Propagation is difficult. But once established the plant is relatively easy and low maintenance.
Herbaceous Perennial Flower, Wildflower
The leaves are arranged in a spiral around erect stems.
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
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.
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 not invasive. Unlike common milkweed, Butterfly Weed does not spread via later or horizontal roots known as rhizomes. Butterfly Weed can only spread by seed. Due to the nature of seed dispersal (floating away on the wind), Butterfly Weed does not self-seed locally very much if at all.
I’ve written a detailed step by step guide to germinating any kind of Milkweed seed here if you would like more details. The process is generally the same for all Asclepias species.
If you are trying to save seeds from your plants, you may wish to don a pair of leather gloves and pick off the Tussock Moths.
Deadhead Butterfly Weed
Butterfly Weed is easy to grow and establish in full sun and well drained soil. It may take a year to get fully established, but after that is will look great for decades.
But, I have had rabbits eat young or tender foliage of Butterfly Weed. They mainly seem to be at risk at the seedling stage, or when first emerging in Spring. But rabbits will eat Butterfly Weed.
Butterfly Weed attracts truly a wide variety of pollinators making it so important ecologically. If you want to bring beautiful beneficial insects to your garden, planting Butterfly Weed is one the best native plants you can grow!
So be patient! Your Butterfly Weed plants just like to take a slightly longer winters nap than other plants!