En Español

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?

Share

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
    
 
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions

Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.

 
rate this answer
1 rating

Wednesday - March 31, 2010

From: Port Lavaca, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Butterfly Gardens, Compost and Mulch, Propagation, Transplants, Herbs/Forbs
Title: How to grow milkweeds (Asclepias spp.) for monarch butterflies
Answered by: Nan Hampton and Sean Watson

QUESTION:

I tried and tried and tried to grow Asclepias viridis, A. asperula and even A. oenotheroides from seeds and even tubers for fourteen years! Do you have advice for growing these and other milkweed plants for monarch butterflies?

ANSWER:

Mr. Smarty Plants consulted our Nursery Manager, Sean Watson, to answer this question.  Here is what he said:

"I start them in the Spring or Summer (they like heat to germinate well). The fresher the seed the better. I just sow them and cover with maybe 1/8 inch of sterile seed starting media (peat based) and keep the propagation tray in part shade. They have long tap roots, so it is better to start them in a deep propagation tray (bulb trays work great, or 5" (or deeper) cell seed starting trays). Keep the media moist until it looks like all have germinated that are going to germinate (they tend to germinate very fast/easily). It is best to not transplant them until the taproot begins to thicken (root swells and begins to harden, starts to become a true taproot). This alleviates a lot of the shock they go through when transplanting. After transplanting (we use a container mix--compost--cut with 25% sand, but can just use straight compost), I water them in immediately, and water them everyday for the next week while they are becoming established into the pot. After 1 week, allow the top 1/2 inch of soil to dry before giving them a little drink, do this for one more weeks (try to avoid flooding them at this stage--except Asclepias incarnata which is a water species and loves water, keep this species wet). Allow them to dry out 1 inch before watering during the third week. After the third week, you can start giving them a little more sun to harden them off. After a week of hardening off, place the plant in full sun and water only once the top inch of soil dries. You want to avoid watering them when they are dormant (just let the rain water them).

Another trick is to bury the seedling up to the cotyledons when you transplant. The cotyledons should rest just above the soil level, not on the soil. This will allow everything below the cotyledon to root out, thus giving your transplant an instantly longer taproot. I have had success transplanting seedlings of different Asclepias species once I see the first set of true leaves (many books suggest this). I usually transplant our seedlings directly into gallon pots to allow room for the taproot. I have had great success with Asclepias tuberosa in this way, and moderate success with Asclepias asperula. We are trying bulb trays this year and I have a feeling if we leave them in these trays longer so they can fully develop a taproot before transplanting, we may have Asclepias coming out of our ears!"

Here are a few photos from our Image Gallery of the milkweeds mentioned above:


Asclepias asperula

Asclepias incarnata

Asclepias oenotheroides

Asclepias tuberosa

Asclepias viridis

 

 

More Compost and Mulch Questions

Problems with Eves necklacepods (Styphnolobium affine)
March 25, 2008 - Mr. S-P, I urgently need your advice regarding two Eve's necklacepods that appear to be dying. They are in two completely different areas of my yard. One began leafing out and then the leaves sh...
view the full question and answer

Disagreement on amending soil for planting from Austin
September 01, 2012 - In today's newspaper column, you answered a question about transplanting a redbud. You said to follow the instructions on the WFC web site, except you recommended adding compost to the backfill soil....
view the full question and answer

Failure to bloom of non-native Althea in Oklahoma
August 17, 2008 - I have 2 Althea bushes that will not bloom. For the past 2 years, they become covered in buds, which eventually yellow, but never open. The buds are fully developed. This year the branches have starte...
view the full question and answer

Fast-growing vine for cinder block wall in Albuquerque
July 26, 2010 - I live in Albuquerque, N.M. and have a cement/cinder block wall and was wondering if there is a vine I can plant which will be easy to grow, grow fast and cover my wall without any type of help like a...
view the full question and answer

Failure to thrive of Esperanza in Houston
July 07, 2009 - Esperanza plant. I have 3 of these plant in my flower bed for the last 10 years. They get west sun. Over the last three years they have bloomed initially but then the new growth is deformed. The best...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
E-NEWSLETTER | BECOME A MEMBER | DONATE NOW | MEDIA | JOBS | SITEMAP | STAFF INTRANET
© 2016 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center