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growing butterfly weed from seed

As you might imagine, butterfly weed is a great companion plant because it draws in pollinators and beneficial insects.

Deadhead spent flowers to keep your plants blooming for longer. You can leave some flowers on to develop into seed heads that look attractive during the winter months, but be aware that milkweeds spread by seed.

The orange or yellow blooms go well with purple coneflower, Russian sage, catmint, and rudbeckia (black-eyed Susan). It also looks good with ornamental grasses and other native plants like goldenrod.


Butterfly weed should not be confused with butterfly bush, a non-native plant that is considered invasive throughout most of the U.S. In fact, it’s a good alternative to butterfly bush, which can crowd out native plants that are important for wildlife.

The seeds need the cold period of winter in order to germinate in the spring. You can sow them directly into your garden in late fall (usually November).

If you start seeds indoors, use peat pots like those in the picture instead of normal seed starting trays. This allows seedlings to be planted without disturbing the roots.

All you have to do is watch for them to come up in the spring!

Watch for germination in two to three weeks. Turn off the propagation mat one week after the seeds sprout. Move the pots into a cold frame outdoors or against a south-facing wall with noonday shade.

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.

Transplant the butterfly weed into a permanent bed in spring just after the last frost. If planting butterfly weed in clay soil, dig in 2 to 4 inches of compost to lighten the soil, or consider building raised beds to increase drainage.

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.

Snip off the pod using pruning shears. Slice lengthwise along the edge using a utility knife. Pry open the seed pods. Scoop out the seeds and fluffy matter inside and place it in a bucket.

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.

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.

Bright orange butterfly weed cuts a striking figure in the garden and it does not have milky sap like other members of its family.

While it is a very hardy plant that reseeds itself easily, it is not intrusive or invasive.

Is Butterfly Weed Hard to Grow?

Simply scatter seeds evenly in a prepared bed. Then cover seed lightly with a quarter inch of soil and water gently and deeply.

Mark your established butterfly weed in your garden well. The reason? Plants take a while to emerge in the springtime.

Just as with outdoor sowing, scatter the seeds evenly over the surface and press them lightly into the soil. Cover them lightly with a quarter of an inch of germination mixture and moisten the surface thoroughly.