Asclepias tuberosa, or butterfly weed, is a hardy perennial that blooms summer into fall. Find out if it's a good idea for your monarch butterfly garden… Collect butterfly weed seeds from the garden is fun and easy. Follow these steps to learn how to harvest butterfly weed seeds for planting next year. How To Grow Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa) If you would like to attract a continuous visitation from various butterflies and hummingbirds to your garden (who wouldn’t?), consider adding
This milkweed also attracts bumblebees, eastern tiger swallowtails, fritillaries, hairstreaks, honeybees, painted ladies, pipevine swallowtails, and more. (If you know of other pollinators Asclepias tuberosa attracts, please share your sightings below.)
Buy Butterfly Weed Plants and Seeds
Always purchase seeds and plants by botanical (scientific) name. Asclepias tuberosa’s common name, butterfly weed, is often used to refer to other milkweed species:
Please post below if you have any questions, comments, or suggestions for growing Asclepias tuberosa in your garden:
Hi Tony, My milkweed plants come back year after year and new plants start from what I have. I have a problem with butterfly weed. It will grow like crazy but then never comes back. I am wondering if this is an annual or perennial. Or am I just doing something wrong, thank you – Kate
Hi Kathryn, are you sure you’re actually buying Asclepias tuberosa? Some nurseries use butterfly weed to label tropical milkweed plants…Asclepias curassavica is only a perennial to zone 8 and up.
Help! My butterfly weed has aphids. What can I use to get rid of aphids and not harm the caterpillars (if I ever get any).
Hi Mary, check out this post
I just planted these and then read where the leaves and stems could be poisonous to animals. Is this true. I have dogs that like to eat leaves and grass. If this could hurt them they will hit the garbage.
Hi Barb, our past two dogs have been grass eaters, but never touched any of the 15 different varieties we have planted throughout our yard. Milkweed has a bitter taste and most animals won’t touch it. If you’re concerned, an alternative option is to put fencing around the plants…
As some people have alluded to, there are substantial concerns with planting tropical milkweed for monarchs. It is more prone to OE, which infects the monarchs, and disrupts the migration of the monarchs. A link to a scientific article describing this is here (Science magazine, no subscription required): http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2015/01/plan-save-monarch-butterflies-backfires
Thanks for the informative website.
Hi Claudia, tropical milkweed is more prone to collecting OE spores in continuous growing regions like Florida and southern California. In other regions it a valuable tool for supporting monarchs in addition to native milkweed. Here’s more info:
Can you delete the comment suggesting tropical milkweed as a host plant or at least point out that it should only be used in the south? It’s hurting migration and causing health concerns. I’m trying to combine common milkweed with butterfly weed but I’ve noticed that fireflies house on the common variety. Will that cause my monarchs problems? Should I create a caged house? I was trying to go a natural route. Also, my backyard floods and then dries after receiving 40mph winds. Can swamp milkweed survive the chaos if I plant it near or around arborvitae? Is it invasive? Will it harm my arborvitae?
Hi Beth, tropical milkweed is an excellent option for attracting/supporting monarch butterflies and I’d argue that it’s more problematic in continuous growing regions where it collects more OE spores than native milkweed becuase it doesn’t die back. There is no actual data to suggest it’s negatively impacting the migration. We’ve grown it for almost a decade and monarchs are not staying late because of it. They are depending on other environmental cues including wind direction and daylight hours. I’ve never seen (or heard of) any issue with planting common milkweed and butterfly weed together but keep in mind A. syriaca spreads aggressively through underground rhizomes. We raise indoors becuase it’s easier to protect caterpillars from extreme weather conditions and predators.
Start seeds indoors 2 months before final frost- (me: first it says )refrigerator cold stratification required
Spring Sow seeds directly after final frost- don’t forget to stratify first
Divide your butterfly weed
Winter sowing provides a natural cold stratification
Start seeds in a cup of water. Use a heated seed mat.(me: now it says) no cold stratification necessary
Also the newsletter signup would not allow me to sign up it continued to tell me the address was invalid. Checked it and re-entered and it continued to fail.
Hi Judy, there are different ways you can propagate milkweed. Your choice will depend on your region and preference. It’s just a list of potential options. I was able to manually add you to the list so you should start receiving emails…
I stay in Texas my friend just introduced me to these beautiful plants I have the Butterfly Weed
Asclepias tuberosa (Yellow) she gave me the plant in a 3 gallon pot
There were 3 large caterpillars on there when she gave it to me
I placed it up front of my window where it gets good sun walk out the next day the 3 caterpillars are gone? What did I do wrong? The plant even looks more dried out from just yesterday of her giving it to me? Is it because I have placed it around my other plants? I even bought a plant to place beside it that attracts butterflies lol help! I really love this plant & want to see it grow threw the years in my front little garden
Hi Veronica…if they were large enough, they could have crawled away to form a chrysalis. The less happy ending would be that predators found them:
I planted 2 asclepias tuberosas this spring. They are beautiful and grew really well with lots of flowers.Now that it is the beginning of fall I have a lot of seed pods on them and I don’t know what I am suppose to do with them or how to take care of them to reseed or do I just leave them alone? I live in Independence, Missouri
Hi Dianna, you can do either. If you’d like to plant some this fall, winter, or spring, check out this post:
i live in Southern California have balloon balls milkweed, they were doing really good, then started they were drying, stems turn black and died. i still have a couple that are in the same process of dying. i don’t know why this is. Can you please advise. Thank you
Hi Edie, I haven’t seen this happen before…sounds like a possible fungus:
Had a nice butterfly milkweed plant last year, but it didn’t come up this year. So I dug up the area and found good roots, but appears rotten where the plant was. What would cause this? and, can I replant the roots and get them to grow?
Hi Mike, perhaps the area was too wet…not well drained soil? Yes, if the root system looks viable, you could try planting it and hopefully it will come back next season.
Butterflyweed breaks dormancy later than anything else in my garden, so I’ve learned to wait patiently, and in the fall mark where they are so I don’t accidentally dig them up.
I take a wooden stake, cut it into 3 parts, and stake around the plant so I avoid tilling that particular area in the spring.
I just bought a butterfly weed plant. I grew them many years ago in my “urban garden”, where they only had about a foot to a foot-and-half patch of grass, with a fence on once side and concrete on the other side. I was planning on planting my new little plant next to my concrete patio, but after reading about the roots am concerned this may not be the best place. It is the best place in terms of sun and not getting mowed over by idiot lawn mowers (I just had my lilies in front decimated the other day). Do you think it would be okay to plant them maybe a couple of inches away from the patio and have them do well there? They will get plenty of sun, although the soil in Ohio is pretty clay-ey (but then, I was in Ohio when I grew them before too). Should I add some compost to the hole I will plant them in to help with the high clay content of he soil? Thank you for any help!
Hi Ginger-lyn, it sounds like you have found a good place for your plants. If you’re concerned about soil quality, amending with compost is a good idea.
I recently planted two small butterfly weed (about a foot high) and one has been eaten to the stems by cats (moved them all to the other plant that was untouched and going out to buy more tomorrow). Is the plant that was eaten down a goner or if I cut it down will it come back? I live in Central FL. Unsure what is best route to take with stripped plants. Thanks!
Mi Michelle, if the milkweed plants have good root systems they should come back. I would give it some time and see what happens…good luck!
My butterfly weed does not show signs of life (April 29), it shows no signs of spring shoots. Does this plant start in the summer? Or should I be worried about it not looking a bit green.
Hi Veronica, not sure where you’re located but I haven’t seen any of our tuberosa plants coming up yet in Minnesota…they usually take a little longer to emerge than other milkweed species. new shoots will emerge from the ground.
I live in Sacramento, a pretty hot place. I bought Asclepias Tuberosa last October and planted it in my backyard. The foliage died off over the winter. It is now April and I keep waiting to see new growth and I haven’t seen any yet. When should I see new growth on it and is there anything should be doing to get it to start growing again?
Hi Scott, I would ask someone with first-hand growing experience in your region (I’m in Minnesota) what their experience is. Check out my western resources page:
I bought 4 Asclepias Tuberosa plants to add to the milkweed in my yard. I figured the caterpillars would like it since the plants have thinner, more delicate leaves similar to Tropical. However, I have not found a single caterpillar on the plants even though they are nice and bushy now. I’m finding cats on complete stripped Tropical, but none on the Tuberosa. I cut some Tuberosa stems to feed the cats in the castle, but the cats won’t eat it. They will eat literally everything else and leave those leaves alone. They will even eat the leaves from the Giant milkweed tree which are much thicker (and I am assuming harder to eat) but leave the Tuberosa.
I swear if I hadn’t found caterpillars on the plants when I bought them, I would think that the nursery sold me the wrong plants. I hope the butterflies like the flowers, because the cats sure don’t like the leaves.
Hi Bett, in a side by side taste test with other milkweed varieties, it won’t fare well. But if the eggs are laid on it, and the caterpillars haven’t been eating other varieties, they will be fine with it.
I’m guessing they don’t enjoy the rough, sapless leaves of tuberosa compared to other species. We still have a few tuberosa plants in the garden to give our visitors a variety of options. It’s a good nectar plant too…
Which specific variety would you recommend for Colorado (Boulder area) and for Wyoming (Cheyenne area)? Thanks!
Hi Steve, check out the milkweed resources page which lists 25 milkweed species including their native and perennial regions. Asclepias incarnata (swamp milkweed) is a favorite native plant and doesn’t have invasive underground rhizomes:
I have switched five caterpillars from one milkweed to another and my babies haven’t moved since. It’s been from about noon yesterday until 5:30 this morning. The first plant was from Home Depot and the second plant which is much more mature is from a nursery. The plants are the same kind but the first one is a much younger plant. I’m devastated. Should I move them back to where they were?
Hi Gina, I hope the new plants have not been treated with pesticides. If they still aren’t eating I would move them back…good luck!
Yes, immediately move them back. The Home Depot plans, virtually ALL of them, are treated with a neonicotinoids. Some plants are labelled, but I’ve seen many labels on the floor as they get knocked off. Its disturbing that even indoor plants are treated this way. I would not trust anything from HD unless they pledge to not do it any more. They have made murmurs of doing so, and have made a few concessions, but its not universal. This would be outright poison for your poor caterpillars.
Do you think a Home Depot butterfly weed plant would be safe during a second growing season if cut back to the ground the first year?
it should be fine, or at least much less toxic than when it was treated. if you’re unsure, you can always test with 1-2 caterpillars before feeding more…good luck!
Last year was my first go around with monarchs. My good intentions to help preserve the Monarchs by buying tropical from HD was rewarded by getting tons of cats and all of them died in a few days and a few lasted a few weeks before dying off. I blamed predators but eventually realized it was probably pesticides. We cut them back and the second go around ( in the same season) I had no problems at all and had cats well into the fall who were healthy. Hope this helps.
Are you sure because I bought Asclepias tuberosa and it said it would help. Now I am not sure if it is safe. Is it true they put pesticides. Thank you so much
you can always test the milkweed on one or two caterpillars…not all big box stores have milkweed treated with pesticides, but many still do.
The seed pods on my butterfly weed plants are not drying or opening…they’ve been hanging out on the plants for a month doing nothing. All the milkweed seed pods have opened but these butterfly weed pods – nothing!
Do they take longer to mature?
Thanks for your advice!
Hi Sheila, our Asclepias tuberosa pods haven’t opened yet either. I would wait to harvest until you see them start to crack open…good luck!
Can I grow it in a large pot??
Yes Nancy, I haven’t grown it in pots before because of the taproot but have seen others do it successfully. good luck!
I have had my butterfly weed in a large pot and it’s in its second year. This year it is now on its second blooming. The first browned out in mid-July and then fresh shoots emerged and is now in full bloom. I take it as a good sign that what looks like a monarch caterpiller is now attached to one of the orange buds. May I transplant the plant when it goes dormant or wait until after the last frost of spring?
Hi Joe, you can transplant in fall or spring:
I have a seed pod (1st ) on a 3 yr plant and would like to reseed directly into ground. My question is when to open pod and do I let seeds dry first then plant? Also do I have to do anything to the ground beforehand?
Hi Michelle, congrats on getting your first seed pod! Here is some info on harvesting milkweed you should find helpful:
Will a Monarch larva eat another type of Milkweed other than the one it started on?
typically yes, but it’s more difficult to get them to switch TO tuberosa
Thank you. I’ve been having a bit of a runaway problem. But it seems the older they are, the easier the switch.
I have butterfly weed plants that look healthy, they are about 4 feet tall. I have some in Memphis, TN and in Camden, TN. It is August 8, and I don’t have any flower buds, much less any flowers. What’s going on? We had lots of rain in both cities in the spring and during a very hot summer.
Hi Deborah, tuberosa is a reliable bloomer, but doesn’t always bloom during its first season…
Tony, almost all of my first year tuberosa are now blooming! The funny thing is, nearly all my first year incarnata are setting bloom buds too. Guess I got lucky.
Hi Arthur, if you started from seed that is pretty amazing…enjoy those beautiful blooms!
Yes, all started from seed late this winter / very early spring. Very pleasant surprise!
I believe a tuberosa is in my garden. I did not plant it, but it showed up as a volunteer. This is its third summer and has not spread. This summer I bought a Pentas (Pentas lanceolata) from a local garden store. I was told it was butterfly weed. Is this true? Will Monarchs use this as a host plant?
Hi Stevie, pentas are a nectar flower but not a monarch host plant.
Not knowing they are tap rooted plants, i pulled some plant stems off the main root. The stems have minimum roots on them. I was hoping to reroot the stems. Am I able to do this? If so, how? Thank you!
Hi Vanessa, you could either try dipping them in rooting hormone powder and direct planting in your garden or put them in a glass of water to see if they’ll start rooting, like is commonly done with tropical milkweed:
I have several A. tuberosa seedlings that I started in late Feb / early March from seed bought from Walmart. I had very good germination both with and without stratification, and good survival so far.
I noticed yesterday that one of the bigger seedlings is working on a head of bloom buds. I didn’t expect any of them to bloom this year. Should I allow it to bloom, or would it be best to pinch the bloom buds off?
Hi Arthur, why would you pinch back the blooms? Enjoy the unexpected surprise!
Thanks Tony. Most of my growing experience is with carnivorous plants, where when a young plant blooms it is often recommended to pinch off the bloom buds so the plant can put all that energy into growing instead of blooming. In this case I will indeed enjoy the unexpected bonus!
Hi Arthur, your tuberosa plant shouldn’t grow that much its first season anyway. If you had two first year flowering plants, I would suggest an experiment.
Tony, two more of my first year tuberosa are now putting on bloom buds. I would be interested in your experiment suggestion.
Hi Arthur, just try pinching one or two of them back, and leave the other to see the difference in growth habit. Our mature tuberosa plants have two bloom periods and we don’t pinch them back at all.
I moved into a new home in San Marcos, CA a few months back and purchased a couple smaller Asclepias curassavica plants (about 12″ tall). I noticed this past weekend that I had a number of monarch caterpillars on them, and now they’ve entirely devoured one plant down to branches only and I’m pretty sure when I get home from work today, the other plant will be entirely eaten. I have at about 10 caterpillars that are about an inch and a half long each. Do you think that they’re now big enough to survive without purchasing more plants (these were $12.99 each… yikes!) or should I purchase more in order to keep them alive? I’m not sure how much more they need to grow before they build their cocoons. Thank you!
Hi Marcelle, just 1-2 caterpillars can devour an entire milkweed plant so I’m sure they will need more milkweed. good luck!
I received a packet April 21, 2016 of Pink Butterfly Milkweed Asclepias tuberosa seed at the District meeting of the Montana Federation of Garden Clubs. The package is from Golden autumn The farm.
I put some seeds in water. I stratified some seeds. More sprouted with the stratified method.
My question is “What does the sprouting Asclepias tuberosa look like? Some of the seeds have long narrow leaves. Some are more oval. Which one is the A tuberosa?
Some of the sprouts are now 1 1/4 inch tall and I am planning to set them out in my garden which gets morning sun.
Do I put both of the starting plants?
Hi Bonnie, the first set of leaves are more oval (cotyledons) and the true leaves of the plant are narrow. Here’s what a seedling looks like:
We planted three (orange-flower) butterfly weed plants in Central Vermont (zone 4) last summer, in full sun, and they grew pretty large and flowered twice over. A lot of people up here were surprised they’d done so well. In late Sept/October, however, they were seriously attacked by orange aphids, which I tried to hose off as best I could. Pretty soon after the stems seemed to dry out and the plant turned black and fell apart altogether. First frost probably helped too. So I figured they were dead and cut them down to the ground. But in fact they were only dormant, as all three have new growth as of a couple of weeks ago, which is thrilling. So I bought six more (not easy to find, had to go to four nurseries, and they were very pricey) and planted them this past weekend in another location, to see how they fare.
Anyway, my question is: Can aphids damage the plant, and how can we best get rid of them? I’ve read that some people use insecticidal sprays, but would prefer to avoid, especially since this area of the garden is approximately in the location of our underground water tank.
Hi Glen, congrats on your returning plants. Aphids are a huge problem in milkweed patches across the country. As your garden becomes more established, you should also start attracting more aphid predators. We now have regular populations of ladybugs and lacewings, and that has prevented serious infestations for the past 5 years. Check out this post for some ideas to help your patch this season:
PS…large aphid infestations hurt the plants and decrease seed viability…typically, they don’t kill the plant.
Thanks for the link, Tony, much appreciated. Good to know that the aphids don’t kill them, even if they do damage, alas. We did notice quite a few ladybugs last summer, the kids loved them, and I’m hoping they’ll return. Thanks again. Glen.
Do you know if I could still buy milkweed plants (not seeds) somewhere and plant them to attract butterflies or is it too late?
Hi Veronica, as spring unfolds more vendors will have plants for sale, but there are plenty available right now. Check out the suggested stores on my milkweed resources page, then scroll down further for more plant options:
Quick ? for you, I have three balloon Milkweed plants in my garden, and the balloons are collecting Box Elder bugs, that I believe are coming from my artichoke plants.
What can you tell me about why they would be on the balloon Milkweed, and how to get rid of them. I know they are a pest, and I can’t afford to get an exterminator out here.
North Orange County, CA
Hi Nicole, those are milkweed bugs. We typically leave them, but if they start taking over your milkweed you have a couple options to stop them:
I had As. tuberosa in my main b-fly garden and it wasn’t doing too well – I think it was being overshadowed by the taller milkweeds. So last year I dug it up, split it into 2 clumps and replanted them into a small plot in my front yard. Oh boy! Was it happy there! It grew a bit taller and I rescued a dozen cats to bring in to my rearing cages. Hope it does as well this season.
Thank you for sharing your experience Dottie…sometimes a new spot makes all the difference!
Hi Tony, did you keep records of time into water on heat mat and beginning germination? I’m curious as to approx time from beginning to first seeds sprouting using your water germination method.
Does it provide a quicker way to germination?
Hi Mary, it took over a week, but it was cold downstairs and my heat mat wasn’t working…it took me a few days to notice. Once the water warmed up a little bit most of the seeds germinated as you can see from the photo on the page. Again, I did not cold stratify the seeds. Next spring I am going to try soaking some in water for 24 hours like I do with the warm weather milkweed varieties.
Hi Brian, congrats on your tuberosa seedlings. Fresh incarnata seeds generally have a high germination rate. Have you tried a heated seedling mat to speed things along?
The 30 day moist stratified seeds of tuberosa germinated very readily in soil the incarnata have not done so yet. Over the past few summers I find a few instar on the tuberosa leaves. Happy almost spring.
I want to divide/propagate rhizome of mature A. tuberosa
Quick outline of handling?
Hi Greg, here is a video that shows dividing plants with tap roots (like tuberosa)
Thanks Tony. The funny thing is, about a month ago I put some of my wild collected tuberosa seeds in a water container to try that method, no sprouts at all yet. Two incarnata seeds out of twelve have sprouted that way, and none of the syriaca.
It is cool in our basement so I put our cups of seeds on a heated seed mat. That might be the difference…
It could well be. I have one ordered, will try again after it arrives.
Every year I see “Butterfly Weed” (which I assume to be A. tuberosa) seed packets at Walmart, and always wonder how well they would germinate since the packet instructions make no mention of stratifying the seeds.
This year I decided to try it and see. I planted 21 seeds in peat pellets in a plastic dome and placed under lights on my growing rack. I did not soak the seeds first, and I do not use a heat mat, took the seeds straight out of the packet. This was this past Saturday, the same day I bought the seeds. Last night, Monday night, I noticed that almost half of the seeds had sprouted already! I never dreamed that I would get such good germination, and so fast. Now I’ll have to grow them out and compare to my wild collected A. tuberosa and the seeds that I bought online, which are now all stratifying in the refrigerator.
I just thought someone might be interested in my little experiment.
Tony, do you have any thoughts on why these would work so well without any stratification?
Hi Arthur, tuberosa is one of the easier seed varieties to start. It can also be started in wet paper towels/coffee filters in a sealed food storage container or in water under grow lights…both without cold stratification. I am currently experimenting with these propagation techniques and tuberosa is responding well.
Even a decade ago, there wasn’t a lot known about gardening with milkweed. Through all the social networking on the internet, there is a lot of new information coming to light that is blowing old assumptions out of the water. Experiments are good…thanks for sharing your results.
About to have our first freeze this year, I can’t remember if I’ve cut back my milk weed in prior years. I live in Zone 9, Houston, Texas area. Can you advise?
Hi Cynthia, I’m in Minnesota. Up here A. tuberosa just dies back to the ground and reemerges next spring. I clear the dead stems and foliage in the spring. Cutting milkweed back allows healthy new growth to emerge for next season. Plants that aren’t cut back can collect OE spores and spread disease to future monarchs. Here’s more info about OE:
Frost has wilted my butterflyweed. Do I cut all the way back?
Hi Trish, if you’re in a region with a true winter, just cut back the dead foliage/stems in spring. new growth will emerge from the roots.
I started Asclepias tuberosa from seed in seed trays. End of December brings a wonderful germination and I have them under grow lights. Should I keep the plants cold to control growth till my zone 5 garden is ready? I assume that they wouldn’t do well if I planted them out before the last frost.
Hi Stacy, if we start native milkweed seeds indoors it would be about 8 weeks before planting outdoors. I’m not sure how that will affect the growth cycle, but it sounds like an interesting experiment. You might also want to try an alternative form of propagation like winter sowing in case you have any issues with these early plants. Let us know what you learn from the experience…thanks!
I’m looking to make my garden friendly for both butterflies AND honey bees – if I’m trying to appease them both, would this or syriaca be a better choice?
Hi Heather, bees are frequent visitors to both types of milkweed but syriaca is typically more attractive to monarchs as both a nectar and host plant. The one advantage to tuberosa is it blooms a bit longer. There are many milkweed varieties to choose from and having 3-4 species planted will attract/support more monarchs and other pollinators.
good luck with your garden!
My milkweed plant leaves have all been eaten by monarch caterpillars and only the stems are remaining. I live in Florida. Should I cut the naked stems back now?
sounds like a good time to do this Leisa…congrats on a busy monarch season!
I have the same issue. They are bare and look close to death. This happened in about two weeks. How do I “cut them back”.? Not sure of how to ensure they don’t just die….
Hi Amie, just take a sharp hand pruner and cut stems back to about 6″…milkweed is resilient. (Think about what the caterpillars do to the plants!)
Few weeks ago bought a Milkwee plant at the Local Agric. Ctr. plant sale … the Milkweed is in full sun.
Did as the Ag Agent said .. fertilized just a little and watered lightly for a couple of weeks; half of the plant is now brown and leaves have fallen off. The other side is fine.
Any suggestions? Am in Central NC and this is supposed to be a native for this area.
It is the A.tuberosa…
Hi Peggy, it’s getting late in the season and tuberosa is past its prime. The only milkweed varieties that stay viable this time of the year are tropical milkweed and other non-native varieties. I would stop fertilizing it and just water it to get it acclimated. Your plants should look much better when they return next spring…
Enjoying reading these comments about butterfly weed. Many folks may be aware that Robert Frost, in his early poem, “The Tuft of Flowers,” on the subject of haymaking, makes reference to butterfly weed; in this poem, the butterfly plays a central role.
My butterfly weed had a lot of green leaves, stems left, but also many brown dead stems, so I cut them down like i do every fall. I noticed extremely tiny orange spots all over every stem and leaf. What are these?
Hi Dee, it sounds like the plants may be infested with aphids:
This is our first year to plant a butterfly garden. We live in a suburb of Chicago. We have many Milkweed plants in our area that grow wild and quite a few that have come up in our yard. We picked an area next to our house and planted butterfly weed and butterfly bushes. There is also Milkweed intermixed. A friend gave me 2 Tuberosa plants – one orange and one yellow. We’ve been very successful attracting Monarch butterflies. Out of all the plants, they seem to prefer the Tuberosa plants. I’ve had as many as 7 Monarch caterpillars on one plant and they have eaten them bare. So far we had 4 pupas. Two have hatched open on Labor Day. 2 pupa were on our Butterfly Bush and the other 2 attached to our brick windowsill. I believe there are more pupa but they are so well hidden, they are hard to see. It is such fun watching the stages of the butterfly.
Hi Dianne, congrats on your first year success! It’s not common to have so many monarchs survive outdoors because of all the predation and parasitism that occurs. I’m happy to hear yours are surviving. Good luck with the rest of your season…
I have planted several milkweed plants in Orlando, FL. They are ~4 ft tall but only have leaves on the top 12 inches but yet they are blooming. No leaves on the remainder 3 feet. Is this normal? Should I cut them back to make them bushier? Thanks, Heather
Hi Heather, I think this is a common Florida issue but I’m not sure why it happens. I would contact a reputable nursery in your area or the master gardener program in your area to talk to someone with first-hand Florida experience. good luck!
Ps…you can cut back any milkweed variety for a bushier growth habit, but I just let the caterpillars take care of that.
what’s eating my butterfly weed? not monarchs! Masses of caterpillars which are about an inch long with an intricate pattern of light brown and black segments and white horns.
most likely tussock moth caterpillars. We have a good supply of milkweed so I typically let them stay, but they can devour small milkweed patches:
When do you trim them? Or do I need to.
Hi Nedday, I would cut back the spent blooms after the first flowering period. We didn’t do it this season, but got more blooms because we had caterpillars eating the plants. Our ‘hello yellow’ cultivar was not cut back but it is putting out some new blooms too. Cutting back will probably give you a few extra blooms, but you still might get some without…
Started my butterfly weed from seed July last year…plants are beautiful and just found some cats on them today…didn’t know what they were so I looked them up to see if they were friend or foe…just tickled to find they are monarch cats…love your site…very informative
Hi Heather, congrats on your fast success! Good luck with your caterpillars…
Thanks…I have fish emulsion so I’ll give it a try. The reason I hadn’t tried fertilizer before now is that I thought milkweed thrived in sandy soil that wasn’t amended with compost or fertilizer. Good to know that fertilizer may be a solution.
One last question: should this plant be cut back to encourage blooms?
Hi Susan, I have never cut back our tuberosa plants before. As they have matured the past couple seasons, they are putting up more stalks (and blooms) on their own without extra encouragement. You could always try cutting back one or two plants to see if you notice a difference in growth habit…good luck!
Feel so fortunate to come across your column. Thanks for all the good information.
I planted a milkweed plant last fall. It bloomed beautifully this spring but since then nothing. Should I fertilize? I live in central Pennsylvania.
Hi Susan, you could always try a fertilizer that promotes flowering to see if you could get some more blooms. I was actually surprised to see one of our tuberosa plants going through a second bloom cycle…I can’t recall ever seeing this before.
Is it ok to use fertilizer on milkweed? I haven’t used anything because I’m afraid to hurt the butterflies
Hi Gail, you can use fertilizer on milkweed. We’ve used slow release, seaweed/fish emulsion, and miracle gro in the past and have never had any issues. I also know other gardeners that use fertilizer and have not heard of any potential issues…as long as there aren’t any pesticides in the ingredients, fertilize away!
Just to note- miraclegrow DOES have what can be a pesticide -chemical salts & a herbicide in some cases of native plants. It seems counterproductive to introduce chemicals where endangered butterflys eat.
I’ve used miracle gro fertilizer for many years and had zero issues with our caterpillars/butterflies and have talked to many others who gardeners who report the same experience.
Miracle Gro is 100% pesticide free and contains nothing harmful. I use their “Quick Start” to help establish milkweed.
I am thinking of removing my butterfly weed altogether and replacing it with another variety. I have A. syriaca and A. incarnata but the Monarchs don’t even go near A. tuberosa. Forget about feeding it to caterpillars… they would starve! Love your site by the way!
Hi Kate, I’m not a huge fan of tuberosa, but we have a surprising amount of monarch activity on ours this season. It never hurts to keep a couple of even the varieties you don’t like…you never know (for sure) what’s going to entice visiting butterflies and why. Good luck with your garden!
So exciting. I have both Butterfly weed and regular milkweed. No Monarch cats but my next door neighbor has 4 cats on her Butterfly weed. I was thinking of moving the cats to my regular milkweed if that is a better host! What do you think, Tony.
Hi Paul, if they were born on butterfly weed, they will have no qualms eating it. Common milkweed typically gets more eggs though…
I have a Butterfly Weed plant that is several years old. It is a beautiful, full plant with lots of orange flowers every year, at first. I read that it’s suppose to bloom throughout summer but mine only blooms for a short period . It also starts out nice and bushy but by the time the flowers bloom it splits down the middle. Normally I would have divided a plant that looks like this but I am afraid to divide this one. Any suggestions on what I should do to encourage longer bloom time and whether or not to divide it and when? Also I have never seen it produce seed pods. I live in Michigan, if that’s a factor.
Hi Sharon, our plants are not mature enough for division so haven’t tried, but we have had a lot of success with transplanting. You might try a fertilizer with a high middle number (phosphorous) to promote blooming. I would try division in early spring when the plant is just starting to put up new growth, or in late summer as it starts to cool. This way, more energy can go into establishing roots instead of foliage. The plant is usually more stressed when it has to support both. Strange that yours has not produced seed pods…we have had pods in both full sun and partial shade. Perhaps the soil needs to be amended? Good luck with your plants!
strange…but i have 2 two year old milkweed plants that bloomed profusely all summer, yet, produced NO seed pods. tons of pollinators & monarch caterpillars frequent the two, too. last year, they produced an unbelievable amount of seed; so much so i struggled to keep up! sooooooooo, what’s up with THAT?
Hi John, the only thing I can think of is that the caterpillars put them behind schedule for seeding by eating down the stems. Our “hello yellow” cultivar had more flowers this season, was definitely visited by pollinators, but also didn’t produce seed…I’ve heard this is more common for that cultivar though.
Thank you for the information. Can I grow butterfly milkweed in containers. What size of pot do you suggest I start with and keep them in? Do you have any tips in growing them indoors during the winter months?
Hello Vi, Asclepias tuberosa can be grown in containers. I would suggest about a 14″ pot to start. You may have to transplant. Cutting back the root system might work too if there is little foliage on the plant when you do it. Good luck!
My Hello Yellow was planted 2 years ago and it’s looking great this year and has really grown -maybe because we had so much spring rain. I have three plants and they are growing in a raised bed and in full sun. They did have have aphids last year but this year seem to be free of any pests. I am seeing Monarchs, Black and yellow swallowtails and Painted Ladies so far but no eggs that I can tell. They have a medium tall mounding habit and look really good planted with pink petunias in front of them. I also have lavender planted in the same bed . I did plant two tropical milkweeds at the end of the same bed and am watching every day for cats. Keeping my fingers crossed. Thanks Tony for all the great information!
Hi Sonia, congrats on all your early butterfly activity. I just found a baby caterpillar in the buds of our “hello yellow” today…keep looking and good luck!
Thanks so much for getting back with me so quickly!! I truly appreciate your time & expertise, Patience, and willingness to share!!
Hi Tony, thank you for the great information. I am new to the Butterfly Weed for Monarchs. Forgive my ignorance, but is the Butterfly Weed considered a shrub, plant or grass?? Thanks in advance for your reply!
Hi Jean, butterfly weed is a milkweed plant.
We grew butterfly weed at Falls of the Ohio State for several years. Monarch larva were all over it!
Hi Connie, nice to hear you had success but many gardeners report finding few eggs/cats on tuberosa or being bypassed completely. We grow about 15 types of milkweed now and tuberosa generally has one of the lowest egg/caterpillar counts. My guess is that the coarse, sapless leaves have something to do with it…
Hey Tony ! I hope you’re well. If steaks not available we’ll settle for hamburger. Tropical is the Steak although it’s perennial in only 5% of the country. Big Nursery promotes it because the customer has to buy it every year and it’s easier to produce than tropical . Tuberosa is the milkweed of the future and past. Read its history in the U S and its range. Look for supplies to increase because of the bad mouthing of Tropical.
Hi Craig, we grow both steak and hamburger, but we live in a region where E. Coli isn’t a major issue so the tropical bashing isn’t as severe Because monarchs seem hesitant to use tuberosa as a host plant, I wouldn’t depend on it as the future of milkweed. I’m partial to incarnata because it’s a popular host and nectar plant. I realize incarnata isn’t suitable for dry regions, but it grows very well in containers without a taproot, which makes it a good garden plant for all regions.
As for replenishing wild fields of milkweed in Texas, I’m not sure what the answer is, but I don’t think it’s tropical or tuberosa…
I have ordered 3 Ascelepias Tuberosa – Hello Yellow plants for my garden (Waystation 7700). Last year I planted the orange variety from seeds and they came up but never got more than 3″ tall. Hope they return and do better this year. I will be planting 6 native varieties of Mw to see what will grow in Baton Rouge, LA. I will always have tropical because the monarchs love it.
Hi Ken, tuberosa can start pretty slow, but ours made a dramatic improvement when we moved them to a new location last season. The location got morning sun (not afternoon) and composted manure was mixed into the soil. Curious to see if they will REALLY take off this season. Keep us posted on your new plants…
Something is eating the leaves of my butterfly weed plants… ? aphids ?
What should I do about this?
Hi Clare, if orange oleander aphids are taking over your milkweed they should be visible. If you have an infestation, you can cut off the most affected stems and discard them to cut back on the population for next season since aphids lay eggs in fall. Otherwise, I wouldn’t worry too much about your butterfly weed at this point. Monarchs typically lay eggs on tuberosa earlier in the season.
I buy ladybugs and release them at the base of the plant and they eat the aphids as fast as they can. (Like little vacuum cleaners)
Hi Bette, I certainly like to see ladybugs in the garden, but remember that they eat monarch eggs and small caterpillars too, so releasing them in mass would be a last resort for me. Here’s more info about saving more milkweed for monarchs:
I just planted a beautiful butterfly weed two days ago. Today, the flowers are completely gone and it looks like the leaves on one of the stems are also devoured. I have groundhogs in the areas but I thought that the butterfly weed was resistant to groundhogs. What else might eat the flowers? Thanks.
Hi Judy: groundhogs, rabbits, deer…it would seem many of these critters have adapted to the ‘poisonous’ cardenolides in milkweed.
I have previously had the same problem with something eating my Tuberosa plants and I suspected the groundhogs. This year I fenced in my plant with one foot high dollar store fences and so far nothing is eating them. Very happy but still no Monarch eggs.
May have to order some caterpillars
Hi Ellen, glad to hear the fencing solved your milkweed problem…I hope your season picks up soon!
Hi Craig, it’s a good nectar plant, and it can be used as a host plant. It’s not usually the preferred host plant though. Another consideration is that tuberosa is a native plant. Even though tropical milkweed is a better host plant, some people refuse to plant it because it’s non-native. My goal is to lay out all the options and let you decide.
Why the heck do you have Tuberosa on here if it is NOT A GREAT HOST PLANT??
How To Harvest Butterfly Weed Seeds
Butterfly weed seeds are one of the easiest types of seeds to collect from the garden. In this post, I will show how to harvest butterfly weed seeds from your garden step-by-step, and also show you how to store them for next year.
Butterfly weed is one of my favorite plants that I have growing in my garden. Not only does it add amazing color to the garden, the butterflies flock to it. Plus, it’s a host plant for everyone’s favorite monarch butterfly.
Collecting butterfly weed seeds is easy, and doesn’t take much effort – you just need to get the timing right.
So below I’ll show you how to tell when butterfly weed seeds are ready to harvest, how to gather them, and what to do with them after you’re done collecting them.
Butterfly weed flower growing in my garden
Table of Contents
Harvesting Butterfly Weed Seeds
Butterfly weed is also one of the easiest seeds to collect from the garden. After the flowers fade on the plant, butterfly weed gets these gorgeous seed pods.
If you want to collect butterfly weed seeds from your garden, allow the seed pods to dry on the plant.
Butterfly weed seed pods
When To Harvest Butterfly Weed Seeds
When the seeds are ready to be harvested, butterfly weed seed pods will turn brown and start to break open on their own.
The seeds have puffs of cotton attached to them, which allows them to fly in the wind and seed themselves all around the neighborhood.
So, make sure you collect the seeds as soon as the pods start to break open, or they may disappear on you.
Butterfly weed seeds ready to harvest
What Do Butterfly Weed Seeds Look Like
Butterfly weed seeds are flat, brown and shaped like a tear drop – and there are a ton of seeds in each seed pod.
Like I mentioned above, they are attached to white cotton, which can make the task of harvesting butterfly weed seeds a bit more tedious.
Butterfly weed seeds and chaff
How To Harvest Butterfly Weed Seeds Step-By-Step
Clip the seed pods off the plant and drop them into a container or bag. Don’t attempt to harvest butterfly weed seeds outside.
Otherwise every time the wind blows you’ll be chasing them down the street. Once you’ve collected the seed pods, bring them inside.
Collecting butterfly weed seed pods in a container
Like I said, it can be a bit tedious to harvest butterfly weed seeds, because of the fine fluffy stuff that’s attached to the seeds. So start by breaking open the seed pod.
Break open the seed pod to collect butterfly weed seeds
Then firmly grab the entire fuzzy clump and pull it out of the seed pod. Wait, don’t let go.
Gently pinch the seeds to tease them away from the fluffy stuff. It can be a messy job, so you might want to keep the vacuum on hand.
Collecting butterfly weed seeds can be messy
What To Do With Butterfly Weed Seeds After Harvesting
You can plant butterfly weeds seeds as soon as you harvest them, or you can store them for planting next year. Allow the seeds to dry out completely before storing them.
You can store your seeds in a plastic container (film canisters are the perfect size!), paper bag or seed envelope until spring.
I like to use a plastic shoe box to organize my seeds, or you can use a Seed Keeper.
Where To Find Butterfly Weed Seeds For Sale
It can be difficult to find butterfly weed seeds for sale, but many garden centers should carry them starting in mid-winter through early spring.
Otherwise you can always buy butterfly weed seeds online. Here are some great, quality seeds to get you started… Butterfly Weed Seeds.
If you want to learn how to grow your own seeds for your garden indoors, then my Starting Seeds Indoors eBook is perfect for you! It’s a quick-start guide that will have you growing your own seeds indoors in no time. Download your copy now!
More Posts About Saving Seeds
Share your tips for how to harvest butterfly weed seeds in the comments section below.
About Amy Andrychowicz
I live and garden in Minneapolis, MN (zone 4b). My green thumb comes from my parents, and I’ve been gardening most of my life. I’m a passionate gardener who loves growing everything from vegetables, herbs, and flowers to succulents, tropicals, and houseplants – you name, I’ve grown it! Read More.
I have a question. I was gifted with a bag of seed pods. They are still green. Can I leave them in the paper bag and will they dry out and be ready for planting? Sorry to be so dumb. I’m ;hoping they will dry out and I will be able to have wonderful butterfly bushes galore….to go along with my crocosmia plants.
Amy Andrychowicz says
If the pods are still green, then the butterfly weed seeds might not be viable. But it’s worth a try. If you have several of them, I would try cutting open a few of the green ones, removing the seeds, and letting those dry out. Then I would also try drying a few of the seed pods until they turn brown and brittle, then open them to collect the seeds. Good luck!
Steve Cochran says
I purchased Butterfly Weed seeds from the Seed Savers, and had them flower & produce seed pods their first year. Lookin forward to harvesting seeds and propagating this beautiful plant.
Amy Andrychowicz says
Wow, your butterfly weed plants flowered AND produced seed pods the first year after planting the seeds? That is amazing! Have fun collecting them for next year.
Thank you for the information on how to harvest butterfly weed seeds! Have a beautiful orange plant and want more!
Amy Andrychowicz says
You’re welcome! The seeds are very easy to collect (as long as you get to them before the wind does, LOL!). Enjoy!
Susan Sapp says
So I have cuttings from a butterfly weed perennial. I was hoping to be able to repurpose the flower or stem to plant in my garden at home. Am I out of luck? Will I have to buy the seeds to plant in the fall?
Amy Andrychowicz says
I have never tried rooting the cuttings myself, but I believe it is possible. Dust them with rooting hormone and stick them into soil. Keep the air humid, and the soil slightly moist. Otherwise, if you can get a butterfly weed seed pod from the same plant this fall, then you’ll have the seeds as a backup. Good luck!
Barbara Murray says
I successfully planted a piece of orange butterfly weed last year. A small seedling, really just one small stem, grew from a seed that must have blown from my big plant. I have several of these small seedlings around my yard now, but never had any luck transplanting them. Last Fall I tried to transplant just for the heck of it, and finally a new plant came up this summer! It got quite a bit larger and bloomed beautifully, and I’m hoping it comes back next year.
If the milkweed bugs are now on my plants, does that mean the seeds I can see are no good?
Amy Andrychowicz says
Unfortunately milkweed bugs do feed on the seed pods and the seeds too. But if your butterfly weed seed pods and/or the seeds aren’t damaged, then they should be fine.
When do you plant the seeds in NE Ohio?
Amy Andrychowicz says
You can plant them either in the fall (directly in the garden) or early spring (either directly in the garden or indoors). They would also work with the winter sowing method, if you want to experiment with that.
Kyle R. Crocker says
I have a containerized butterfly plant that has done wonderfully this summer, and has many pods now. My worry . . . In northern Minnesota, frost is coming by later October. The pods are yet green and firm. I’d like to harvest ripened pods before I transplant the parent. This is a risk. Any advice?
P.S. I have already gathered Marsh Milkweed from the wild, nearly a month ago.
Amy Andrychowicz says
I would just leave the pods on your butterfly weed plant until they ripen. I don’t think transplanting it would make a difference. Also, butterfly weed plants are super hardy, so frost won’t hurt the plant or the seed pods.
I read somewhere that if you bring the seeds inside they need to be kept cold for an extended period of time to mimic winter conditions. So you know how cold or for how long?
Amy Andrychowicz says
I don’t think that butterfly weed seeds need cold stratification in order to germinate, but many other types of milkweed do. It certainly wouldn’t hurt to do it for your butterfly weed seeds though. You can just put them in a container the fridge for about a month, and that should do the trick.
Dot Zimmerman says
How deep do you plant the seed? How many seed per area?
Amy Andrychowicz says
You don’t need to plant them very deep. The rule of thumb for planting seeds is to plant them twice as deep as the seed is wide. I would plant butterfly weed seeds maybe 1/4″ to 1/2″ deep. I would space them 2-3 inches apart, and then thin them so they are about 12-16″ apart once the seedlings start to mature. You can also just spread the seeds over the top of the dirt if you don’t want to be fussy about it. That’s the way Mother Nature does it.
Dot Zimmerman says
Patti Golliher says
Thank you for posting this information. I love attracting butterflys to my garden. I noticed the seed pods on my butterfly weed plant yesterday; I am excited to harvest the seeds so I can plant more plants next year.
Amy Andrychowicz says
Awesome! You’re welcome. Butterfly weed seeds are super easy to collect and grow. Have fun!
Susan CLARK says
Can the seeds be frozen to plant after I move to a new home?
Amy Andrychowicz says
Sure, but you don’t need to freeze your butterfly seeds to store them. It certainly wouldn’t hurt them though.
Amanda Hemmer says
I just planted a monarch butterfly garden this spring and my butterfly weed turned out great! I noticed the seed pods and luckily found this website. The pods on one of the plants turned brown and I noticed one had started to crack open on the side. I assumed this meant it was ready for the seeds to be harvested. However, when I split open the pod what appeared to be the seed pods were white and there was no white fuzziness on the inside …. I’m worried I picked them too soon! Is there anything I can do to help them become healthy seeds?
Amanda Hemmer says
The seeds are white not seed pod, my bad!
Betty White says
It the seeds are white, why is the seeds shown on here, with the fluffy stuff, brown?
Amy Andrychowicz says
Butterfly weed seed are white first, and they turn brown as they mature. The white seeds are not mature enough to grow, so don’t harvest them until they turn brown.
Amy Andrychowicz says
Yes, unfortunately it does sound like you harvested your butterfly weed seeds too soon. It’s weird that the seed pods were brown and cracking open before the seeds were mature. Are there any other pods on the plant? If so, wait until the pods open up and the white cotton is starting to stick out before harvesting them. Otherwise, I think you’ll have to wait until next year. You could try planting the seeds you have and see if they’ll grow though, you never know.
Mike the Gardener says
Awesome post! I always love reading posts on how to harvest/save seeds from a variety of plants that grow. A big one around here is milkweed. Milkweed seeds themselves are very expensive, which is weird because it grows in abundance along roadways here in NJ.
Amy Andrychowicz says
Thanks Mike! Yes, that is weird. They get tons of seeds too, and grow like a weed.
Betty White says
I have the orange butterfly flowers (weed) but I have never seen any pods come on mine. They have stopped blooming but I have never seen any pods. (Ohio) I am going out and check now but just looked at them a few days ago and no pods. WOW what a surprise. There is several little ones on the one plant and one larger one on the other. I have another plant in another part of my yard and I will check them. So how long should I leave the pods on the plant? The larger one is yellow but the other ones that are real small, are green.
Amy Andrychowicz says
Woohoo, how exciting! It can take a few months for butterfly weed seed pods to mature. They will turn brown and split open once the seeds are ready to harvest.
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How To Grow Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa)
If you would like to attract a continuous visitation from various butterflies and hummingbirds to your garden (who wouldn’t?), consider adding butterfly weed to your flower garden beds this season. The one and a half to two and a half foot-tall perennial thrives in dry, sunny sites all across USDA hardiness zones three through nine. When mature, the butterfly weed boasts two to five inch clusters of yellow-orange to bright orange flowers.
The butterfly weed gets its name from providing the main food source for butterflies, specifically monarch’s, who use the butterfly weed as a host plant during their caterpillar and butterfly stages. The monarch, however, is not the only pollinator that is attracted to butterfly weed. Butterflies of all kinds, as well as honey bees, bumble bees, and hummingbirds, are all frequent visitors of the butterfly weed. Butterfly weed also attracts swallowtails, painted ladies, hairstreaks, and fritillaries. Unfortunately, patience is needed to enjoy what the butterfly weed can bring to your garden, as plants typically don’t flower until their third year. The wait may be long, but butterfly weed blooms do not disappoint. With a splendid array of bright orange flowers and a long list of frequent visitors, it is a good idea to have your camera ready.
An herbaceous member of the dogbane family, butterfly weed is native to the dry fields, prairies, meadows, woodlands, canyons, and hillsides of the eastern United States and Canada. It grows naturally in loamy or sandy well-drained soils in full sun locations. Butterfly weed is cultivated for its ornamental value and its flowers are used for the preparation of various cut flower bouquets.
Each butterfly weed plant develops an erect, multi-branched stem that grows around one to three feet high. Each branch is covered in hairs and becomes woody after a few years, developing flower clusters at the ends of each branch once the plant reaches maturity. Alternately arranged on the stem, butterfly weed leaves are lanceolate, linear, or oblong, with smooth edges and pointed tips. The upper side of the leaves are both darker and shinier than the under side.
Three years after planting, butterfly weed begins to produce bright orange flower clusters of small, five-petaled, star-shaped flowers. Blooming from May to September, butterfly weed packs a pollinator party throughout the growing season.
The fruit of the butterfly weed plant is a narrow greyish-green pod covered with hairs, which ripens at the end of summer or the beginning of fall. Each pod contains hundreds of seeds. The seeds are equipped with silky, white tufts of hair which help the seeds take flight on the wind to disperse and find new homes.
People and Pets Shouldn’t Eat It
All parts of the butterfly weed are toxic to both humans and animals. The flowers, stems, leaves, and root will all cause diarrhea and vomiting if ingested. Touching the sap could cause skin irritation. Eating just a small amount of butterfly weed can get you sick. This is even more of a danger with small animals, as tiny doses, as low as .01 to .05 percent of their body weight, could kill them. This is generally more of an issue with grazing animals than with pets, but exercise extreme caution with plant placement and seek immediate medical attention if you suspect that a child or pet has eaten butterfly weed.
Varieties of Butterfly Weed
True orange is the typical flower color of the original hardy, species version that is often sold as Asclepias tuberosa. “Hollow Yellow” is a yellow flowered variety. “Cinderella” is a cultivar with pinkish-red colored flowers. “Gay Butterflies Mix” is a family of species, with plants in colors of red, orange and yellow.
The “Silky Mix,” or Asclepias curassavica, has several beautiful variations of the original A. tuberosa. Silky Deep Red Butterfly Weed bears flowers with yellow-orange crowns and deep red-orange corellas for a lovely two-toned bloom. Silky Scarlet is a tropical species that is a perennial in frost-free regions and an annual in regions that experience freezing temperatures. The Silky Scarlet produces blooms that range in color from salmon and bright pink, to shades of yellow, orange, and red. Silky Gold produces golden yellow flowers that bloom all year long in frost-free areas.
Growing Conditions for Butterfly Weed
Butterfly weed performs best in full sun locations but can adapt to some shade, as long as it receives at least six hours of direct sunlight per day. Butterfly weed is adapted to less-than-ideal soil conditions, and is well-suited to clay, dry, and even rocky soil and drought conditions. Hardy to USDA zones three through nine.
Care of Butterfly Weed
Keep butterfly weed well watered during its first season but don’t worry about watering it once it is established. No fertilization is needed for butterfly weed. Just a topdressing of compost or composted manure added once per year is all that is needed to provide nutrients for butterfly weed to thrive.
How to Plant Butterfly Weed
Sow butterfly weed seeds directly into the soil in the fall for spring sprouts, or sow indoors during the winter after cold stratification. Because of their long taproots, direct sowing is the preferred method of propagation.
How To Propagate Butterfly Weed
Butterfly weed can be propagated by seed or by root cuttings. Because butterfly weed has a long taproot, which can be very difficult to transplant, propagation by seed is highly recommended. Seeds can be harvested and saved around the beginning of fall. They can be brought indoors or can be buried in the ground just under the topsoil, to survive the winter, then planted directly into your garden beds in the early spring.
Companion Planting With Butterfly Weed
The following plants will all grow well with butterfly weed:
- Russian Sage
- Ornamental Grasses such as fountain grass, northern sea oats, or switchgrass
Garden Pests and Diseases of Butterfly Weed
If you grow your butterfly weed in a very wet location, crown and root rot can be an issue. Reduce the risk of crown rot by planting your butterfly weed in a hole with the crown set just slightly above the soil line. Reduce the risk of root rot by increasing soil drainage and by taking care not to overwater your butterfly weed plants.
Yellow-orange oleander aphids (Aphis nerii), or milkweed aphids, form colonies which envelop the plant’s stems and leaves as the pests feed on the sap. The pests excrete honeydew in massive amounts, a clear, gooey waste substance that attracts a black, sooty mold. The mold covers the plant in layers of powdery, soot-like fungal strands. Small infestations of oleander aphids can be treated by knocking them off with a burst of water from the watering hose. Heavier infestations may need multiple treatments of insecticidal soap or horticultural oils, sprayed to saturate stems and leaves.
Common Questions and Answers About Butterfly Weed
Do you fertilize butterfly weed?
Feed with compost in the fall, then top with a layer of mulch. In spring, feed with a diluted dose of slow release fertilizer blend.
Does butterfly weed come back every year?
Yes, in zones where butterfly weed dies back in winter, it sprouts again in spring as a perennial.
Do you cut back butterfly weed in the fall?
Start with clean, sterilized gardening shears, and disinfect the tool when moving between plants. Wear gloves to protect yourself from the skin irritation butterfly weed can cause. Prune your butterfly weed between late winter and early spring before new growth sprouts. Cut the plant back to a third or half of its starting height. Make all your cuts no more than a quarter inch from a leaf or leaf node.
How do you propagate butterfly weed?
You can propagate butterfly weed from seed, via cuttings rooted in water, or by division or separation.
How often should I water butterfly weed?
Water young plants whenever the soil dries out to keep it moist until they’re well established and showing new growth. Once well established, butterfly weed should only need water during periods of extreme drought.
How tall does butterfly weed grow?
Butterfly weed grows to between one and a half and three feet tall when mature.
Is butterfly weed a perennial?
Butterfly weed is a perennial, which means they go dormant each winter and bounce back in the spring.
Is butterfly weed invasive?
Unlike common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) does not have the quickly spreading roots that qualify it as invasive.
Is butterfly weed poisonous to humans, dogs, or cats?
Butterfly weed is toxic to both humans and pets. In humans, it requires large doses to cause discomfort, but because children, dogs, and cats are smaller, their risk is more substantial. Consumption of butterfly weed can cause bloating, fever, difficulty breathing, dilated pupils, muscle spasms, or death. For ingestion by humans, call the Poison Control Center at 800-222-1222, or for ingestion by animals, call ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Hotline at 888-426-4435.
Want to learn more about growing Butterfly Weed?
Cornell University covers Butterfly Weed
Gardening with Charlie Nardozzi covers How to Grow Butterfly Weed
SFGate Homeguides covers Butterfly Weed Plant
Monarch Watch covers Milkweed
Plant Care Today covers Butterfly Weed Care
University of Wisconsin-Madison covers Butterflyweed
Andrea Bloser says
I just bought eight baby asclepiousa
tuberosa. How much space does each plant need?