7 Spring Planting Secrets for Growing Great Milkweed
Whether you planted seeds last fall, started seeds and cuttings over winter, or delayed all your milkweed plans until now, most of us will be spring planting some milkweed.
Spring is the time to execute your final (initial) milkweed plan for the season. Your milkweed patch(es) may need revising during the season, but starting with a good plan now should keep alterations to a minimum.
7 Spring Planting Tips for Magnificent Milkweed
Spring Planting Milkweed Seeds Indoors
1. Introduce Milkweed to Adoring Fans…with Pitchforks?
If you’ve started seeds indoors, remember to use an oscillating clip fan (or a floor fan) to promote stronger, straighter stems. Leggy seedlings won’t often survive planting outdoors, or grow up the way you would like.
We recently staked Asclepias erosa seedlings with a simple method that doesn’t require tying them to anything. We used this simple staking technique in addition to the fan:
You can break off fork handles to adjust the height for smaller seedlings.
Two species that are known to start leaning are Showy Milkweed and the peculiar-podded Balloon Plant Milkweed , but you can use these techniques on other milkweed varieties or any plant species that is having a hard time staying vertically motivated…
2. A Soilless Start?
Did you forget to cold treat seeds? Milkweed seeds can be started directly in water with no cold treatment, although germination rate might be less for some species:
- Put milkweed seeds in a bowl of water
- Place the bowl inside a plastic baggie OR
- just place seeds in a container
- Set everything together on top of a heated seed mat
- When the seeds germinate plant the root side in soil with the attached brown seed cover sticking out of the dirt.
- If it’s too early to plant, stick them in a spring sowing container
Spring Planting Milkweed Seeds Outdoors
3. Water First
Wet the soil before planting your seeds so they won’t be instantly washed away to a location of your unchoosing or try spring sowing milkweed seeds
4. Protect Your Weed
Fence off your seedlings if there is a good chance of trampling by overzealous pets or small children. You’ll be surprised to find that some garden pests (like rabbits) might even give your milkweed a nibble between mouthfuls of their favorite fresh veggies.
Check out my fall planting guide that can also be used for spring planting seeds:
10 Easy steps for Fall Planting Milkweed
Spring Planting Milkweed Cuttings
5. Root Cuttings in Water for at least One Month
Cuttings are easiest to take from non-native tropical milkweed. Place them in distilled water for a month or longer. Cuttings are much sturdier than seedlings so they’re unlikely to be wiped out by stormy weather or a storming of the garden by unwelcome pests.
For more detailed instructions on growing milkweed from cuttings check out this post:
6. Water Wisely
After planting, water your cuttings every few days until they’re actively putting out new growth. Although most milkweed varieties are drought tolerant, this doesn’t apply to your baby cuttings and seedlings.
Spring Planting Milkweed Plants
7. Give Weed a Chance!
Are you sometimes too impatient waiting for milkweed plants to return in spring? ? Don’t give up on milkweed too early and dig up perfectly good plants! A good rule of green thumb is to put all questionable plant replacements at the end of your gardening to-do list.
While you’re focused on other garden preparation, some of the perennial plants you wrote off for dead might just surprise you…??
8. Grow a Patch
Grow at least 6 plants together so your monarch caterpillars don’t run out of food. If you have lone plants growing around your yard, check them regularly and transfer monarch caterpillars to other milkweed, if necessary.
Most milkweed species require moderately acidic soil with optimal PH levels between 4.8 and 6.8. If you’re having problems growing milkweed, consider a PH testing kit to see if this is a problem.
9. Grow SEVERAL Patches
Grow patches in different areas of your yard and garden. Weather and wildlife are the ultimate wildcards in your milkweed’s performance. Within the same yard, these two wildcards can affect each patch differently.
A couple years back, a freak hail storm wiped out all the plants on the north side of our house, but left the south garden virtually untouched. Imagine if our entire milkweed supply had been planted on the north side…
Planting all your milkweed in one patch is like putting all your pastries in a cookie jar, and giving them to a binge-eating blue monster for safe keeping…
Waiting for good weather here in Michigan. My butterfly garden is established and should come back fine this year. I’ve already started my tropical milkweed plants in the greenhouse to be added to the perennial varieties already in the garden. I’m pleased to say that the garlic plants I planted last fall are already sprouted and are several inches tall! I hope they do the job in keeping the aphid population down this year.
Won’t the garlic keep the butterflies away also? I’m new at butterfly gardening and would love some tips! Thank you!
Hi Suraima, we have several allium species in our garden and still get lots of monarch eggs on nearby milkweed.
We are very fortunate to have a lot of wild milkweed at our farm in Northern Indiana. We already have a large group of Monarchs, but would like to encourage them even more. Any thoughts about expanding the indigenous milkweed? We have about 15 acres, where it grows, and a couple of dense concentrations of the plant.
Hi John, there is a link to field planting on this post which shoulld give you some ideas/resources:
Starting a Butterfly Garden
I have 5 Milkweed pods! How do I prepare for planting? I’ve read several articles about placing them in the refrigerator for 30 days. The transfer to soil. Is this really necessary for the Scarlet Milkweed?
Hi Jennell, warm weather species don’t require cold moist stratification. We just soak the seeds in water 24 hours before planting to soften the seed coat and speed up germination:
How do I keep Japanese Beatles from eating the Milkweed blossoms? Last year the first plant to blossom was ok, but the rest of them had all of the blossoms eaten and I only had sead pods on the first plant.
Hi Kurt…here’s info on:
Stopping Japanese Beetles
Last year in central Indiana, I successfully transplanted 6 mature A. Incarnata in late spring. I assume they were happy in my garden location because they profusely flowered and I collected dozens of seed pods. After they went dormant, I cut back the stalks, leaving 1”-2” above ground as a marker. This spring, only 2 returned but are now well over a foot tall. Curious, I carefully dug around the other 4 sites with a hand trowel. Just under the surface was healthy looking white root structure! Any thoughts on why they have failed to start any re-growth when their siblings mere feet away have been growing for a month now?
Hi Brad, I would leave them for a bit longer…If you had a cool spring, they might just be running behind schedule. We have milkweed coming back late in Minnesota so I’m giving a couple areas areas until after Memorial Day weekend. It’s possible they died, but swamp milkweed is usually a reliable perennial.
Hi Theresa, I’m not aware of any mulch issues with Ascelpias incarnata. Whatever you’re using for your perennial flowers should be fine…we use cedar mulch
Hi – I have my perennial flowers and want to plant swamp milkweed in various spots within that area also. Is there any kind of mulch that would be harmful to the mw? Thanks – Theresa
Hi, I am trying to grow some seeds, but they seem to stop growing when they are about 1″ tall. They stay like that for weeks and then die. Do I have bad seeds or am I doing something wrong?
Hi Filip, if they’re germinating, the seed should be fine. If you’re starting indoors with a heated seedling mat, make sure to turn it off after the seeds have germinated…soil? not enough light? overwatering? Try a different propagation method?
Hi Tony, I live in south Florida and planted 4 to 6 plants and I have several caterpillars but the leaves are almost gone. Do I need to be concerned that there won’t be enough for them to eat?Also if not caged will they attach themselves to the stem or do I need to place something for them to attach to? I prefer not to put them in a container.
Hi Karen, in continuous growing regions it’s impossible to keep up with demand. Some gardeners cover their plants to give them a chance to recover:
Growing Milkweed in Continuous Growing Regions
I ordered several seed varieties and planted in pots but only about 4 of 50 seeds germinated . I placed remaining seeds in freezer for 3 weeks and planted again but still no luck. What ami missing? Wet stratification? Other?
Hi Steve, check out our post on cold moist stratifcation and starting seeds in water:
Cold Moist Stratification Milkweed
Hay Tony, just bought a butterfly bush called Buddleia DavidIl
It says it will attract butterflies, but I want to know if this is a good addition to my garden. Thanks
Hi Pauline, butterfly bush definitely attracts butterflies and other pollinators. More info and plants suggestions here:
Butterfly Plants List
Live on Long Island ny. And I was just wondering when to plant my milkweed.
This is my first attempt with Monarchs and I want to have success.
Hi Pauline, seeds can be planted as soon as you can get them into the ground, and plants can be added after your avg last frost date….good luck!
I live in Katy, Tx and already have eggs, cats and chrysallis. This is the earliest I have ever had them. I have two different types of milkweed which are planted in groups and use caterpillars houses to protect the eggs, cats and chrysallis. I use the floral tubes all the time and love them for leaves. I have learned so much from your website and emails. I average releasing two to three hundred butterflies each season.
wow, that’s amazing Terrie….I hope you have another fantastic season!
I have had first year seedlings bloom.
Swamp, Tropical and Balloon have all bloomed first year .
We’ve had first year tropical and balloon put out blooms, but have never started swamp seedlings indoors so our first year seedlings don’t have enough time to flower. I prefer swamp seedlings small, as they are favored for eggs late in the season.
Believe me! I don’t remember an April like this in PA either. Last year at this time I had seedlings growing in every milk jug on my patio. So far this year nothing has sprouted. I’m just hoping once it gets warm, if that ever happens, I will have some seedlings and not just jugs of dirt. I did purchase some plants at the local nursery that are doing great, even though I have to cover them at night. Unfortunately I can’t purchase the tropical there and have to depend on my seeds to grow.
At a big chain store in Tampa Bay an associate said to cut the stalks abt 2-3″ long and plant in a pot with very wet dirt & keep it moist. It Worked! They grew to abt 6″ before I replanted them. Now I have more leaves for my cats to eat since the females keep laying eggs on my leaves.
The seedlings shown in the first photo in your post (with the “fork solution” for support) look terribly leggy. Does this variety need more hours of lighting than others? I usually run my lights 14-16 hours/day when starting common and swamp milkweed indoors. The fans are also very important for seedling development, and also prevents fungal attacks.
They are Nancy…the intention was to put them in the 3-season porch. My first mistake was keeping the heated seedling mat on too long…and now they’re stuck inside without a proper set up. The forks/fan are keeping them upright and should help get most of them through. For fungal attacks, I water with a hydrogen peroxide mix.
I have one question i live in Jacksonville Texas and i have seedlings if i plant them in the spring how long do i have to water them before i let them take care of themselves
Hi Ethan, this really depends on how much precipitation you’re getting and how warm it is. Seedlings need to be monitored much closer than plants. Sorry, there’s really no good answer to this question in the age of extreme weather…
I work at a park in northern NJ(zone 6) Over the past 17 years we have developed 3 huge milkweed patches. 2 are across the street from each other and the third is about 2 acres away. Last year all 3 patches did not do well at all. They grew very sparse and were dwarfed. Leaves easily fell off. We had no aphids! (we did have aphids on the tropical milkweed at the end of the season, but that garden is not near the affected patches) Now, the year before (2016) the patches grew very well but we ended up with a massive infestation of aphids. Do you know what is going on with our milkweed?
Hi Michele, aphids eventually find most butterfly gardens…hopefully their predators will soon follow to keep your garden in balance naturally. Get more aphid info here
can i start milkweed seeds in potting pots and plant them outside when they get bigger i am in tex and it is still cold here really dont know when to plant need help bad of what to do. have a lot of seeds from 2 plants i bought last year. what time of year do i plant the seeds? thanks
Hi Pat, if you are just getting started check out our post on starting (or improving) your butterfly garden:
How to Start a Monarch Butterfly Garden
I have a couple of native milkweeds that I bought from a nearby Nature Center. How they are still alive, I do not know, but they are. I forgot and left them in their little pots…maybe 4 inch pots, and left them under my gardenia bush. Now it is time to expect a frost. Should I bring them indoors and repot them? or plant them outside?
Hello Bonnie, if they are perennial to your region, I would plant them directly…you can mulch around them with leaves for extra protection. Most milkweed plants perform better when they can go through their entire growth cycle, which includes winter.
Can Narrow-leaved Milkweed be started from seed right out of the pod or is it to early now in September to plant the seed?
Hi Jon, for best propagation techniques for Asclepias fascicularis, I would consult one of the sources on this list:
Western Monarch Resources
If the seeds in the pod are mature ,, they are ready to plant … They will sprout in the spring. .. Even now ,, if you have any seeds still clinging to pods you can prepare a couple of trays that you can spread the seeds on and just leave them out over the winter on your deck or table and in the spring they will all sprout …
I grew up In NW Indiana. We had these wonderful milkweed plants that had a very cool pod and opened blowing out fluffy seeds on the wind. We called them “common milkweed”. Is this the same as the above Swan (something) plant? If so, will they grow in Southern NJ? The soil in Indiana was very heavy and mostly clay. Here In NJ, it’s very poor and mostly sand. We are living on an ancient sea bed. What will I need to add to my soil to get it to grow my memories?
Hi Sandra, swan milkweed is an annual in northern regions. If you’re looking for perennials:
yes, you may have to amend the soil with compost to get it to grow but you would need to experiment and see what works in your specific growing conditions
I have several swamp milkweed plants in my garden with at least 10 caterpillars. Some of the plants are staked and some not. Last week after a heavy rain, I found 2 of the plants laying over on the grass and 3 caterpillars on the ground. Does staking the plants help the caterpillars stay attached during heavy wind and rain?
Hi Lana, if the plants are staked so they can’t topple over, it will help the caterpillars during a storm.
Hi – my neighbor just gave me three milkweed plants. They are about 1.5 feet tall. I have a shaded area to plant them in. Will they survive if I plant them now (beginning of August)? How far apart should they be? How much water do they like? (I am new at this!) I am in Pittsburgh – zone 5, I believe. Thank you.
Hi Elaine, late summer and fall is a great time for planting milkweed. Please find your particular milkweed and click on the page link for planting instructions:
25 Milkweed Options for Butterfly Gardens
Hummm. It’s the end of July here in Eastern Oregon and I forgot about the showy milkweed seeds I harvested last summer. I didn’t put them in my refrigerator either. They’re hard to find where I live and to get the seeds at the right time. What’s their viability? And what are my options at this point?
1) Should I freeze them until next spring? Our growing season goes until late October or mid November when we get our first frosts.
2) Should I try to plant them this late?
3) Overwinter them in my store room? The light is not so great in there, but we do overwinter spider plants, jade plants and others that live on my covered porch every summer.
They will eventually live on a dry slope, probably.
Hi Wynn, you could always try planting them. I would at least soak them in water for 24 hours before planting to soften the seed cover for quicker germination. I’m not sure how they’ll grow without stratification though. You could always try planting some now, direct planting some around the time you get your frosts, and also use cold moist refrigerator stratification before direct planting in spring. That way, you can see what works best in your region for future propagation…good luck!
I guess I’m getting a bit confused. I see many references/recommendations to try tropical milkweed here, but I’ve always been told that that planting tropical and/or non native specifics contributes to OE and other issues. Is this a regional issue ?
Hi Emma, tropical milkweed has potential issues in continuous growing regions. Here’s more info on the potential problems and solutions:
Tropical Milkweed and Monarchs
there were milkweed plants in the fields behind my parent’s house when I was growing up… also copious numbers of monarchs.
I always wished there were some on our property. I live in Wisconsin.
Three years ago I saw one in the front yard, I left it and it became 3.
Last year that became 30 This year it has become 50.
I guess you should be careful what you wish for.
But in this case, I do not care. I had huge beautiful caterpillars last year. And may monarchs.
This year I anticipate more. They have extended themselves into my more formal beds.
But you know? I don’t really care.
congratulations Mary, yes common milkweed can spread through underground rhizomes, but it is a favorite host plant for monarchs. If you are looking for a variety that spreads less, Asclepias incarnata is another preferred native milkweed for your region:
Swamp Milkweed for Monarchs
I live in zone 7a and had a lot of success with my milkweed last summer. We have sandy soil and it grew well. My question is it is now May and I see no new life budding yet. We had a mild winter and I was wondering if this is normal or should I plant new milkweed? Thank you
Hi Tisa, Im in zone 5 (Minnesota) and all our perennial milkweed is coming back strong…which species of milkweed did you plant? Tropical milkweed probably won’t come back in your region, but all of your natives should be showing signs of life….
I planted the orange butterfly weed and itis showing no signs of new growth. Last year was the first time I had planted it and it did really well. At one point I had over forty monarch caterpillars. I get the plants locally at a wonderful family nursery so I don’t mind replacing them, but I was hoping that wasn’t the case. Thank you for your input!
Hi Tisa, butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) dies back to the ground but new shoots should be emerging from the ground by now….maybe check one more time but then I would head back to the nursery. good luck!
I’ve had milkweed in the garden for 5 years now but never get any monarch eggs or caterpillars. We do get monarch butterflies, but I don’t see them until late summer when my milkweed is starting to die. It seems they’re out of sync 🙁
We are in CT , zone 6. I have native milkweed I planted from seeds I collected in the wild, and butterfly milkweed ( the orange one). Two small patches in my yard.
Never any eggs or caterpillars. I don’t see monarch butterflies by us until my milkweeds are starting to poop out. Usually late July.
Anything I can do? Thanks.
Hi Marca, I would not rely on one milkweed species to support monarchs, but several species that will peak at different times so you can potentially support monarchs all season. Annuals like tropical milkweed are viable until first frost. Here is a list of milkweed options with native/perennial regions listed:
Milkweed for Butterfly Gardens
We have a section of well established milk weed that has grown on its own for years along the side of our house. We didn’t plant it- so they have been there for at least 3-4 years, if not more.
I am not sure exactly which species it is, however we were thinking of trying to relocate these plants to my son’s preschool outdoor naturalized playground that is finishing being built.
Do you have any tips for transplanting? Time of year? # of plants to put together? Do we move them now as they are still small? Wait until the fall? Do we collect the seeds later to plant?
We are near Niagara Falls, Canada in the green belt- but I do NOT have a green thumb ?
Any help or suggestions would be great. We are patient to move them whenever is best suited!
Hi Steph, check out this post for transplanting info:
How to Transplant Milkweed…with Taproots!
Hello Tony – this year is my first attempt with milkweed in my northern California garden. I have three different varieties (Showy Milkweed, Silky Gold, and one other). I read in your piece to plant six plants together. To better help the butterflies, should I mix up the plants I have so that there are different varieties planted together, or should I keep the varieties separate from each other? Thank you!
different milkweed species have different heights and growth habits (some spread by underground rhizomes including your Showy) so I would keep them separate. good luck with your plants!
Thanks so much!
Apologies if this has been answered elsewhere, I may have missed it. I would love to help the monarchs in my area (Denver, CO). I went to my local nursery and they didn’t have any milkweed plants yet, so I bought seeds (Asclepias tuberosa, Asclepias speciosa, and Asclepias syriaca). I’ve read online that monarchs mostly lay eggs in March and April, and we’re already halfway though April. If I try the cold stratification process (I’m a total gardening newbie), I won’t be able to plant until early-mid May. Will that be too late to help monarchs this season? Any tips would be much appreciated! Thank you!
Hi Jessica, monarchs lay eggs March through October…it depends on where you’re located. The first generation of monarch eggs is heavily concentrated in southern regions,and the proceeding generations move further north until they’re in Canada. To get an idea of when monarchs are getting close to your region check out the journey north sightings maps
Based on the large, early population, you could see monarchs within the next month. Your native seeds are a good start, but if you want milkweed plants that will grow to maturity this season, I would get some tropical milkweed plants too. More info:
Tropical Milkweed for Monarchs
I’m in new location..have to start milkweed seeds from scratch. Should I plant in indoor pots or start a new outside milkweed garden. I live in Niagara Falls Canada.
Thanks for all the material and news you have sent me over the last few years.
Hi Ron, starting some indoors will give those plants a head start and then you could sow more seeds directly in your garden. The monarchs seem to be ahead of schedule this season…we’ll see if that continues!
Hi Tony I just took milkweed seeds out of the fridge to package for a community event. I guess 8 weeks was too long as around 100 have sprouted so I may be able to take plants to the “seedy” event. I wrapped the sprouted seeds in damp paper towels but need to plant asap! The last frost date in Toronto is May 9th. Is it possible to plant the seeds temporarily in my veggie bed or do they need to be indoors? Will the unsprouted seeds be ok to give away? Many thanks for your advice. Anne
Hi Anne, if it doesn’t freeze, you could plant them outside…do you have a bin or other way to protect the plants if it does freeze? You could also plant them in sowing containers:
spring sowing containers
Many thanks, Tony. I’m glad to know I can put them out if I watch the temperature – will probably use containers and try other varieties next year. Your informative site is fabulous!
I’m setting up an indoor ‘greenhouse’ for germinating common milkweed (first timer!). I need to purchase grow lights, but don’t know what temp/luminosity they should be. I see both 2700k and 6400k options. Which should I purchase?
Hi Angela, in the past when we used t5 grow lights to start seeds we’ve used the 6400k option, but the 2700k might be all you need. Over the last few years, we’ve focused our efforts on winter and spring sowing seeds (in containers) because it’s effective and requires less effort (and no indoor space!). If you’re in a region with a true winter, it’s definitely an option worth considering:
Winter Sowing Milkweed Seeds good luck!
I started milkweed seeds in about September or October in my basement but I did not cold stratify them first, my basement is not finished and what ever the temp outside is, is what it is in the basement. It started to warm up here about 2 weeks ago and so I set them outside to start to warm up. My biggest thing is that they have not even started to sprout yet so I do not know if I should give them time yet or ill they never come up now. First timer to try and grow milkweed from seed. Not as easy as it seems.
Hi Gary, for native milkweed species, cold moist stratification in the refrigerator or winter/spring sowing containers are both effective mnethods of seed propagation:
Cold Moist Stratification
Spring Sowing Containers
Some of your current seeds might germinate if they are fresh seeds. good luck!
I have common milkweed seed I cold stratfied in my fridge and want to establish on a very steep slope that is filled with other native and non native plants and shrubs. Can I just hand broadcast now or do they need to actually be planted with soil covering them. Any and all suggestions please.
Hi Jos, you can always try broadcasting and hope for the best. If I was going to use this technique, I’d do it in winter before a snow storm. Let us know how spring broadcasting works for you…good luck!
I have a garden behind a brownstone in Manhattan. Will milkweed grow in shady areas?
I have lots of flowers, Can I introduce butterflies? Can I by butterflies to release?
How best to proceed?
Hi John, I’m not sure how many monarchs come through the city, but some milkweed varieties do well in partial shade like native swamp milkweed and non-native tropical. If it’s close to full shade, they probably won’t grow very vigorously. You could raise butterflies (if you have enough milkweed) or buy butterflies for release. There are 3 vendors you can check with on my resources page:
Raising Monarchs Resource Page
I have 3 milkweed plants . Very healthy. Still no eggs or catterpillars. Have had plenty of monarchs flying around but still no eggs. What am doing wrong?
Hi Mary, those might be males you are seeing. If you only have 3 plants, I would concentrate on establishing more milkweed first. Keep in mind, 1 caterpillar can devour an entire plant during it’s two week life cycle. good luck with your garden, Tony
Hi. How long does it take a milkweed whose leaves have been eaten to grow new leaves and be ready again? I cut down the stalks to about 6-8 inches right below where the plant was previously leafing.
Hi Kevin, it depends on where you have the milkweed growing. It will grow faster in warm weather (80 degrees) and at least partly sunny conditions. We don’t typically reuse milkweed over the season in our northern garden, but I think it takes at least a month before the plants can be used again, if I remember correctly from tropical milkweed. good luck!
Any tips on pruning to get a lush full plant?
Hi Shirley, I don’t typically prune our returning perennials as they put out more stalks and flowers without any assistance. If you’re growing seedlings they can be pinched after about a month to produce more foliage and bushier plant growth. Scroll down this page to see the plant height when first pinched back. This can be done to promote bushier growth in other milkweed species as well:
Pinching Off Milkweed Seedlings
Wish me luck…..this morning I have 8 caterpillars on my last milkweed plant that has leaves! Needless to say, I will be making an emergency trip to the nursery.
Hi Judy, I hope you have a local nursery that sells pesticide-free milkweed plants? Good luck with your caterpillars!
Happy Friday Tony, Does this work with Common Milkweed? Has the seed been cold treated/stratified? What is the propagation %? How long for the seeds to germinate? Do you place on or in the soil once it has sprouted? Thanks…MRM
Hi Mike, your germination rate depends on the quality of your seeds. I recommend cold stratification for A. syriaca about a month before planting. Here is a step by step post for direct sowing:
How to direct sow milkweed seeds
You had mentioned one time that you grow 15 different kinds of Asclepias in your attempts to help the Monarchs. I have heard you post about Curassavica, Incarnata, Purpurascens, Syriaca, and Tuberosa, How do these grow for you and do you grow any of Sullivanti, Asperula, Speciosa or Virididis?. I know that Minnesota winters are probably harsher than Indiana ones but just let me know which of the hardy perennial milkweed have grown well for you consistently. Thanks.
Hi Brian, incarnata, purpurascens, syriaca, tuberosa, speciosa, exaltata, and viridis have all come back reliably in Minnesota. We just started growing sullivantii last season (one plant) and starting more seeds for this season. We haven’t grown asperula.
For curassavica, we overwinter plants, take cuttings, or start seeds annually.
Last year I grew native milkweed and a couple other varieties (swamp and red). The non-natives were aphid magnets. I grew the milkweed mixed with flowers in half whiskey barrels and also had two large containers of milkweed only.
In the mixed containers (barrels), I noticed that aphids were not a problem on the non-native milkweed as they seemed to prefer the nasturiums in every barrel. Once a stem of nasturium was covered with aphids, I cut it off and sealed it up in a ziploc bag. It worked pretty well for the whole season. Nasturiums don’t like a lot of sun and heat, but the milkweed and other flowers provided them some shade. This year I plan to plant only native milkweed and include a few nasturium in every pot.
I had pretty much 100% germination of the native milkweed and less than 50% of the non-native seed. For the native milkweed, I did the cold treatment and also planted many without the cold – 99-100% germination for both methods. I used the large peat pellets to germinate all of the native and some non-native seeds. Some of the non-natives were planted directly in the pots after the last frost – very poor germination.
As soon as possible, I transplanted the pellets into pots. In each of two large pots (24″L x 12″W x 12″D) I jammed those plants in MG potting soil (cutting off the bottomof the netting). There were about 60 pellets in each pot. The plants were barely 8″ tall when the eggs began to appear.
Out in the garden I had about seven native plants. Dozens of my natives did not make it through the winter in raised beds. When I found an egg out there, I either cut the whole leaf off or cut out the piece with the egg. These plants had to flower and produce my seed for this year.
When the eggs were laid, I cut the leaf or stem and placed the stems into narrow vases (with water). Some vases with wider tops had to be covered with saran wrap held tight with rubber bands and holes poked for stems (be sure all stems/leaves reach the water in the vase). The vases were placed into cardboard boxes with one side cut open and covered with white tulle – the tulle was pulled tight around the open side and I used clothes pins to keep it tight so the cats did not get out of the boxes. I keep the cardboard boxes in the garage as someone somewhere stated it was important to keep the enclosures dry. The cats had no problem climbing up the cardboard and forming a chrysalis on the top of each box. When they were ready to eclose, I placed tall twigs around the chrysalises for the butterflies to hang dry, moved the boxes outside into the sun, removed the tulle and let them go off on their own. (unless there was a storm coming, then they had to wait in the garage.)
You do need to move the cats around sometimes but it’s very easy to move stems from vase to vase and vases from box to box. I used a tiny whisk broom/dustpan to clean the bottoms of the boxes, or used new boxes.
I raised over 100 monarchs last summer and lost only three using this method.
For Black Swallowtails, I grow curly parsley in 6-8″ pots. I make a mini hoop houses over each pot with some old mini blind slats and cover each with tulle. The tulle is fastened tightly around the lips of the pots with rubber bands. BST cats are masters at escaping so it is very very important to be sure the tulle is tight around the pot. They form their chrysalis on the slats. (I have dill out in the garden where I collect the BST eggs. )
I would like to thank everyone who has offered tips or information to help me raise butterflies! It has been so rewarding! Sure keeps me busy from May to October!!!!
Oh, I grow lots and lots of tall zinnias in pots too. All the butterflies love them!
Hi El, thank you for posting your information-packed comment. I’m glad you have found a way to combat those pesky aphids. Here are some more ideas if they continue to be a problem:
How To stop Aphids from taking over your Milkweed
For future reference, if you grow non-natives, try soaking the seeds in water for 24 hours before planting:
Starting Annual Milkweed Seeds Indoors
Good luck with your 2016 monarchs and swallowtails!
Hello! I live in North Central Florida, just north of Gainesville ( Go Gators!). My milkweek was planted last spring and flourished well! During the winter it died off as expected. I did not collect any seeds as this is my first year. Will it come back or do I need to replant? It looks like tall, dead sticks. I also have butterfly weed and Mexican Petunia that looks the same. Do you know anything about those plants? I want to rejuvenate my butterfly garden but would hate to lose these plants. Thanks
Hi Becky, if it froze in northern Florida over the winter, your plants might have gone dormant and should reemerge from the ground in spring (for you very soon) I would not give up on them yet.
When potting milkweed … Is Miracle Gro soil or fertilizer safe ? I am getting ready to start a large pot garden of Sunflowers, Zinnias & Milkweeds.
Hi Virginia, I’ve used Miracle Gro on/off over the years and talked to many other gardeners who have too. I’ve never heard of any issues from using this on plants…I’ve even fed caterpillars from MG fertilized plants. good luck with your planting!
Thank you so much for the good information. I am in Cedar City UT – hardiness zone 5b. Danger of frost is not past until April. It sounds like milkweed grown from seed probably won’t flower this year here. Is there any point to planting this spring (April) or would it be better to wait till fall? I have read your tips for planting in fall. Thanks for your help..
Hi Jean, if you plant this spring, you will have even larger plants next season as the roots have plenty of time to get acclimated in season 1. If you want mature plants for this season, you could start annual seeds indoors or buy tropical milkweed plants locally or from an online vendor:
Starting Annual Milkweed Seeds Indoors
Howdy! We’ve got a newly acquired milkweed plant, and I am curious about whther it is okay to put it directly into the ground right now. I am in zone 8-10..JUST north of New Orleans, but we do get freezes for a relatively short time in the midst of winter. Would it still be okay to put it in the ground now? I don’t want it to die.
Hi Michael, most milkweed species are cold hardy to your region, including tropical milkweed. You could plant now or wait until it cools off a bit in early fall. If you plant now, make sure to water regularly in the summer heat.
Hi Tony, we have not seen any monarchs yet here in Northwest Arkansas but the aphids are really showing up in force. I’ve researched how to remove them but was wondering if we could use a diluted solution of epsom salt and water in a spray bottle to remove them? Will there be a residual left on leaves to hurt the eggs and cats? Thanks so much and really enjoy your info. I have just received my tent to raise them this year. Thanks, Janet
Hi Janet, I’ve never tried that before or heard it suggested an effective solution. I’ve compiled a list of ideas over the last couple years of how to stop aphids from taking over your milkweed:
Aphid Control for Milkweed Plants
Hope this helps!
I’m in north central Minnesota, out in the woods (zone 3b) and I’d like to seed milkweed along the north (sunny) sides of rural highways where the mowers don’t reach. Can I hand broadcast seeds and expect them to grow? If so, what tips can you offer. If this works, you can all me Johnny Butterfly
Hi Chuck, I would suggest planting milkweed in your garden or other public/private land you have permission to plant on. That way you know there won’t be unforeseen issues and it won’t get mowed down or cut back. Good luck!
Hi, I bought some milkweed at a nursery last week. I was wondering how to plant them. I have 4 plants stems that are in small plastic flats. The stems have some leaves and flowers however they are not growing upright they are hanging down. Should I plant them in a planter and tie them on a trelus till they are bigger and stronger?
Hi Diane, milkweed doesn’t typically need to be staked, but it sounds like your plants may have outgrown their flats. I would plant them in their final destination. Keep in mind, small pests like rabbits will sometimes eat down milkweed plants so you may want to keep them protected with a small barrier until they grow larger. If they do get eaten down, they should grow back if the root system is sufficient. Once your patch is established, it’s less likely to be nibbled on by larger pests…good luck!
I live in Minnesota. We want to transplant some milkweed plants from a piece of rural land to a school garden. Do they transplant well? Should we dig several plants and group them together? How deep should we dig the plants to be transplanted – I think they have fairly long tap roots. Thank you so much for your help.
Hi Kate, try to dig deep enough to get the entire tap root. You’ll have more success doing this with small plants before they start leafing out. good luck!
Thank you, Tony, for the good advice! What a great resource!
Do any species of milkweed, if started from seed in the Spring, bloom in their first season?
Hi Clint, not sure where you are located? You are getting pretty late to expect much from seeds for this season. I would check out plants and plugs on my resource page. Non-native tropical is the fastest to flower and seed, but it’s still getting late for most regions to start from seed. If you do, start indoors for faster germination.
Check out the stores section and below to find plants/plugs that will give you flowering plants this season:
Milkweed Store Suggestions
Tony, thanks for the help! I’m in Dallas, TX. Yep, I realize that I’m behind schedule – I’ll be sure to pay more attention, come next year.
Also, the links you attached are very helpful. Please keep up all the great work!
Clint, keep in mind that you can also fall plant seeds/plants which will give you a huge head start on next season. good luck!
@Clint Just my observation, I have escapee milkweed (I did not plant, but have welcomed) that showed up 3-4 years ago that just flowered for the first time this year. Mpls, MN
Is it safe to plant near a lake where the soil is kept fairly moist – or does the plant do better in dry soil. We live in NC and just did a spring planting near lake – is this a good idea?
Any better ideas?
Where do we get seeds for the fall?
Hi Michele, not all milkweed species have the same soil requirements. Asclepias incarnata is a native milkweed variety that prefers wet soil:
Asclepias incarnata swamp milkweed
You can research other milkweed varieties and find seeds on my milkweed page:
Milkweed Resources Page
Tony, you write about taking cuttings from your present plants and rooting them in distilled water in order to get a good start by planting them in your garden next spring. I found that to be a great idea. However, do you ever take in smaller plants into your house that have already been growing in dirt in planters outside and overwinter them inside? If you do, what do you do to not have bugs come in with them? I have seen some “systemic”products on the market and wondered if you had ever tried them?
Hi Donna, I overwinter plants every season, but do not use systemic pesticides because of potential harm to pollinators the next season. Here are some tips for overwintering indoors:
8 Tips for Overwintering
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