You are here


Monarch Butterfly Feeding on Tropical Milkweed

Feed Them & They Will Come, Annual & Perennial Milkweed

The monarch butterfly has long been an ambassador of nature in the garden and a symbol of summertime. Generations of schoolchildren have raised monarchs in classrooms, watching in awe as caterpillars transform into beautiful orange-and-black adult butterflies. Yet monarch butterflies, once a familiar sight, are plummeting toward extinction (by 90 percent in the last 20 years). One of the main reasons for their decline is a lack of milkweed, the species’ only caterpillar host plant. Without milkweed, monarchs are unable to complete their lifecycle. By planting milkweed in your garden or neighborhood, you provide an essential habitat that will allow caterpillars to survive. A garden that's good for butterflies is also good for other pollinators such as bees and hummingbirds who often share the same nectar plants and utilize the same habitat. And, butterfly gardens are a great way to bring life and color into your yard. Here are some recommendations on perennial and annual milkweeds for Hampton Roads' gardeners:


Tropical Milkweed (Asclepia Curassavica) – this annual milkweed features showy red and yellow flowers and is preferred by egg-laying female monarchs to the other milkweeds when given a choice. Grows fast and easy from seed and flowers all summer long. Matures to approximately 2-3 feet tall and prefers full sun to partial shade. Plant in the garden or in containers.


Common Milkweed (Asclepias Syriac) - is the plant most people think of when they hear the word “milkweed.” This variety produces a profusion of fragrant, lavender to pink flowers in midsummer with nice, plump leaves that will feed plenty of caterpillars. Blooms from late spring well into summer. Common milkweed spreads by runners making it ideal planted in naturalized areas. Typically grows to 2-4 feet tall and thrives in almost any well-drained soil spot.

Butterfly Weed (Asclepias Tuberosa) - the 2017 Perennial Plant of the Year, this milkweed is easy to grow and is the only perennial milkweed that produces vivid, orange flower clusters. Butterfly weed grows to around 18-24 inches tall and wide, making it a perfect fit for small space gardens. This blooming beauty also makes a nice cut flower. Prefers full sun.

Swamp Milkweed (Asclepia Incarnata) - a taller, clump-forming milkweed that comes in fragrant, pink (Cinderella) or white (Ballet) flower clusters. This milkweed reaches 3-5 feet tall and prefers full sun and average to moist soil conditions but can also tolerate slightly dryer spots.

Whorled Milkweed (Asclepia Verticillata) - a shorter perennial milkweed with white flowers clusters and needle-like foliage. This variety blooms a little later in the season providing color in your garden when most flowers have disappeared. Whorled milkweed can survive in partial shade whereas other milkweed species need full sun to produce sufficient blooms. Whorled grows to approximately two feet tall making it ideal for those that have small space gardens.

TIP: Plant both annual and perennial milkweeds, so there is plenty of food for the hungry monarch caterpillars. Growing a good variety of nectar flowers also helps to sustain all beneficial insects, adds beauty to your yard, and contributes to the overall health of the local ecosystem. Some of our favorite nectar flowers include lantana, butterfly bush, coneflower and zinnias.

Salvia "Hot Lips"
Salvia "Hot Lips"

Pucker Up with Salvia “Hot Lips”

Salvia, a member of the mint family, has nearly 1000 species of shrubs, herbaceous perennials, and annuals. Its blooms offer long-lasting color and attract butterflies and pollinators. Salvia is typically a rapid grower and tolerates summer heat with graceful, spiky blooms and is available in a variety of colors including blues, purples, pinks, reds, as well as, some whites and yellows.

We're giving lip service to Salvia “Hot Lips,” a stunning, fast-growing, drought tolerant perennial that blooms from mid-summer through fall. Its distinctive bi-colored blooms add a pop of color to the summer garden or potted container. A vivid red band accents the glowing white blooms, which cover the upright stems in pairs and is backed by fine, green foliage. The flowers look like miniature lips, hence its name, 'Hot Lips.' This salvia prefers full sun to part shade and works well in beds, borders, containers and in mass plantings. “Hot Lips’ is a hummingbird favorite but is usually ignored by deer.

Plum Dandy Alternanthera

Plum Crazy for Alternanthera Plum Dandy

Alternanthera is delightful foliage plant that is both easy to grow and care for. Although these plants don’t have interesting blooms, they more than make up for it with their striking, jewel-tone foliage. With plenty of varieties to choose from, alternanthera offers a wide range of leaf shapes, sizes, and textures. Outdoors, low-growing varieties are ideal as an edging plant next to sidewalks and pathways. Taller varieties can be mixed into borders where its colorful foliage adds contrasting hues. Their compact size and bright color also makes them an excellent choice as a filler plant in containers.

Alternanthera Plum Dandy offers depth and drama in a sweet, simple package. Featuring oval shaped, plum-colored foliage, this low-mounding variety is perfect for softening the edges of patios or walkways and can easily be pinched to fit just about any shape. Its compact size and bright color also makes it an excellent choice for container gardens. Plum Dandy is heat tolerant and prefers partial to full sun (4 plus hours) and grows to approximately 10 to 16 inches tall and 1 to 1.5 feet wide.