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The Desert milkweed is a distinctive shrub that develops an upright habit comprised of large numbers of many leafless blue-green stems growing 3-4 ft. tall. Terminal clusters of cream to yellow flowers are heaviest in mid spring, and are highly attractive to butterflies and nectar-seeking insects.

Desert milkweed grows throughout the southwest United States and Mexico in arroyos and seasonal washes. In California it is native to intermediate and low desert zones and is adapted to heat, aridity and drought. These adaptations make it a good match for Inland Empire drought tolerant plantings. It is a good accent and butterfly plant in Southwestern style gardens and can be grown in containers, placed on banks, around rocks and as a solitary specimen plant.

Water Needs

The Desert milkweed grows well in Inland Empire gardens in areas of full sun and when sustained with periodic summer water. The chart shown below provides a recommended baseline guide to the monthly irrigation schedule and volume of supplemental water needed to maintain healthy growth throughout the average year. It should be noted there are several months indicated by an asterisk (*) when winter rains can provide sufficient moisture and irrigation is not needed. The high and low range of moisture indicates it can grow with varying amounts of water and you should make irrigation adjustments based on field observations of growth and character. Spring flowering will be more robust and last longer when irrigation is scheduled for the higher end of the range from March through May.

Irrigation Schedule and Graph

Low Water Use Plants

Irrigation Schedule 2

  Jan* Feb* Mar* Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov* Dec*
Runs per Month 0x to 2x 0x to 2x 0x to 2x 1x to 2x 1x to 2x 1x to 2x 1x to 2x 1x to 2x 1x to 2x 1x to 2x 0x to 2x 0x to 2x
Inches per Run 1" 1" 1" 1" 1" 1" 1" 1" 1" 1" 1" 1"
Inches per Month 0" to 2" 0" to 2" 0" to 2" 1" to 2" 1" to 2" 1" to 2" 1" to 2" 1" to 2" 1" to 2" 1" to 2" 0" to 2" 0" to 2"

Range of supplemental summer water: 7"-14"
Range of supplemental winter water: 0"-10"

  Jan* Feb* Mar* Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov* Dec*
For more information on how to use this Irrigation Schedule and Graph, follow this link.

For information how to calculate your irrigation system’s schedule and precipitation rate, please follow this link.

Plant Properties

Plant Type: Perennial, Native
Foliage Character: Evergreen
Habit: Upright
Growth Rate: Slow
Height: 3 ft. - 4 ft.
Width: 3 ft. - 4 ft.
Water Needs: Low 2
Flower Color: Yellow, Cream
Flower Season: Spring
Soil Adaptations: Well-draining soil, Sand
Exposure Adaptations: Heat, Drought, Aridity, All day sun
Function: Wildlife value, Flowering accent plant, Attracts butterflies


Prune to the ground every few years in the late fall to reinvigorate plants. They might not begin to grow back until weather warms in the Spring (D,S).



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