Asclepias can be divided into two groups for plant care; Asclepias tuberosa with orange (sometimes yellow) flowers and all the other species with pink (sometimes white) flowers.
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Asclepias tuberosa (Orange Butterfly Weed) – this perennial stays dormant until later in the spring than many other plants, especially when grown in pots. It’s fine to plant dormant plants; don’t up-pot them for planting later in the growing season.
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Oftentimes, Milkweeds won’t grow much their first season in the ground, so be patient. They are establishing their root system and crown. By the second growing season, the plants will begin to get bigger and look more robust. Asclepias species are an odd bunch and don’t behave like many other more familiar perennials. So be patient and accept their quirky nature.
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.
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.
Understanding Milkweed (Asclepias) Seed & Germinating
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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.
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Plant Butterfly Weed Seeds: Full sun. Asclepias incarnata (Milkmaid and Soulmate) thrive in moist, even wet soils, will adapt to average garden water. Asclepias tuberosa (Orange and Gay Butterflies) tolerate heat and drought, need only occasional water once established, will happily accept average moisture with good drainage.
Grow Butterfly Weed: All of our perennial butterfly weeds attract bees and hummingbirds, are important nectar sources for a wide range of butterflies, most notably the Monarch. To promote Monarch butterfly caterpillars, Asclepias incarnata is the host most preferred. Plants are deer and rabbit resistant. Learn more about monarch butterflies and butterfly weed.
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