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Lots Milkweed …Pick Your Favorite (Native)

Lots Milkweed …Pick Your Favorite (Native)- Bob Sussman

Every year the monarchs come to our region, southern California to mate in both spring and again in fall. They lay their eggs on the various milkweed plants in the wild areas and gardens. The most common native milkweed in this region is the narrow leaf milkweed, Asclepias fascicularis and if you hiked around you see it growing on hillsides and grasslands. It will also grow easily in your garden too as it can go fairly dry after it has been “established.” The other two natives to our region and be a little more challenging in garden conditions as you would find them in very dry sandy areas in full sun. Beautiful though they may be, easy to grow in your garden they ain’t.

Another one of our native milkweed plants grows a little further up the coast and on the eastern side of the Sierras and is my personal preference and that’s the showy milkweed or Asclepias speciosa. It’s an easy one to grow in the garden. Dies back in winter, which is what you want your milkweed plants to do. It’s up an out in late winter and flowers in very early spring. A few other features like they can grow easily in a wide range of soil and watering. The leaves are nice and wide at just about 3” at the base. So the big wide leaves provide lots of food the hungry monarch (and queen butterfly) caterpillars. They also spread by underground runners and can be a bit on the aggressive side, a good thing. In terms of size the stems can reach 3’ and with the spreading by runners they can get to be 5’ to 6’ wide in a few years.

Here’s a small stand taken 8/20, waiting for the monarch to arrive. They’ll be here in another month…

Maybe the best part is the flowers. They need to be planted out for 2 or 3 years before they bloom but when they do you’ll see why they are called “showy”. The flowers shown below get to be about 3” in diameter and have a sweet fragrance. They are excellent for the pollinators and as cut flowers for you home.

How does this all work? Just plant them pretty much anytime of the year. Even planting in summer doesn’t seem to be a problem. Plant them in full sun and water between 1x/week and 2x/week depending on how hot it is for about the first year. Then they’re pretty much on their own. In winter they’ll die back to the ground. Don’t worry they’re not dead just playing dead for a couple of months. That’s it, enjoy watching the new monarch and queen butterflies in your garden!

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Featured Plant



Botanical Name

Populus fremontii

Common Name

fremont cottonwood


Flower Color


Mature Size

75 tall × 50 wide

Climactic Requirements


Full Sun / Filtered Sun / Part Shade


Moderate / Regular
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