Grow Butterfly Weed From Seed

{tv_default_meta_descrition:attr_safe} Butterfly Weed is a monarch butterfly host plant with brilliant orange flowers. This milkweed is native to the eastern and central United States. This hardy perennial grows from 24" – 36" tall and blooms from June until August.

Question and Answer

Milkweed seed can be planted directly in soil, or started indoors. You can sow milkweed seeds by scattering them on the soil surface 1/4-1/2 inch apart, and then cover them with about 1/4 inch of additional soil. Water the area frequently after planting until plants become established. Many species need to be vernalized (cold treated) before planting. Vernalized seeds can be planted in the spring after the danger of frost has passed. Non-vernalized seeds can be planted in the fall, and nature will provide the cold treatment. See Monarch Watch’s milkweed propagation guide for further recommendations, information on vernalization and instructions for starting milkweed seeds indoors. Also watch our Monarch Conservation Webinar: Growing Milkweed for Monarch Conservation (scroll down to May 2016) to hear from Chip Taylor of Monarch Watch on milkweed growing techniques and best practices. For further details on milkweed growing and conservation use, visit the Xerces Society’s Milkweed Practicitoner Guide, which is a complete guide to milkweeds, including biology/ecology, propagation, benefits to wildlife, and use in restoration projects.

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Butterfly Weed Seed Packet

“I think the neatest thing about Butterfly Weed is that depending on geographic location there are varied shades of the flowers. I can’t think of another species of milkweed that does this to such a degree. In Kansas I’ve witnessed flowers that are pure yellow and while in Colorado they are bright orange. In Munich, Germany I saw them in cut flower arrangements in yellow, orange, and even red.” — Bobby Gendron

The Facts:

  • Latin name: Asclepias tuberosa
  • Quantity of seeds per packet: 50
  • Monarch butterfly host plant
  • Brilliant orange flowers
  • Hardy perennial
  • 24″ – 36″ tall
  • Blooms from June until August
  • Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 – 11

Growing Instructions: Start Butterfly Weed seeds outdoors in the spring after the danger of nighttime freezing has past. Pick a location with full sun and prepare soil for good drainage, if needed. Plant seeds 1/8″ deep and 18” apart, using 3 seeds per hole. Keep the soil evenly moist until the seeds germinate in 10 – 20 days. Once the seedlings reach 1″, thin out so you have individual plants spaced 18” apart. Water regularly allowing the soil to go nearly dry between each watering. Fertilize monthly in the summer with a general purpose fertilizer. To get a head start, seeds can be planted indoors in the late winter. Transplant outdoors after the danger of nighttime freezing has past.

Butterfly Weed Range Map:

Map ©: Kartesz, J.T. 2013. Floristic Synthesis of North America, Version 1.0. Biota of North America Program (BONAP).

Butterfly Weed is native to the following states: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin

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