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.
This is one plant that can tolerate a wide range of soil conditions from medium to dry moisture levels. It needs good drainage and is drought tolerant. This is a great milkweed for a sunny dry area. Butterfly Milkweed prefers full sun but will do well in part shade.
There will be sporadic blooming during the first year if planted in the spring but the following summer will yield much stronger, blooming plants. You can also start seed in the summer and plant in the fall for summer blooming plants the following spring. Butterfly Weed is late to come up in the spring so don’t give up too soon if it is not up early.
Use of Butterfly Weed in a Butterfly Garden
To plant the seeds, press them into the surface of the soil and barely sprinkle them with about 1/16″ of dirt since light helps with their germination. Use about 2-3 seeds per final plant. Plants should be spaced about 18″ apart.
Butterfly Milkweed grows about 1-2 ft high and forms clumps. It is a very well-behaved garden plant. In my South Carolina garden it rarely spreads by seed but it has been known to do so in other gardens. Beautiful bright orange blooms appear in June then occasional blooms will occur throughout the summer.
However, Asclepias tuberosa seeds will break dormancy after time. Our seeds have already broken dormancy and will germinate readily within a week or two after planting – no cold stratification needed.
As with other milkweeds, the plant produces a seed pod that when dry it opens to release seeds attached to “fluff” allowing the seed to float away in the breeze. If you want to save seed to make more plants for next year then just wait until the pod starts splitting open. At that point you can open it and harvest the seed while the “fluff” is still silky-slick. You can plant these seeds in the fall and wait until spring for germination or cold stratify them for spring planting.
Butterfly weed pairs well with many other perennials and native plants, including purple coneflower.
Besides enjoying the display butterfly weed puts on, you can also use some stems for cut flower arrangements. The seed pods that develop in late summer and fall are very decorative and make a unique addition to flower arrangements.
Another tip is to get the peat pots wet before filling them with soil. Dry peat will wick moisture away from the soil and plant roots. You can do this by filling a sink with water and submerging the pots.
Companion Plant and Garden Design
Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) is a native plant that comes from the prairie regions of the midwestern United States. It goes by several other names including orange milkweed, pleurisy root, and Indian paintbrush.
If you see this cute caterpillar feeding on the leaves, don’t panic! This is a monarch caterpillar that will transform into a butterfly in the spring. Let them eat in peace- your plants will be fine.
Occasionally, aphids can be a problem, but you can deal with them by spraying plants with a hose. In wet soils, plants can develop root or crown rot and may grow poorly. You can only deal with this by preventing it and planting in well-drained soil.
You can start planting outdoors after all danger of frost has passed. Be gentle with plant roots and disturb them as little as possible.
Butterfly weed is a must-have plant for green thumbs looking to coax its namesake beautiful winged insects into their garden. Also known as Asclepias tuberosa, orange milkweed, pleurisy root, and yellow milkweed, the plant can grow to be anywhere from one to two feet tall and is characterized by glossy green leaves and clusters of bright orange-to-yellow blooms that are rich with nectar and pollen, which in turn attracts butterflies, along with bees, insects, and hummingbirds, all summer long. First grown in the prairies of the Midwestern United States, Butterfly Weed boasts a long medicinal history as well—Native Americans used to chew the roots as a remedy for pleurisy and other pulmonary issues, and they can also be brewed into a tea that can then be used to treat diarrhea and other stomach ailments. Butterfly weed should be planted in the early spring (after the final frost)—it will be slow to emerge, but will grow quickly once it does, hitting peak height and bloom in mid-to-late summer.
Because the Butterfly Weed is adaptable to zones three through nine, it can thrive in a variety of different temperature and humidity settings. Generally, the plant emerges in late spring, hitting its peak bloom during the warmer summer months and drying on the stem throughout the autumn and winter. It also tolerates heat and drought well.
Butterfly Weed Care
Beloved for its ability to attract a variety of helpful (and beautiful) insects to the garden, Butterly Weed is an easy-to-nurture varietal that can also be found growing as a native wildflower in a slew of untamed environments, like meadows, prairies, and forests. Typically grown from seeds you sow directly in the garden in the fall, the butterfly plant does not require much tending to in order to thrive, prospering well in everything from clay soil, to dry or rocky soil, and even throughout drought-like conditions. Its seed pods will brown towards the end of its growing season (early autumn) and, if left on the plant, will burst and spread seeds throughout your garden to emerge as new growth the following spring. While the plant can take up to three years to fully mature and produce flowers, its blooms will gradually grow denser with each season that passes.
Typically, the easiest and most successful way to add Butterfly Weed to your garden is to grow it from seed form. Plant fresh seeds in fall for growth the following spring, or allow any established Butterfly Weeds already in your garden to do the work for you. Beginning in late summer or early fall, the plants should start to develop seed pods in place of their blooms. If left on the stem, the pods will eventually burst and the seeds inside will be blown throughout your garden, allowing them to establish themselves in the soil in time for the following year. If you’d rather have more control over the eventual location of any new Butterfly Weed plants, you can remove the seed pods from the plant before they burst open and simply plant new seeds by hand instead.
Choose a spot in your garden to plant your Butterfly Weed that boasts hours of bright sunlight daily, as this plant loves to soak up the rays. Full-sun is definitely your best bet, but the hardy plant can tolerate a few hours of shade too.