During its first year of life (or until new plants start showing mature growth), you should maintain a moist soil environment for the Butterfly Weed. Once the plant appears to be well-established, you can cut back to watering it only occasionally, as it now prefers dry soil.
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.
Chances are there are more finicky flowers in your garden than the Butterfly Weed, so feel free to allow them to dictate the soil composition—when it comes to this plant, you don’t have to stress. Butterfly Weed can prosper in a variety of soil conditions and compositions, from clay to gravel, and generally prefers a neutral to slightly acidic pH.
Temperature and Humidity
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.
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.
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.
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 seeds are dormant when released from the pod and need a chilling period before they will break dormancy. You can mimic the cold period by refrigerating the seeds. Enclose them in a sandwich bag full of moist peat moss, seal the bag and refrigerate the seeds for 12 weeks. This process is known as cold-moist stratification.
After the flowers fade and fall from the butterfly weed, it produces long, beanlike seed pods. These turn from green to brown as the seeds within mature. When the seeds are ready, the pod bursts open, releasing the seeds. The seeds are covered in feathery white silk to help them take to the wind. For this reason, you will need to keep an eye on the pod and grab it from the plant as it starts to pop open.
Butterfly weed develops a long tap root and doesn’t tolerate transplanting, so sow the seeds directly into the garden after stratification. Choose a planting spot that receives full sun. Because butterfly weed tolerates even poor soil, there is no need to amend the soil unless it’s heavy. In that case, add a 3-inch layer of compost and dig it into the top 6 inches of soil. Set the seeds on the surface of the soil and cover them with a 1-inch layer of sand.
Planting the Seeds
Because butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) is a host for the monarch butterfly, it is considered an important native plant. It is also an essential component of a butterfly garden. Easy to grow, butterfly weed is drought-tolerant and grows in any soil as long as it drains freely. Sowing butterfly weed seed directly into the garden in August is the best way to plant it. Butterfly weed grows in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 3 through 9.
Water the butterfly weed seed bed carefully after sowing the seed, so the top 3 inches of soil are moist. Although at maturity the plant tolerates extended periods of drought, the seeds require consistently moist soil during germination. Once they emerge, thin the seedlings to 15 to 18 inches apart and allow the soil to gradually dry out until it is dry between waterings.
Sunlight: Full Sun, Part Sun
Sunlight: Full Sun, Part Sun
Review By louise billings
Seed Saving: After the plant finishes flowering, 3-4″ narrow pods will form. Be sure to harvest butterfly milkweed pods before they split and the silky fluff carries the seeds away on the wind. As soon as the seeds inside the pod ripen to their mature brown color, remove the pods and spread them out to dry. Split open the pods and take out the silky seed material. Remove the fluff from the seeds. Store the seeds in a cool, dry place.
US Regions: Arid/Desert, Plains/Texas, Midwest, Northern, Northeast, Southeast
Growing: Young plants should be watered until they become established; mature plants can tolerate drought, and the roots will be damaged by excessively wet soil. This plant grows slowly, and it may take 2-3 years to produce flowers. Though not invasive, this plant will eventually spread if left to drop its seed. The flowers attract bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. Deer avoid this plant. If aphids become a problem, dislodge them from the plant with a strong stream of water.