Arrange the starter pots on a propagation mat near a source of bright, indirect light such as near a partly shaded south-facing window. Set the temperature on the propagation mat to 86 F during the day. Turn it off at night.
Make a 1/4-inch-deep planting hole in the center of compost mixture. Drop one butterfly weed seed in the planting hole. Cover it with a loose layer of compost. Mist the compost to settle it.
Water the butterfly weed seeds whenever the compost feels barely damp when pressed. Apply the water by the spoonful or use a spray bottle to keep from dislodging the seeds.
Place the butterfly weed seeds in a plastic bag filled with 1 cup of moistened perlite. Store the bag inside the refrigerator for three months. Mist the perlite with water every few days to keep it from drying out completely.
Sometimes called pleurisy root, butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) is a perennial wildflower grown for its showy, reddish-orange flower clusters and textured, lanceolate leaves. A member of the milkweed family, it thrives throughout U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 3 to 9, where it is frequently added to butterfly gardens and native plant landscaping.
Prepare peat or other biodegradable pots before removing the butterfly weed seeds from the refrigerator. Fill 3-inch starter pots with a mixture of half seed-starting compost and half coarse sand. Moisten the mix and press it firm.
Leave the bucket outdoors for two or three days to let the fluff blow away. Stir the seeds occasionally to loosen more fluff. Do not worry if some of the fluff remains, since it won’t inhibit the germination process.
Like most milkweeds (but not all), Butterfly Milkweed seeds must be cold stratified for a period of time to break dormancy but only if they are fresh (just harvested). They can also be winter sown or fall planted if you are using freshly harvested seeds for growth the following spring. If cold stratifying indoors then plan on stratifying them for at least 30 days.
Asclepias tuberosa is a native milkweed to most of the US with the exception being the Northwest. It is a perennial and is hardy in zones 4-9. Some resources include zones 3 and 10 as well in its hardiness range.
I love my Asclepias tuberosa as a butterfly garden plant because of its attraction as a nectar plant. Many different butterflies, especially Swallowtails in my garden, visit the blooms of this plant.
Use of Butterfly Weed in a Butterfly Garden
Seed Pods of Butterfly Weed
Female Black Swallowtail on Butterfly Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa)
Monarch butterflies use many different varieties of milkweeds to feed their caterpillars. Butterfly weed is one that they will use but it is usually not their first choice. In general, if there are other varieties in your garden they are likely to lay eggs on them first.
Asclepias tuberosa, commonly called Butterfly Milkweed is actually a variety of milkweed and is a host plant for Monarch butterflies. It is also a fabulous nectar plant for many species of butterflies. In my garden, I value it more as a nectar plant than a host plant.
Any landscape designers best ally is what comes from the natural world. All it takes is a lot of observation, and then some serious thought. As my friend and colleague Susan Cohan says, art does not necessarily have to work. No artwork needs a white silky airplane to be. A work of art lives independent of time,conditions, and circumstance. Good landscape design is a craft, in that every moment needs to assess the conditions, fire up,and fly.
Once the seeds begin to ripen, the pods will split along their length.
Once those seeds emerge, that fluff is everywhere. It will stick to your hands, your clothes, your shoes, your trowel, and your wheelbarrow. An individual seed is large, and relatively speaking, heavy. How this plant has evolved to insure that these big seeds get dispersed is but one of countless stories engineered by nature. I have had occasion to design and install fairly complex landscapes, but this design and execution is beyond compare.
Much of gardening is about the physical issues. The dirt, the water, the drainage, the weather, the maintenance, the beginning, and the ending. But there are those singular moments that float.
Our local fields and meadows are full of the remains of the milkweed pods come November. They have an elegantly spare and ruggedly persistent shape.
How plants set seed is an event any gardener would appreciate. How the milkweeds insure the survival of their seed is nothing short of miraculous.
This photograph from Wikipedia speaks volumes to the importance of the milkweed. Asclepias tuberosa is a favored nesting site for the Monarch butterfly. At summers end, the wild plants we have growing at the shop will be covered with their larvae. The Monarch larvae feed on these leaves. The butterfly weed is a favored host in my area. They will spin cocoons; the mature butterflies will emerge some four weeks, give or take. Only once have I witnessed a mature butterfly emerging from its chrysalis-it happens that fast.