Butterfly Weed Care: How To Grow Asclepias Plant

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The herbaceous perennial Asclepias tuberosa (a.k.a. Butterfly Weed or BUtterfly Milkweed) makes an excellent addition to any garden and is especially suited to butterfly gardens.

This beautiful, blazing native plant to eastern and southern North America, relative to the milkweed family, attracts butterflies, especially Monarch butterflies.

butterfly weed carePin

Bright orange butterfly weed cuts a striking figure in the garden, and it does not have milky sap like other members of its Apocynaceae family.

The Asclepias tuberosa is a type of plant that provides a very desirable alternative in areas where native milkweed may not grow well. It’s closely related to common milkweed or Asclepias syriaca.

Asclepias Tuberosa Quick Care Tips

  • Botanical Name: Asclepias tuberosa
  • Common Name(s): Butterfly Weed, Butterfly Milkweed
  • Synonyms: Pleurisy Root, Chigger Flower
  • Pronunciation: Ah-SKLEE-pee-us too-ber-OH-sah
  • Family & Origin: Apocynaceae family, native to eastern and southern North America
  • Growability: Easy to grow
  • Grow Zone: 3-9
  • Size: 2′ feet tall and wide
  • Flowering: Summer to early fall
  • Light: Full sun
  • Humidity: Tolerates low humidity
  • Temperature: Thrives in 65° to 75° degrees Fahrenheit
  • Soil: Well-draining but can also tolerate dry, sandy, and rocky soils
  • Water: Drought tolerant but needs regular watering during the first growing season
  • Fertilizer: Does not require fertilizer but can benefit from slow-release fertilizer during the growing season
  • Pests & Diseases: Generally pest and disease-free, but can be affected by aphids, mealybugs, monarch caterpillars, and spider mites. Fungal diseases like leaf spots, root rot, and verticillium
  • Propagation: Can be propagated by seed or root cuttings
  • Plant Uses: Attracts butterflies and other pollinators, used in wildflower gardens and meadows, and as a cut flower.

It is also a good addition to medicinal herb gardens as its name comes from the Greek god of healing and medicine, Asklepios.

Additionally, the Greek name pays tribute to the legendary Greek herbalist Aesulapius.

The most popular form of butterfly weed plant is the orange milkweed variety, but it actually comes in several pretty shades, including:

  • Reddish Orange
  • Bright Orange
  • Dark Orange
  • Burgundy
  • Yellow

These variations add a great deal of cheer and diversity to your wildflower and butterfly garden setting.

With its abundant, vigorous growth and bright, cheery colors, butterfly weed grows happily as full bushes 2′ feet tall and 2′ feet wide, making it a joyful addition to any garden.

It produces a cluster of small orange, red, or yellow flowers with spiraling narrow leaves.

Apart from its flower clusters, its seed pods also hold a different kind of beauty. These pods will start maturing in the late summer to early fall.

Another notable plant from the same family is the tropical milkweed (Asclepias Curassavica).

It has become so popular among North American gardeners and monarch butterflies!

This non-native plant from North America makes the best host plant for monarch eggs.

Asclepias tuberosa grows back quickly after being eaten, and you can easily propagate them through seeds or root cuttings. Their mature plant also freely self-seed.

Is Butterfly Weed Hard to Grow?

Nope! This native plant, known as the pleurisy root, is easy to grow and grows like a weed!

In the wild, you find it on the prairie, growing in depleted pasture soil, along roadsides, and on the verge of very dry forests. When you come across butterfly weed in the wild, you should leave it alone.

Even though the Asclepias plant does reproduce fairly readily, it is never a good idea to disrupt it.

butterfly weed flowers attract pollinatorsPin

The gorgeous plant provides important nourishment and resting places for very often endangered butterflies.

Is butterfly weed invasive?

While it is a very hardy plant that reseeds itself easily, it is not intrusive or invasive.

In fact, it spreads best by reseeding… replanting is not a very effective method of propagation for these plants.

That’s why it’s best to plant your own butterfly weed from seed.

Growing Asclepias tuberosa seed is very cheap, and butterfly weed flowers during the first growing season.

There’s no need to wait for plants to establish themselves before reaping the benefits.

Because so many gardeners now recognize how beneficial butterfly weed is, seeds are readily available online and in local garden stores.

Growing Butterfly Weed From Seed Outdoors

Grow butterfly weed seeds indoors or outdoors. For outdoor sowing, begin with a well-prepared bed. For best results, sow the seed late in autumn (mid-November).

Simply scatter seeds evenly in a prepared bed. Then cover the seed lightly with a quarter inch of soil and water gently and deeply.

Don’t worry the cold of winter will not harm your seeds. It thrives in USDA hardiness zones 3 to 9.

It is important that butterfly weed seeds experience several months of cold, moist conditions in order to germinate properly. In the springtime, your new seedlings will emerge.

Ideally, you will have planted them in their permanent location.

If not, transplant them to their permanent location before they get any taller than four inches. Remember, they do not like their root systems disturbed.

It’s worth noting that you may wish to try planting butterfly weed in several different locations as it can be somewhat temperamental about conditions.

You may get less than stellar results in one part of your yard and superb results in another.

How To Grow Butterfly Weed Seed Indoors

You can start butterfly weed seeds indoors. To do this, you’ll need a garden flat filled with good quality, well-moistened germination medium.

Just as with outdoor sowing, scatter the seeds evenly over the surface and press them lightly into the soil. Cover them lightly with a quarter of an inch of germination mixture and moisten the surface thoroughly.

Once you’ve sown the seeds, put the entire flat inside a clear plastic bag and place it in your refrigerator.

Leave it there for a month to six weeks and then remove it. This keeps the seed in an area with a steady temperature of 70° to 75° degrees Fahrenheit.

It’s important to note that you should leave the plastic bag in place until your seedlings begin to sprout.

When you expose seeds to higher temperatures, they will begin to germinate. This can take three or four weeks.

If a month passes and seedlings have not shown their heads, try putting the flat back into your refrigerator for another month or so. Then take it out and try again.

When seedlings emerge, remove the plastic bag and place the flat under a fluorescent lamp in an area where the temperature remains steady from 60° to 65° degrees Fahrenheit.

When the seedlings have grown to 1″ or 2″ inches high, transplant them into larger pots and continue caring for them with fluorescent lighting indoors until all danger of frost has passed.

The Dispatch shares that the Perennial Plant Association named the butterfly weed its 2017 perennial plant of the year. They shared…

That’s because butterfly weed — a top food source for both butterflies and caterpillars — has been named the perennial plant of the year for 2017 by the Perennial Plant Association, a national trade association based in Hilliard. Bees and other pollinators love it, too — as do gardeners, because it requires little care. Landscapes that feature these native beauties enjoy a steady stream of buzzing, creeping, and fluttering visitors. Via dispatch.com

Butterfly Weed Care

It’s important to note that when you start your seeds indoors, you will need to transition gradually to their permanent outdoor setting.

As the days warm up, set your seedlings outdoors in their pots in shaded areas for brief periods of time. Gradually extend the amount of time that they spend outdoors.

Also, increase the amount of direct sunlight to which you expose them. Once plants harden a bit and can tolerate outdoor conditions well, transplant them to their permanent setting where they can enjoy the full sun.

You can also deadhead your butterfly weed, but wait until the flower petals begin falling off a bloom.

How To Take Care Of A Weed Plant

For the best milkweed plant care results, you should establish your orange butterfly plant garden in full sun. Be sure to choose the location carefully since plants grow very long tap roots.

Once established, moving them proves very difficult, which tends to kill them.

Although this hardy native plant grows well in a wide variety of soils, the soil you provide needs good drainage.

Moreover, it can also tolerate dry, sandy, and rocky soils. It also grows well in dry conditions and tolerates low humidity.

Once well-established, butterfly weed becomes heat and drought-tolerant. It prefers an ideal temperature ranging from 65° to 75° degrees Fahrenheit.

Mark your established butterfly weed in your garden well. The reason? Plants take a while to emerge in the springtime.

If you don’t set a marker, you may accidentally replace them with something else before they reveal themselves in the spring.

Insects like mealybugs, monarch caterpillars, spider mites, and aphids can also cause problems for this plant. With regular insecticidal soap or horticultural oil applications, you can easily control this, especially with an infestation.

Butterfly weed is also susceptible to fungal diseases like leaf spots, root rot, and verticillium. These problems are usually caused by wet soils. 

You can treat this with insecticidal soap or horticultural oil.

Related: Read our article about Aphids on Milkweed

Feeding Your Butterfly Weed

Remember, butterfly weed grows best in well-drained soil that is not too rich and exposed to full sun.

Generally speaking, you don’t need to use synthetic fertilizers or other chemicals on your butterfly weed. It does best when nourished with natural, organic compost.

Because butterfly weeds like poor soil, you needn’t worry much about feeding them.

In the autumn, give it a light dressing of compost followed by a layer of mulch.

In the springtime, you may wish to give it a dose of slow-release fertilizer as a boost to get the growing season started.

The Benefits Of Butterfly Weed

Naturally, the butterfly weed plant provides a good nectar source for all kinds of butterflies (Monarchs in particular). It also provides food for caterpillars that become butterflies. Birds harvest its downy silk to create nests.

In addition to being extremely beneficial to the Monarch butterfly, whose numbers are dwindling at an alarming rate, butterfly weed and milkweed plants of all types also attract:

  • Eastern Tiger Swallowtail
  • Pipeline Swallowtail
  • Painted Ladies
  • Bumblebees
  • Honeybees
  • Hairstreaks
  • Fritillaries

Of course, you are sure to enjoy the sight of pretty butterfly weed in your garden, and because it does not have milky sap, making it a beautiful cut flower.

It also adds a splash of dazzling color with the plant’s bright orange flowers, making it an excellent plant choice for your garden or flower bed.

After the flowers fade, you can get these gorgeous seed pods. The butterfly milkweed seed pods are a nice addition to autumn dry flower arrangements.

It also looks good when planted with other native plants and ornamental grasses. And when planted with nearby companion plants, it will keep the constant blooms all summer. 

This plant also has herbal remedy applications. Native Americans used the root as a treatment for pleurisy, which is why this plant is sometimes called pleurisy root.

Very easy to grow, simple to take care of, and lives for a very long time makes the Butterfly weed a very rewarding native garden plant.

Additionally, as a perennial, it comes back year after year with little or no attention from you.

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