Which Annual Butterfly Plants Are Worth Overwintering?

If you’re in USDA hardiness zone 7 or below, there are top-notch butterfly plants that won’t survive your frigid winters…fortunately, there are warmer ways to get around this.

While many gardeners give in to annual temptation, there are a few potential problems with purchasing replacement plants each year:

1. Depending on the plant, this can get pretty expensive

2. You can’t be certain the plant will always be available

3. The plant never surpasses first year growth

One way to rise above cold weather limitations is by taking up the winter sport of indoor gardening.

When deciding which annual plants to bring in, here are a few factors to consider:

1. Year One

Will a ‘starter plant’ annual put forth flowers its first year?

Mexican flame vine can be a brilliant annual plant in northern climates if overwintered indoors. Which other butterfly plants are worth overwintering?
A Second Year Stunner

If the answer is no, overwintering becomes mandatory if you choose to grow it. If you buy a Mexican flame vine starter plant, it probably won’t bloom its first season.

By overwintering, you’ll start getting brilliant orange blooms in year two. In my opinion, this makes it worth the effort.

2. Cost

If a plant isn’t affordable and readily available, isn’t it worth holding on to?

3. Response to overwintering

Some plants may have issues overwintering indoors. Research on google and facebook groups to see if other gardeners have had success before committing to winter care.

4. Space

Some plants obviously take up more room than others. Make a plan before bringing in your pots to make sure you can accommodate your new house guests.

5. Do they Support your Local Ecosystem?

There’s nothing wrong with having a plant or two in the garden just because you like it. However, if your purpose of having a garden is to support monarchs and other pollinators, you’ll want the majority of your garden plants to help achieve that goal.

We start moving potted plants inside by mid-October, before our first frost. See what butterfly plants typically make our overwintering list and get some ideas for yours…


8 Annual Butterfly Plants Worth Overwintering

Click any orange links below if you are interested in more info or to purchase seeds and plants.

1. Pseudogynoxys chenopodioides (Mexican flame vine)

Mexican flame vine is an easy butterfly climbing plant to overwinter indoors, and a surprisingly vigorous grower in northern climates

This warm weather climbing vine has brilliant orange flowers has become a  reliable late-summer monarch-favorite in our garden this summer. It’s been nothing short of amazing the past four seasons on our windmill trellis, completely engulfing it in orange flames. It has attracted monarchs, swallowtails, hummingbirds, and bumble bees in our northern garden.

This floriferous climber should make everybody’s short list!


2. Asclepias curassavica (tropical milkweed)

Tropical milkweed plants are a good choice for overwintering indoors because you can take stem cuttings to produce new milkweed plants in the dead of winter or early next spring.

Discover how to create a full patch of tropical next season, by bringing in just one or two plants.

I’ve also tried spring sowing tropical milkweed seeds in March with great results, although cuttings still grow faster.

Gardeners in warmer regions (e.g. Texas) should also consider overwintering tropical milkweed in case monarchs make it back before there is enough native milkweed to support them.


3. Gomphocarpus fruticosus (swan milkweed)

This milkweed species and its close relative, the giant swan plant are good host plants for monarch caterpillars later in the season, when the natives have started to fade.

Unfortunately, I haven’t noticed a 2nd year growth spurt by starting with plants from either gomphocarpus spp, although they did start developing pods earlier, which gave them enough time to seed.


4. Passiflora incarnata (maypop passion vine)

Passiflora incarnata is a purple passionflower that serves as both a host plant and nectar flower in the butterfly garden. It overwinters easily indoors and grows well in containers.
Purple Passionflower

The flowers are nothing short of spectacular and they have a long summer bloom period. They are a host plant for both the gulf and variegated fritillary butterflies. In our northern garden, the flowers attracted small pollinators. This is the most cold hardy of passion vines.

It has been reported to be aggressive with underground rhizomes, which is why we leave it in a container year round…

Purchase Passiflora incarnata (maypop passion vine)



5. Miss Huff Lantana

Lantana is pretty easy to find in nurseries across North America, but I’ve never been able to find this particular variety in Minnesota. ‘Miss Huff’ is cold hardy down to zone 7 and is reported to be a butterfly favorite. I’ve overwintered two plants the past few seasons and they continue to perform well each summer.

We are also overwinter Trailing Grape Lantana, which swallowtails and other pollinators visit frequently, and this mystery variety which continues to be the belle of the garden ball each summer:

Lantana is definitely worth overwintering if you have a variety that’s not easy to find locally.

Find Miss Huff Lantana on Etsy

Find Miss Huff Lantana on eBay



6. Duranta erecta (sapphire showers)

Duranta erecta is a tropical butterfly plant that can be overwintered in cold climates. It is a favorite bumble bee plant in our northern garden.
Sapphire Showers

Summer heat and sunnier accommodations have seen this ugly duckling bloom into a graceful garden swan for several seasons. It attracts bumble bees and I’ve seen monarchs on it too.

This was going to be the final season of ‘sapphire showers’, so I took it out of its container and planted it directly in our raised beds. It was nothing short of spectacular. It bloomed prolifically, while attracting monarchs, bees, and hummingbirds. It was happy in a new spot, not overshadowed by the monstrous popcorn ‘tree’.

Buy Duranta Erecta Sapphire Showers


And speaking of popcorn…


7. Cassia spp (popcorn plant)

Discover which butterfly plants are worth overwintering indoors to give your butterfly garden a huge head start on next season...

This graceful feathery shrub with yellow flower stalks makes a statement in the butterfly garden. Rub the leaves between your fingers and they’ll smell exactly like buttered popcorn. It attracts some pollinators and I’ve even seen a few monarchs on it. It’s also a host plant for cloudless sulphur butterflies. We overwintered C. didymobotrya but there are also other species you could experiment with.

This is one of the first plants people ask about in our butterfly garden because it’s such a grand spectacle!

Purchase a Popcorn Plant Here



8. Buddleia davidii (butterfly bush)

Butterfly bush attracts monarchs, many other butterflies, hummingbirds, bees, and moths. If you live in a region where it’s a tender perennial (USDA hardiness zones 5-6) it’s not a sure thing next spring.

When it comes back, it’s always a top nectar plant in the butterfly garden:

Butterfly bush is a tender perennial in hardiness zone 5, which makes it a butterfly magnet to consider overwintering indoors in northern regions.

Find a Butterfly Bush Here


I hope this gives you some helpful ideas about which annual plants you could bring in this winter. If you’re looking for more ideas check out my Butterfly Plants Page.

Once you’ve decided which plants to bring indoors click the link for 12 tips on overwintering butterfly plants indoors.

For more tips and ideas on the best butterfly plants to overwinter, see the comments section below…
Share the Joy of Butterflies

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56 Comments

  1. HELP

    this is my second year raising Monarchs and really enjoyed taking care of my “babies”. I used the large cage this year and found it to be great however I have a problem…………..I can’t figure out how to fold it for storage. Is there a way? I remember unfolding it this spring when it exploded into full size and jumped off the table. My scream brought the entire family running. I don’t remember how it folded though. Are there any instructions?

  2. Hi Tony,
    I’m in SE Michigan, zone 6. I want to over winter some tropical milkweed and balloon plant. I thought I read somewhere that you keep your overwintering milkweeds on your 3 seasoned porch? If so, does it not get below freezing? I do not really have an area where I can set up a grow room, so was thinking of taking clippings from my mature plants outside and set them on a window sill..I do have access to a 3 season porch, that gets tons of sun, but it’s not heated and gets very cold in the middle of winter.
    Thanks for any advice
    Matt

  3. Hi Tony,
    What was the ratio of hydrogen peroxide to water to spray to try and avoid the fungus gnats? Thanks

  4. Greetings Tony,

    Thanks for providing this excellent forum. I have a garden I tend at a public school. My incarnata is in its third year. Last year it looked full and wonderful. This year, the plants continually snap off near the top. Have you ever heard of this problem?

    At first I wondered if someone wasn’t coming out and cutting it for their caterpillars. I also considered vandalism, or if some animal was eating it. Lately, I find the top still hanging loosely to the the stalk as if it “gave way” to a strong wind. I haven’t solved this mystery yet. Any ideas?

  5. My poor Monarchs are falling prey to young inexperienced blujays that take one bite and then toss them.

    I’m wanting to grow milkeeeds with the highest cardenaloids to give my Monarchs their best chances of protection to enhance their survival rate.
    Any suggestions?
    Pam

  6. Can I plant pyrethrum daisy near butterfly milk weed? the petals are used in organic pesticides. I was thinking it could keep away unwanted insects from eating the monarchs by planting it next to the milkweed, but then I was thinking it may keep away the monarchs. Does anyone know if it is safe?

  7. Hi Tony,
    re your Monarcula shirts–

    Sadly, I don’t like the whole premise. I work with kids in nature. What I have been seeing is children who spend little time outdoors in nature….and who know little about it. (These are kids in outer suburbs/rural areas.) Overall, both girls and boys are much more squeamish about insects of any type now. Given the current Zika headlines I fear the Monarcula concept might make some of these kids (and adults) think that Monarchs might bite them. Absurd I know, but as the pundits keep telling us…we have entered the Post-Truth Era. I fear that even an obvious tongue-in-cheek image might influence these nature deprived kids to dislike insects even more than they already do. Monarchs need all the friends they can get.

  8. “Annuals”

    Might I suggest that you change the wording slightly?

    Many of the plants listed above are truly Perennials but treated as Annuals in one’s garden. I have great success over-wintering Lantana in my garage and have one plant on its 3rd season this year.

    At Powell Gardens East of Kansas City, they have a Lantana that is something like 10 years old and it is HUGE! 🙂 I believe that they over-winter it in a greenhouse.

    Here in Zone 5B I over winter a LOT as I am a big time zone pusher.

    For those who have the space, it is worth a try. But, if your garage is unheated and gets below freezing, you likely will not have great results.

    1. Hi David, sometimes trying to be too ‘technically’ correct with wording causes confusion. If you can think of a better word, I’m open to suggestions…we will definitely be overwintering lantana again this season…Enjoy the migration!

      1. I think these would be considered “tender perennials”.

  9. I want to over-winter my Mexican torch vine indoors. Zone 9+. Would you suggest in an unheated garage by a window or indoors? I’ve over-wintered Amaryllis in the garage so thought maybe could do that with the Mexican torch vine too. Same question for Lantana, zone 8+?

  10. I am confused by this article on “overwintering.” I cannot tell if only some plants need to be brought inside, or if “overwintering” always involves bringing the plants inside. I live in Michigan, zone 4.

  11. I have about 40 Hairy Balls milkweed plants in pots that I started in November 2015. They’ve given me quite a few seeds but I’d like to keep the existing plants over the winter. Should they be cut down or left full size? Can I take cuttings from them and if so, should they be placed in water or soil? Thanks!

    1. Hi Larry, I cut mine back. I’ve actually been more impressed starting from seed than with second year plants…you might want to try both and see what works best…

  12. When I was collecting seeds from my tropical milkweed plants back in June, a lot of the fluff got away from me in the garden (ok, I’ll confess……I deliberately allowed a lot of it to drift away and reseed throughout the neighborhood.) I wasn’t sure if the seeds would germinate on top of the ground but they did and there were seedlings growing everywhere throughout the area (including my own yard) when the Monarchs began arriving in mid-August. Last week, I potted up some of the small seedlings and brought them indoors for overwintering and will take cuttings from those in January or February if I want more plants for next spring.

    I cut back my Duranta erecta ‘Sweet Memories’ yesterday and will be moving it indoors later this week. Such a beautiful plant and attracts many pollinators. I didn’t see any Monarchs visiting it this year but the Painted Ladies really love it and the Cabbage Whites.

    Passiflora incarnata is hardy here in zone 6 so it stays in the ground. It doesn’t attract many butterflies but I did find a variegated fritillary caterpillar on the vines one year. The flowers are dominated by bumble bees though. They get so drunk on the nectar, they can’t fly away in the evening when the flowers are closing so they just sleep it off overnight nestled in the coronas.

    I have several types of tropical bulbs that require digging and storing over winter. Some attract butterflies and some don’t. Black swallowtails seem to enjoy the zephyranthes but only the yellow and not the other colors.

    Just received several packages of seeds today from a couple of the vendors you have listed on this site. Plan to grow Mexican Sunflower ‘torch’ next year. Grew it once years ago and it was a Monarch and Swallowtail magnet, also loved by the hummingbirds and a host of pollinators. Cardinals really appreciated the seed heads over the winter as well. Lots of bang for your buck with this flower. Also, purchased some white incarnata milkweed seeds which I’m going to start in pots and grow indoors over winter. Might winter sow a few of the seeds in the garden too. Will they bloom next summer or will I have to wait until 2017 for flowers?

    Lynne

    1. Hi Lynne…it sounds like your garden is really coming along! I’m glad to hear you are reintroducing ‘torch’ to your garden, as its one one the BEST nectar flowers for attracting monarchs and other pollinators.

      Swamp milkweed from seed won’t flower until the second season, but you could always fall plant plants if you can find them. good luck!

      Milkweed Resources Page

      1. Both me, bees, hummers and butterflies love Tithonia (mexican sunflower)! Yesterday I had 7 Monarchs on some of my Tithonia at the same time about 4 PM.

        It is not only a great nectar source, but it has a very long blooming period. Here in Northwest Missouri Zone 5B, I start Tithonia early (March or April) in my basement grow area and have blooms by June. They will then bloom til frost ~ October 20 or so.

  13. Can I now plant my seeds I ordered here in MN? October
    Any special dirt or place to plant?
    Please email me because I want to plant correctly.
    Janis

  14. Hi
    I live in the Pacific Northwest North of Seattle and I have a Pride Of Madeira that is growing it’s first year. It has grown really good for it’s first year. So my question is, how hard is it to dig up and pot my Pride Of Madeira?
    I have a lot of time invested into my plant and I don’t want it to die. So how hard is it to dig up and what do you recommend me to do this?
    I would be greatful for any help that you can give me on this.
    Thank you so much again and I hope that you are having a fantastic day!
    John

    1. Hi John, it was to dig the first season and I cut back all the foliage….this season the plants have gotten much bigger but still not flowered so I’m not sure if I’m bringing them in. I will update this post with photos from this season’s overwintered plants when it’s time to bring them in.

  15. I am in Zone 6 SW Indiana. I have over 20 milkweed plants with yellow flowers and skinny beanlike pods. They reached a ht. of 4′ this year. How do I know if they are only supposed to be annuals? Is my only option to bring them inside? Could I just take the seeds and plant those in the garden for next year instead?

    1. Hi Nancy, it sounds like you have ‘silky gold’ tropical milkweed.

      Your plants might come back if you put a few inches of leaf mulch around them (hardiness zone is 8a but people have reported them coming back in cooler zones)

      Starting with plants/cuttings is much easier than starting with seeds and gives you a much longer bloom period. Bringing in just two potted plants would give you another 20 (at least) for next season. Here’s how:

      Grow Tropical Milkweed from Cuttings

      Try planting some seeds too and see how much longer they take compared to the cuttings. good luck!

      1. I live in the Southern Calif. area. We are getting information that the Tropical Milkweed plants from Mexico are infected with the O.E. parasite. What resources can you give me to look into that claim. i watched a video on YouTube called “Save the Monarch Butterfly” Do Not plant Tropical AKA Mexican Milkweed.

  16. Hi, Tony. I just read your link on “Calatropis Procera”… I must say that it’s the best information that I have come across, so far. If you are able to add anything to what your link provides, I would still appreciate it. Thanks, again. Shirley Barnhart

    1. I will be sure to post updates Shirley…it has been slow growing up north but I think next year will be the year it finally takes off.

      1. Hi, Tony. I am afraid to put it in the ground mostly because of the projected size! I am hoping that I can keep it “trimmed” to a manageable size! I only have one, right now, but as I prune it, I will try to root what I cut. If pruning & rooting is successful next summer, maybe I might consider putting one in the ground in 2016! Meanwhile, I will keep checking back to see if you learn more! Thank you! Sincerely, Shirley

  17. Hello, Tony. I know that I read it somewhere, but I can’t remember, so could please tell me your location?
    I am in zone 9a, Houston TX. I am enjoying browsing all your articles, jumping from one link to the next, and I find them easy to read/follow as well as picking up so much information that I didn’t realize I needed to know! One of the plants you listed here really caught my attention… Calatropis Procera. I purchased one a few weeks ago. It’s about 3.5 ft tall & had flowers in bloom, plus a few more clusters of buds. I transplanted it from a gallon pot to a larger pot (15″ wide x 14″ tall). I thought I was losing it when a couple of leaves started to yellow & then fell off. I breathed a sigh of relief, when I recently noticed what appears to be new growth sprouting! I haven’t been able to find out much information on this plant, as it’s not readily available & there’s no documented information yet. I have read that it can be invasive in tropical areas, thru both seeds & roots, which is why I potted it. I hope that keeping it potted will contain the roots & hopefully the size, as I plan to collect seed pods, & that would be hard to do so if it grows to 15 feet! I can’t let it get invasive… I live in a subdivision, and my neighbors wouldn’t appreciate it! My question: Do you keep yours potted? My research spoke of it “not liking ‘rocky’ ground (my guess is that it has trouble getting the roots thru), and I worry that it won’t like being contained!
    Also, if you could share any information, tips, dos & don’t, I would greatly appreciate it!! Please feel free to email me your response, as I realize that this may be too much “off topic” for this link. Thank you. Sincerely, Shirley

    1. Hi Shirley, you are one of the first to try this newer (to North America) milkweed variety. I am located in Minnesota, so I had to bring it in again for the winter. I’m not sure how problematic the root system is, but it could present a seeding problem since it grows like a “tree”, and you wouldn’t be able to remove all the seed pods.

      If I was in a warm region, I would probably try growing it in a couple different conditions to see what it likes best. I will be sure to post updates as I learn more about this plant.

  18. Hi Tony,
    I live in southwest florida, zone 9b. Last year was mt first year with tropical milkweed and monarchs. There were actually several large caterpillars on my plants when I purchased them. All were raised successfully and released. I then planted 10 plants around my yard which grew well and produced over 60 cats that I raised in a butterfly house. After the first batch of cats I them back. They were very slow to recover and are now I am finding more eggs. My annual milkweed (yellow flowers) are dying back and I am concerned that I won’t have enough for my last cats. Do you keep most of plants in pots so you can move them around or bring them in for the winter? Or do you dig up and pot plants to bring indoors? Should I take cuttings from what I assume are the annual milkweed. They never produced pods as the cats devoured them.

  19. Hi Tony-

    I live in sunny Southern California and was employed as a Parks Gardener for the City of Laguna Beach for nearly thirty years before recently retiring.

    E. fastuosum is one of our core plant species that is planted virtually throughout all of our parks due to its ease of growth here and the beautiful huge inflorescences they produce. Word of caution when pruning back: E. fastuosum resents cutting back past where the leaves grow out of the stems. In my experience, cutting well below this point causes that branch to wither and die. I would cut back to just above three or four leaf whorls to be safe. They are VERY drought tolerant, so be careful not to over water when dormant. They will tolerate varying degrees of soil moisture. I was surprised at times at how much moist soil they can tolerate, they being a Mediterranean plant. About the only place they bombed out was in mucky soils. In constantly moist soils, E. Fastuosum grew very fast and very large, but died premature deaths (4-5 years) vs. those planted in soils that thoroughly dried out for a week or two at a time. These on the average lasted 10-15 years easily here in coastal So Cal.

    1. Wonderful info, thanks for posting this Andy! I’m expecting our plants to finally flower next year. They didn’t seem to happy in their spot this season, so they’ll be planted in a sunnier locale next spring.

      Mine aren’t dormant. I’m overwintering indoors, near a south facing window. I also have cfl bulbs overhead. They look happy so far and are all putting out new foliage. Thank you for sharing your experience with these…I’m sure it will be helpful to many in this community!

  20. I don’t think I’ll overwinter anything – but I do plan on winter sowing, which I did last year, with decent results. I have both tropical milkweed and Lantana miss huff – and I hope the lantana comes back. If the tropical dies that’s fine I have plenty of seeds. And if anyone wants tropical milkweed seeds, I will be happy to share.

    1. Hi Meredith, not sure where you are located but good luck with your plants. If they’re tender perennials for your region, leaf mulch works wonders!

    2. I would love to have a few tropical milkweed seeds. I am just getting into this because I found a female Monarch ( I named her Katie) with crumpled wings about 3 weeks ago. She died, but because of her, I have decided to make a Monarch garden along my tree line. I won’t be planting till next year but I need all the ideas and seeds I can get.
      I also have milkweed growing in my hayfield that is getting to be a problem….it is very toxic to horses. There must be 1000 plants at least. It gets cut in July – just when the monarchs are arriving here. I would love to be able to contain an area just for the Monarchs but how? … how far underground do the root runners go? Is it even possible to control?
      I am ordering some seeds and will start them indoors, but I would like a big variety.
      I live in Michigan – our winters are tough and long, but not as bad as Minnesota!

  21. Hi Tony I’m a new comer on your site but I’m learning lots fast. I just read something negative about the tropical milkweed. I think is was about the milkweed that doesn’t die in the winter. ( like in Florida) Is it safe to plant the tropical milkweed and even more so is it safe to overwinter it? I live about 25 miles south of Chicago.

    1. Hi Gail, the main issues with tropical milkweed are in warmer regions where it grows year round. It can potentially stop monarchs from finishing the migration and cause disease from overuse. These aren’t issues in the upper midwest…

      I’ve heard it suggested that monarchs will stay too late in cold regions if there is viable milkweed. We have planted tropical milkweed the past six years and the monarchs still migrate on time. I do raise eggs/caterpillars I find outside in late August- early September to make sure metamorphosis isn’t slowed down by cool temps. Tropical milkweed is a great nectar source for monarchs during the migration, and a popular host plant in July-August.

      Some people are against planting tropical solely because it’s a non-native plant. We plant lots of native and non-native milkweed and the monarchs utilize them all at different points in the season. It’s really a personal decision, but if you want to attract more monarchs I’ve found it to be a valuable addition to our butterfly garden.

  22. Hi Tony,
    I agree and there has not been a winter when I have tried and successfully overwintered some tender perennials. I just need my lantanas and some other tropical things to help my gardening spirit feel better about the long, bleak, cold Indiana winters via fluorescent lights in the basement.. Does the tropical milkweed bloom under growth lights I wonder? Look forward to your next posts. Have you tried hybridizing your tropical milkweeds? Brian from Ossian.

    1. Hi Brian,

      lantanas are great option too…I overwintered some last year.

      The psychological boost of caring for plants in the dead of winter is a nice side-effect! Thanks for mentioning that…

      I have not used grow lights on overwintered plants. Just natural light from a sotuh facing window…which probably attributed to my two plant deaths last season.

      Tropical blooms WITHOUT grow lights so I would imagine it would bloom even more with them. I’m Looking forward to seeing the difference with new grow lights this winter….a tropical paradise in mid-winter. Sounds nice!

  23. Tony,
    I will have do some research what I need to over-winter. This will be my first winter here in Central Florida. I know we do get a few frosts, but I am not sure what is killed off. Or if I need to bring my Tropical Milkweeds in. I do have several Passionflower vines I will ask about. Plus they really are an investment. I am wondering if bringing them close to the house will keep or placing them on the porch is shelter enough. I like you Mexican flame Vine!

    1. Hi Marcy,

      tropical milkweed is a perennial for USDA hardiness zones 8 and up so I wouldn’t worry about overwintering in Florida. Mexican flame vine should grow well in Florida too. it’s cold hardy for zone 9a and above.

    2. You will not need to bring it in ( I live in Texas – I don’t) but to keep the aphids under control you need to cut it down to about 6 inches in height.

      1. Hi Diana, in southern states with long growing seasons it’s probably less beneficial…although when the monarchs came back early this season, there was a milkweed shortage in Texas. More tropical milkweed would have been helpful!

        1. Last winter my tropical milkweed died in a 27 degree freeze in december. (central Texas, Georgetown) I had a few plants that I had sheltered, covered with a lightbulb inside, under a porch overhang. They survived, but were not enough to provide adequate forage for early spring migration. This year I am prepared. I have four plants growing in a small bay window in my kitchen. I also have 20 cuttings in distilled water on the windowsill. I know it is a bit early, but a chomped down plant provided opportunity for cuttings. And I had brought in the plants to have sterile replacements for my cage. I will shortly be releasing about 2 dozen Monarchs. Did not need the window plants.

    3. Marcy,

      I live in SW Missouri and the Purple Passion Flower grows wild here in our field. I would like to dig some up in the the spring, but they are so intertwined with all the weeds, trees and wildflowers that I don’t even know if it is feasible. Maybe I should go and buy one! So it should overwinter in Florida.

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