Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa) is the famous orange milkweed species native from Canada to Florida. Needs fast-draining soil and full sun. Perennial How do I germinate butterfly weed seeds? Harvest the seed pods of butterfly weed when the pods begin to split. Seeds can be sown directly outdoors in late fall or started indoors. When sowing An effective way to attract monarch butterflies to your garden is to plant milkweed. We have tips on organizations that will send milkweed seeds to gardeners at no charge.
Butterfly Weed Seeds
To determine if a plant is sufficiently cold hardy, the USDA created numbered zones indicating winter low temperatures; the lower the zone number the colder the winter.
- If the coldest winter temperature expected in your area is -15°F (zone 5) then any plants rated zones 3-5 will survive the winter temperatures in your area.
- If you live in very warm winter areas (zones 9-11) plants with zones 3-4 ratings are not recommended. The lack of freezing winter temperatures do not provide a time for winter dormancy (rest).
Find Your Planting Zone:
Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa) is one of our great North American native flowers with rich Indian and medicinal history. The brilliant orange blooms light up meadows dramatically, and of course, visits by butterflies are a bonus. This wildflower, also prized as a garden perennial, is not easy to grow, but once established, is a tough, dependable colormaker.
Native Range for Asclepias tuberosa (Butterfly Weed) – AL, AR, AZ, CA, CO, CT, DC, DE, FL, GA, IA, IL, IN, KS, KY, LA, MA, MD, ME, MI, MN, MO, MS, NC, NE, NH, NJ, NM, NY, OH, OK, PA, RI, SC, SD, TN, TX, UT, VA, VT, WI, WV.
Attract Butterflies To Your Garden With Milkweed!
Understanding Milkweed (Asclepias) Seed & Germinating
Germination: To start Milkweed seed we recommend starting inside, but before this happens Milkweed seeds need to go through a cold stratification period. Cold stratification is very important for the germination and growth of Milkweed. It helps break the seeds natural dormancy cycle. To do this, we recommend placing Milkweed seed in a damp paper towel or damp sand in a zip lock bag and place in your fridge for 3 – 6 weeks (30 days). Place in an area of the fridge, where it won’t get damaged. We taped ours to the bottom of a refrigerator shelf.
Planting In Spring: Once the 30 days are complete, it’s time to plant the cold stratified Milkweed (asclepias) seeds. We recommend planting in 2-4” peat pots. Fill peat pots ¾ of the way with seed starting potting soil and gently add water. Water should be able to drain through the peat pots. Once the soil is damp, place 1-2 cold stratified seeds into each pot. To finish, place 1/4 inch of soil on top of the seed.
Planting In Fall: If you’re planting Milkweed seed in the fall, let nature do the cold stratification for you! There is no need to place your seeds in the refrigerator before planting, you can plant seeds directly into the soil after there have been a few frosts in your area. This allows for the seeds to remain dormant for the winter and come up in the early spring. Clear away any existing growth and using your index finger to measure, create 1.5″ holes for each Milkweed seed. We recommend spacing seeds about 4-6” apart. Place a seed in each hole and cover. Water thoroughly.
Watering: Gently water the planted seed to give additional hydration. The best way to water is from the bottom up. Use a flat pan under the peat pots and add a half inch of water to the bottom of the tray. Don’t over water as it can cause fungus. Water every day or every other day as needed, the best way to test the soil dampness is to touch it. If the soil seems dry then add water; if it’s wet, wait for the soil to dry out to water.
Light Requirements: For the next few weeks, make sure the Milkweed is either in a sunny window, in a green house or under a grow light. Milkweed needs lots of sun and warmth to grow. If you’re using a grow light, make sure to lower the bulb closer to the pots or your seedlings may become leggy, as they stretch to the light. In our experiment, this happened to us. Ideally a sturdier stem is better. Cold stratified seeds should germinate and sprout within 10-15 days once planted. In total Milkweed from the day they are cold stratified to growth can take 40 plus days, so be patient!
Other planting options: Place dry seed (not stratified) in seed starting soil and plant in peat pots under a grow light or in a greenhouse to germinate seeds. The success rate for this is low and more difficult to accomplish. If you choose to use this option it can take months for the seeds to germinate.
If you are planting seed outside, we suggest seeding in late fall, and let the Milkweed seed lay on the ground through winter. Milkweed seed will have a long winter of dormancy, so once the sun comes out and the ground warms in the spring, the seeds will germinate on their own.
Transplanting Milkweed (Asclepias) Seedling Outdoors
Where to Plant: Milkweed does well in open areas with full sunlight exposure areas like fields, parks, cultivated gardens, roadsides, highway medians, and road sides. We suggest transplanting Milkweed when the plant is no larger than 3 inches tall. In most cases in transplanting, the Milkweed plant will go though some shock and could lose all its leaves. This happens, don’t panic. The plant is trying to establish its roots and will eventually grow leaves again. This is the main reason we suggest planting seeds in peat pots, because Milkweed roots are very sensitive. Peat Pots breakdown over time in the ground, which allows the milkweed roots to grows without being disrupted. We found this to be the best way to transplant. If you decide to plant in plastic containers, but make sure it’s deep enough for roots to grow. If you receive a plant already grown in plastic, be careful to take out the plant and not disturb the roots.
When to plant: Soil moisture and temperature are very important when growing Milkweed. The best time to plant Milkweed is in early spring after the danger of frost has passed. If you plant seeds late in the spring, the seeds may not grow due to Common Milkweed Field Grown germination time and temperature. Common Milkweed seed doesn’t germinate over 85 degrees.
Caring For Milkweed (Asclepias) Plants
Once your seedling is planted, water it for a few days to get it established, but after that, the plant doesn’t need a lot of supplemental water. Only water if you have an unusual dry spell. Peat pots are nice to use, but you need to be sure there is no top edge above the soil line after transplanting. In dry climates, this will wick away valuable soil moisture. A small 2 1/2″ diameter x 3 in. deep pot is ideal. Asclepias are somewhat finicky native plants. So minimizing the time growing in a pot and transplanting them as young plants is the best approach.
As soon as your order is placed you will receive a confirmation email. You will receive a second email the day your order ships telling you how it has been sent. Depending upon your order date, we may hold your shipment to combine it with other products on your order, if applicable. See our shipping information page for approximate ship dates and more detailed information. If you have any questions, please call Customer Service toll-free at (877) 309-7333 or contact us by email.
View Shipping Rate Chart
Our shipping rates are calculated based on our actual average shipping costs. We do not seek to profit from shipping fees, so rest assured that our shipping rates reflect an average of what it costs to get our guaranteed products safely to your door.
US Shipping Charges
|Up to $4.99||$7.99|
|$5 to $399.99||$7.99 + 6% Merchandise Total|
|$400 and Over||8% Merchandise Total|
Canadian Shipping Charges
|Up to $24.99||$14.95|
|$25 to $49.99||$19.95|
|$50 to $74.99||$24.95|
|$75 to $99.99||$29.95|
|$100 and Over||$39.95|
If your order requires more than one shipment and all items are shipping to the same address, there is no additional shipping charge. If you have any questions, please call us at (877) 309-7333.
How do I germinate butterfly weed seeds?
Harvest the seed pods of butterfly weed when the pods begin to split. Seeds can be sown directly outdoors in late fall or started indoors.
When sowing seeds outdoors, work up the soil in a protected location in early to mid-November. Scatter the seeds over the prepared seed bed and then cover the seeds with approximately 1/4 inch of soil. The cold, moist conditions over winter improve seed germination. Seedlings should emerge in spring. Carefully transplant the seedlings to their permanent locations when the seedlings are 3 to 4 inches tall.
To start seeds indoors, fill a flat with a commercial germination medium (such as Jiffy Mix). Moisten the medium. Scatter the seeds over the surface of the germination medium and lightly press the seeds into the material. Cover the seeds with an additional 1/4 inch of the germination mix. Carefully moisten the additional material. Slide the flat in a plastic bag and place the bagged flat in the refrigerator. Leave the flat in the refrigerator for 4 to 6 weeks. After 4 to 6 weeks, remove the flat from the refrigerator and place it in an area with a temperature of 70 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Seeds should begin to germinate in 3 to 4 weeks. (If no seedlings appear after 4 weeks, place the flat back in the refrigerator for another 4 to 6 weeks and repeat the process.) Take the flat out of the plastic bag as soon as seedlings appear and place the flat under fluorescent lights in a 60 to 65 degree Fahrenheit location. Transplant the seedlings into individual pots when the seedlings are 1 to 2 inches tall. Continue to grow the seedlings indoors under fluorescent lights for several more weeks. Prior to planting outdoors, place the seedlings outdoors in a shady, protected location and then gradually expose the seedlings to longer periods of direct sun. Plant the seedlings in their permanent locations after they have hardened outdoors for 10 to 14 days.
Here’s How You Can Get Free Milkweed Seeds to Help Monarch Butterflies
Including native plants in your garden is just one way to help the pollinator population rebound.
Andrea Beck spent more than three years writing about food for Better Homes & Gardens before serving as the assistant digital garden editor. Now, she writes about lifestyle topics, including food, garden, home, and health for Hy-Vee’s Seasons magazine. Her work has appeared on Food & Wine, Martha Stewart, MyRecipes, and more. Andrea holds a double degree in magazines and English, with a minor in politics from Drake University.
Yesterday kicked off the first day of spring, which in my mind always signals the return of blooming flowers, chirping birds, and butterflies fluttering everywhere. Aside from helping pollinate wildflowers, I love seeing butterflies every year because they make gardens look so much more magical and full of life. Monarchs are one of my all-time favorites because of their huge, unmistakable black and orange wings. One of the most effective ways to attract more monarch butterflies to your garden is to plant milkweed, and organizations dedicated to their conservation will sometimes send the seeds to gardeners at no charge. Some butterfly and garden enthusiasts have even taken it upon themselves to make accessing the seeds easy for everyone.
A man in Omaha, Bob Gittins, took on a huge role in trying to save the monarchs. According to the Omaha World-Herald, after having trouble finding milkweed plants in stores, Gittins started buying the seeds in bulk from the Save Our Monarchs Foundation in Minnesota. Now, he’s helping other gardeners by giving away the seeds for free. Last year, he sent out 1,500 seed packets.
How to Get Free Milkweed Seeds
If you’d like to take advantage of the free pollinator seeds and sprinkle some in your yard, all you need to do is drop a self-addressed, stamped envelope in the mail to: Nebraska Monarchs, P.O. BOX 642061, Omaha, NE 68164. Gittins will send back milkweed seeds as soon as he can so you get them in the ground.
I found an organization, Live Monarch Foundation, that also offers free seeds. If you mail a self-addressed, stamped envelope to the Live Monarch Seed Campaign, the foundation will send back 15 butterfly garden seeds, including milkweed, for free. If you include a donation for the foundation along with your envelope, they’ll provide you with 40+ seeds for every dollar you donate.
Common Milkweed Varieties
Typically, Live Monarch Foundation has several varieties of seeds, and they’ll give you seeds that are native to your region. They have a few different hardy varieties of this perennial, including Asclepias syriaca (common milkweed) and Asclepias speciosa (showy milkweed), which can both survive freezing winters after the growing season ends. The foundation also has Asclepias curassavica (tropical milkweed), which grows well in Southern states like Florida, Louisiana, and Texas.
Monarch butterflies lay their eggs on milkweed, and when they hatch, it’s the only plant the caterpillars will eat. That’s what makes it so crucial for helping the next generation hatch each season. And with the monarch population declining, it’s more important now than ever before for us to do our part to help these pollinators rebound.
How to Plant Milkweed Seeds
If you get milkweed seeds for your garden, you can start them indoors in early spring. Growing the plants inside for a few months gives them extra time to mature before transplanting outside. Then, plant the sprouts outside after the last spring frost in your region. In the fall, simply scatter the seeds outdoors; they won’t germinate until they’ve been exposed to freezing temperatures and won’t sprout until next spring. If you’re interested in purchasing your seeds to start, you can find them at most garden supply stores.
While the monarch butterfly population won’t recover overnight, we home gardeners all across the country can do our part to help just by including a few milkweed plants our their yards. Look for them as you’re planning your garden this year, or mail in an envelope to get a few seeds for free. In addition to milkweed, adult monarchs also love nectar-rich plants like lantana, rudbeckia, and yarrow, so you can beautify your garden and help butterflies at the same time!