. We’re control freaks recreating the Garden of Eden. We meticulously plan where every plant goes, weed out what doesn’t belong, trim and prune everything to our liking. Yet, for all our nurturing, planning and watering we are always keeping our fingers cross, hoping the stars align, knowing full well we aren’t in control. A gardener can do everything right but whether the seeds will sprout or the new planting takes root is not up to us.
I’m the type that sows wildflower seeds and am out the very next day to see if any sprouted. Mind you, I know very well none of them would have and, barring a badger digging up the entire seed bed, I would have no idea if anything is wrong. Still I have to check. Daily. I scan the soil each day looking for a little prick of green breaking through the dirt. And when I see it – victory! Pride swells up in me till the next day when that little green seedling is gone and some cricket is resting with a full belly.
Back in the Fall I planted three narrow-leaved milkweed plants (Asclepias fascicularis) that were in a dormant state. Basically three sticks with one or two little leaves. It would be months before I know if what I had was a plant or a dead twig. When I bought them, I asked the sales person for any advice for planting a dormant plant. His only caution was once planted, water them once and then very rarely afterwards as too much water can cause the roots to rot.
You never want your roots to rot.
After 5 years of drought I get record rains. And I have clay soil. From mid-December to early March my dormant milkweed sat in soggy, heavy clay. The little leaves died and fell off. The twigs, originally green, started turning brown. Then, one day, at the end of one of the twigs several leaves began budding. Again, pride swelled up, I felt victory. Then the new leaves withered, the twig turns completely brown. I was the proud owner of three twigs in the mud.
Mid-February as I was looking over my front garden, admiring the seaside daisy and the blue-eyed grass blooms, I noticed a healthy sprout next to one of the milkweed twigs. A second one was coming up by another twig. The third one didn’t show anything but two of my milkweeds appeared to be awaking up from dormancy.
In planting the milkweed, my goal is to attract butterflies, specifically monarch butterflies. Monarchs lay their eggs only on milkweed and the caterpillars feed only on milkweed. But whether any show up… Again, despite my planning, that is up to nature. Might not have any butterflies, or if too many caterpillars are hatched before the plants get established, I’ll be back to twigs.
There are several species of milkweed that can be used in the garden. But it is important to use milkweed native to your area for the monarchs to get protection from the plant’s toxins. Check with your native plant nursery for what works best in your area.
For the control freak, beware. Milkweed spreads. Be sure to plant it where it can ramble or can be contain. Though, for me, one of the joys of gardening with native plants is seeing how they adapt to their new home. By late Fall, the milkweed stalks die off as the plant enters a dormant state. I’ve planted mine in a back corner of my front yard garden, surrounded by several healthy and robust plants that can resist the spreading habit of the milkweed. Those plants will also serve as an effective screen should I choose to trim the stalks to the ground once they die off.
Now, with Spring officially begun, the two milkweeds are four inches tall and looking healthy. And the third? At the base of its twig, a new branch has started to emerge. Of course, I had a role in all of this. I had to plant them, and, more importantly, I had to leave them alone and wait. And sometimes, as a gardener, that is the hardest thing to do.
See original post: Milkweed and Unending Faith
All photos by Alan Starbuck