How To Grow Milkweed Plants From Cuttings

Milkweed Cuttings Make Plant Propagation A Snip

Though seed starting has its place, I never realized all the unnecessary time I was wasting until I started growing tropical milkweed from cuttings.
How To Grow Milkweed from Cuttings- Asclepias Curassavica All Summer Long
Have Blooms Like This All Summer

While starting seeds indoors always gave me satisfaction of seeing my baby plants magically transform each summer, there were definitely lots of growing pains along the way:

  • Bad seeds can put your garden way behind schedule (or force you to buy plant$)


  • Seedlings can get leggy unless you use anto promote stronger stems


  • Fragile seedlings can die inside


  • Fragile seedlings can die during outdoor transplanting


  • Seedlings can drown, bake, or get blown away


  • Did I mention our  rambunctious four-legged friends?…Oh Deer!
The dramatic difference when you grow from cuttings VS starting tropical milkweed seeds. Learn how to take your own cuttings and never run out of milkweed for your monarch caterpillars again!
Starting Seeds VS Cuttings

While milkweed seeds can do the job, they just don’t measure up to cuttings…especially in the case of annual varieties (for most) like swan milkweed (Gomphocarpus fruticosus), and tropical milkweed (Asclepias curassavica).

After your first season starting milkweed seeds, you’ve basically won the ‘milkweed lotto’ for life if you take advantage of your mature plants…you won’t even have to pay taxes!

Tropical milkweed varieties are prime species for winter cuttings since they can be overwintered indoors. When trying to propagate native milkweed, it’s easier to take summer cuttings for outdoor fall planting.

Milkweed Cuttings Benefits

  • No pots, no soil, no mess if you keep the cuttings in water
  • Doesn’t require grow lights, window placement will suffice
  • Require minimal care compared to seeds
  • Cuttings will grow, flower, and seed much quicker than seedlings
  • Cuttings are strong, sturdy, and dependable for transplanting
  • Plant cuttings are the gift that keeps giving…100% free!

Check out this quick how to grow from cuttings video to see how much simpler your milkweed prep can be:

Tips to Grow from Cuttings (UPDATED AFTER VIDEO)

A Step by Step Tutorial for Growing Tropical Milkweed from Stem Cuttings. Growing milkweed has never been so easy...and so fast!


  • Root overwintering plants anytime between January and March. Start at least one month before planting outside


  • Fill cuttings containers (I use 20oz clear plastic cups) with distilled water (not tap water) because it has a neutral PH level and no additives or elements that could potentially harm developing plants


  • Place plastic wrap over each cup and secure it with a rubber band


  • Use gloves or wash hands thoroughly after handling milkweed to avoid getting milkweed sap in your eyes later. This can cause burning and a few unfortunate souls have even had to go to the emergency room for treatment.


  • Make sure you only take milkweed cuttings from your healthiest plants


  • Take cuttings under water or rinse cut area afterwards to insure water uptake


  • Use a hand pruner or scissors


  • Cut at an angle just below a leaf node (while this is not as important for tropical milkweed, it’s a good habit to get into for taking cuttings in general)


  • Your stem cutting should be roughly 4″ long or 3-5 leaf nodes


  • Pinch off all foliage (except the top two leaves). Leaves submerged in water can cause bacteria and give off an unpleasant odor


  • Pierce the plastic with a small phillips-head screwdriver and then put each cutting through the plastic, except for the top stem and leaves. The cuttings should not be touching the bottom of the glass


  • Using a cloning machine? We replaced our foam inserts with rockwool cubes because the foam was causing the cuttings to rot at the insertion point. We still use foam to cover the holes where there aren’t any cuttings.


  • Place cuttings in an area away from direct sunlight, but receiving some light. Ours are on a table where they get a couple hours of dappled sunlight every afternoon. This has worked well for root growth.


  • Change cutting water and rinse out container every week to avoid fungus and disease


  • Cuttings can be potted or transplanted after 1-2 months (or after you see a few roots emerging from them)


  • Fall cuttings give you a huge head start and more cuttings to choose from (however, you’ll have to pot the plants indoors after a couple months to prevent rotting)


  • If stems start rotting transplant into potting soil immediately and place by a window that gets (at least) two hours of sunlight per day. For more rigorous growth, place under grow lights or increase sun exposure

How To Grow Tropical Milkweed Cuttings in Water

A Cloning Bucket can also be used to start milkweed stem cuttings and other butterfly plants. Clone bucket systems will grow roots faster than just submerging cuttings in a glass of water.

So, a few months after taking milkweed cuttings, what can you expect??

Just a few months after taking tropical milkweed cuttings to start a new patch, the plants have flowered and even started producing milkweed seeds- Grow from Cuttings


    • says

      Hi LeeAnn, definitely not a silly question! I’m not sure if there’s a “right” answer to this. If you don’t have a true “hydroponics” set up, the longer they are left in water, the more likely the stems could rot. You have plenty of options though.

      1. Taking cuttings from a potted plant (end feb/early Mar)
      2. Take fall Cuttings and after a couple months in water, pot them
      3. Use a hydroponic system to prevent disease issues

      I am experimenting with #3 this fall and will post about my new set up. Starting with cuttings can give you a fantastic (and free) head start on the season, Tony

  1. Tim Hoover says

    I’m very interested in rooting Asclepias tuberosa. You mention leaving the cuttings in the water for a few months. Do you change the water/ad as it evaporates? How frequently?

    • says

      Hi Tim, I am using a new hydroponic system this fall to prevent root rot and I will be posting about this as I set it up. If you sign up for my newsletter in the top right column, you’ll be alerted as soon as this info is posted.

    • says

      Hi Tim, if you are leaving the cuttings in plain water, it does need to be changed weekly to avoid stem rot. It’s best to take fall cuttings for tuberosa, although some people successfully grow it in pots.

      I will be experimenting with summer/fall cuttings of tuberosa this year. Because of weather and deer, 2013 was a catastrophic year for our tuberosa. Hoping for a big turnaround in 2014…

      • says

        Tim, I’m replying again while I’m thinking about this. I will be experimenting with tuberosa/incarnata next summer/fall, but the info I’m finding suggests dipping those cuttings in rooting hormone and planting in soil.

        I’ll let you know when I have the definitive answer…

        • Bird says

          So after cutting it just dip the cut ends in something like miracle grow and put it directly in soul? That would be cool, there are some really large milkweed bushes, very full, I was going to find who’s property it was on and ask if I could dig it up and transplant in my yard, but this way I can just get a few starters off of it.

          • says

            Hi Bird,

            I have always rooted tropical milkweed in water, but I have heard it can also be planted directly in soil. You might want to use rooting hormone to increase your odds of success. If you are talking about native milkweed, butterfly weed can also be rooted in water and soil. I’m trying some experiments with swamp milkweed and will report those findings in another post…

  2. Tommy says

    Can you grow swamp milkweed or any others hydroponically? Like not just to root cuttings, but to actually grow the whole plant and have it thrive. The reason I ask is because I’m always looking for new, unusual riparium candidates. An added bonus with using cuttings for this purpose, is that I essentially don’t have to pay for the plant.

    • says

      Hi Tommy, both swamp and tropical can be rooted in water. I don’t have a true hydroponic system so I only left mine in a couple months. I know someone that rooted tropical in water and grew the plant over the entire winter until it flowered so I know this works with tropical. Swamp will root in water, but not sure about flowering. Tropical blooms the entire season while swamp has a “bloom period”. Sounds like a good experiment!

  3. Jamie says

    This really is a very easygoing plant. Cuttings quickly grew out roots in water, and now are are growing (small) new leaves/spindly branches as well. But several months to go before they’d be ready to use in our cooler climate. In your experience, should overwintering cuttings be trimmed periodically? Or left alone? Or cut back when re-planted in the Spring?

    • says

      Hi Jamie,

      I am actually using a new hydroponics system this fall and will be posting about it soon. If you leave the cuttings in a plain glass of water, it’s possible that the stems will rot. I didn’t have an issue with this my first year, but last winter I did.

      I have never trimmed my plants back, but they didn’t get much light and their wasn’t a ton of growth. This winter could be different. Tropical milkweed will bloom while being overwintered so you might not want to trim it back.

      Regardless, I do trim them back before replanting them. For potted plants, I place them outside in lots of shade so they can get re-acclimated to an outdoor climate. If you put them out in sun right away the leaves will burn and then you HAVE to trim.

      Cuttings are FAR easier than starting seeds. I will post about hydroponics in the next week or so…

      • Jamie says

        Thanks so much for sharing your experience.

        Looking at the multiple water-root locations, can’t help but wonder if Tropical Milkweed would be like a tomato plant: if you buried a long part of the stem, would it just root all along it? (Probably could have tried it if the the last plant hadn’t been “diced” for cuttings…)

        Good luck with the hydroponics experiments. Will look forward to your postings.

        • says

          Hi Jamie,

          maybe that’s something to test next spring. Tropical roots easily in water though. They’ll likely have a higher survival rate with some roots already established. Going to the hydroponics store this week…will keep you posted!

        • Helen says

          I’m growing tropical milkweed from seed and as soon as those seedlings get tall I’m going to try that. Because I’ve noticed the same thing about the rooting habit of the tropical milkweed.

  4. Nelson says

    What if your plant has flowered and show a seed pod? Can you use that for a cutting or cut from a stalk that has not flowered?

    • says

      Hi Nelson, since tropical milkweed doesn’t have a growth cycle like other milkweeds (it blooms continuously) you can take cuttings from it any time. I have used stalks from flowering buds before. Whatever I use, I take off all foliage/flower growth except the top two leaves to insure the cutting puts energy into rooting.

  5. Jennifer Gallagher says

    Great u tube video, Tony on how to make use of milkweed by cuttings. I will definitely be trying this since milkweed is becoming so difficult to find! Thank You!

    • Bird says

      Jennifer, it was hard to find around here too. I bought milkweed seeds from Monarch Weighstation and Monarchway, I got alot, and the last couple years I have been planting it all over Fostoria. I talked to the city parks and told them I need to know where they don’t spray, just a little bug spray will kill those lovely catapillers, and I planted them there. I gave some to the school and they made it an educational experience for their students and even had me come speak about how important it is and what to look for so not to hurt the Monarch eggs. Now, I always have milkweed to find.

  6. Jim Baines says

    Do you know if this cutting procedure will work with Antelope horns Asclepias asperula?
    It seems like the perfect technique to establish milkweed in your garden. I am also experimenting with Hierba de Zizotes.

    • says

      Hi Jim, I have not tried starting asperula or the similar species viridis from cuttings. If you are trying A. asperula and A. oenotheroides this season, please post your results! Otherwise, I will post an update when I take viridis cuttings next season.

    • Susan P says

      Did Jim have any success rooting cuttings of Asclepias asperula (antelope horns) or other native milkweeds?

  7. Dave says

    Great website, Tony. Q: Can I take more than one cutting from the same stem? I have a first year tropical plant in the ground with four stems and I am wondering if I can cut several starters from each stem and have a bunch of plants for the spring. If so, how much stem should I leave on the plant in the ground? I am in Southern California.

    • says

      I’ve never tried that before Dave, but my guess is that it would work. I will also try that this fall and post the results. You can cut back your plants to about 6″. You might want to experiment with one stem before cutting them all. Good luck!

  8. Kate says

    Thanks so much. I have found it really hard to find info about starting cuttings. I bought some beautiful ones over the summer so I know what they should look like. I still have a few in pots that I brought inside. I will try this method with them and see if I can turn a few into many. I’ll write back with my results. It would be great to know for sure which varieties can and can not be started from cuttings, so many kinds. Common, for example, do you know if common can be started from cuttings?

    • says

      Hi Kate, a community member left this comment on my native cuttings post (which needs to be edited for next season) This is what i am going to try next summer and will post more info then:

      “I start cuttings using a powder rooting hormone>>>”Green Light Rooting Hormone”__Home Depot , gardening stores.

      The protocol is 5_ simple steps:

      1. With a knife scrape a several inch area at the bottom area of the stem.

      2. Dip this area in water.

      3. Then dip stem in the powder root Hormone, shake off excess power.

      4. With a pencil punch a hole in the growth medium (potting soil)

      5. Insert cutting into prepared soil and firm wit your fingers. Keep cuttings in a light shady area. With a plastic spray bottle st spray to a mist setting. Spray soil and leaves of the cutting.

      This protocol is used by commercial growers/nurseries”

  9. Kim says

    I live in New Orleans, where winters are mild. I grow Tropical Milkweed all over my yard. Every so often I cut back my milkweed as it gets 5-6′ tall and leggy (this encourages more growth). I stick the cuttings down in the washtub dirt and keep them watered, and most all of them grow new plants! Sometimes I think one will be dead and pull it up, only to find it green and rooting beneath the soil :) Plants at the nursery run $8-9 for small plants, so this is definitley a money-saver for me and helps the Monarchs!! I have not had much luck at all growing the smaller-leafed, bushier type of milkweed, but tropical variety is so easy here!

    • says

      Thanks for sharing this Kim. Tropical is the easiest milkweed to propagate with cuttings (dirt or water). Rooting hormone is helpful for starting other varieties with this method.

  10. Joan Maffei says

    Hi Tony,
    Your video inspired me to try propagating from cuttings. The day before our temps in Central TX plunged to freezing, I cut back my potted MW. At a local thrift store, I found some tall glasses. Trimming and constructing only took a couple of hours. I arranged the glasses on a shelf in a moderately sunny bathroom:

    Tropical Cuttings in Glasses by Community Member Joan

    Thanks for the great video.

  11. bobby says

    Hey, I saw your milkweed video, but I wonder if you can answer something for me about butterfly weed.
    If I want to root stem cuttings, can I root each stem that has a flower at the top? Or just the stem that all of the collective flowers are on?

    Like, if you look at the image I attached, would I just be able to get one cutting from that big stem, or could I root each little stem that has a flower on it?

    I hope I am saying it right, and if you have time to answer that would be cool.

    • says

      Hi Bobby, the cuttings need to be from the actual stems of the plant and they should be at least 4″ long. The part of the plant connected to each flower is called a pedicel.

  12. Donna Czarnecki says

    Hi Tony,
    I have about twenty tropical milkweed plants growing in pots in my basement. They are about 2-3 feet tall. Some of them are now flowering. Should I be somehow trying to do the work of bees in my basement in order for the flowers to produce the seedpods so I can get more seeds in order to grow more plants????? Or will the plants produce pods without my doing anything? I don’t want to miss out on getting more seeds that I can share with my friends.
    Also do you think that I have to keep lights on in the basement for an extended period of time in the evening? The plants are near a southern and eastern corner of my basement. The windows are at ground level.

    • says

      Hi Donna, tropical milkweed seeds prolifically during the season. I would not worry about pollinating the plants in the offseason…you could take more cuttings though and root them in water. good luck!

  13. Tudor Eynon says

    Good advice but please… I don’t know what you mean by ‘Tropical Milkweed’. There are species which Monarchs will eat and live on, but they don’t die back over winter. This means the caterpillars don’t migrate I am told. It sounds right to me, anyway best to grow native species anyway.
    Correct me if I am wrong and this is just a folk name or something like that.
    Thanks for the trouble and advice.

  14. Deb says

    Interesting! So if my baby tropical milkweeds (about 1 inch high right now) do well, I can take cutting in the fall? Cool!

  15. Kate says

    Hi, i am about to try this! Do you think plain country well water would be OK? That’s what we have. It is hard ( minerally) water but no chlorine etc. Thanks so much for the info!

  16. Pam says

    I am excited to hear that this is so easy to do with cuttings. I recently found a link from Monarch Watch to a posting that I have been getting and it suggested that the milkweed seeds don’t need to be cold stratified in order to sprout. Just put them in a cup of un-chlorinated water and in 3 days they sprout. I tried it with Asclepias tuberosa and it worked! they all sprouted in 3 days. We then popped them into some soil starting mix and they are growing great!
    Looking forward to trying to grow more from cuttings when the Asclepias tuberosa plants we got from our Monarch Watch grant are big enough to share some cuttings!

    • says

      Hi Pam, it depends on the variety. What cold stratification does do for many species is speed up and increase germination rate. I think one variable that people don’t talk about much is the quality of the seed. That makes a big difference. Good luck with your cuttings! Another fast way to start milkweed with cold moist stratification is at the bottom of this page:

      Surprising way to start milkweed seeds

  17. Holly says

    I recently bought an Asclepias tuberosa plant at a nursery. For some reason three of the stems are now laying down and one broke off. I was upset about the broken one, but thought I’d stick it in water and see what happens. I wasn’t sure if this type of plant would root from stems (this is why I’ve now been researching to see if it will). The stem broke yesterday and I cut it at an angle, stuck it in water and placed it in a window that does not get direct sunlight. The rest of the day yesterday it was droopy. As of this morning it is standing tall again. I believe I read on someone else’s thread that they’ve also gotten the tuberosa variety to root just in water. I do have rooting hormone on hand though so I’ll watch it and see. At least it has perked up though so I know it is drinking up the water. I’ve started some Swamp Milkweed by seed and I used to plant the Tropical Milkweed by seed. Tropical milkweed always had a great germination rate for me, once I understood the seeds need light. I’m not getting a great germination rate from the Swamp Milkweed. So, being able to root future cuttings will help a lot with that and I’m glad I’ve seen on your article that it can be done with that variety. While cultivating my few little seedlings that have managed to germinate, I’ll likely purchase some bigger rooted cuttings to give my Swamp Milkweed crop a boost. Thanks for your thread. All the proof I can find about rooting Asclepias cuttings is really helpful. Faith can be everything when working with plants!

    • says

      Hi Holly, swamp can be divided in spring but have not had luck with stem cuttings in water. Besides tropical, I would suggest trying hydro propagation for butterfly weed and swan milkweed. I will be doing some experiments with swan later this season and will report my results.

      also, if you want to try a seed experiment check out the bottom of this page…works for butterfly weed, tropical, swamp and more:

      Starting Seeds in Water

      Good luck with your milkweed!

  18. Andrea says

    Hi Tony!
    Thanks so much for this great page. It will save so much money to get more milkweeds planted in my other gardens for next year.
    Q 1: If I take cuttings, do I only use the end of the stem as you have demonstrated in your video? Or can I continue to take cuttings down the length of the milkweed stem and root those as well?
    Q2: If I use your stems-in-water method to feed monarch larvae, can I rinse and root the bare stem that is left behind?

    • says

      good questions Andrea! I have never taken two cuttings from a stem at the same time, but I assume it would work. I would try one to see, and then start the rest.

      For your second question: I would thoroughly rinse the cuttings first, but that should work too…good luck!

  19. Ben says

    Hi Tony,

    Very helpful site – thank you!

    I just purchased an A. curassavica (tropical milkweed I think) and am torn as to whether I should let it grow throughout the summer to feed monarchs, or to stem cutting it. Do you think it would be more valuable to the monarch population to have one plant this summer, or to have multiple stems an anticipation for the next season?

    If I do stem cut, I was wondering: some of your earlier posts / responses have mentioned directly placing stems in soil instead of to water – would you still stand by this after a couple of years of experimenting?

    Also, if I did propagate in water first, considering it’s July and very warm (I’m in the Los Angeles area), could I transfer to soil more quickly than if it were a post-winter transfer?


    • says

      Hi Ben, one tropical plant probably won’t get you too far on the west coast. You’ll get one round of eggs and then it will probably get devoured by hungry caterpillars. Since you still have plenty of season, I would consider taking cuttings now. Yes, you can try planting sooner but it’s a good idea to have 1-2″ of root to insure survival. good luck!

  20. Lou Daehnke says

    Wondering if you have tried air layering your milkweed plants? I root lots of different plants with this method – would the milkweed stem be too spindly? I have some tropical M/W growing in my back yard, will give it a try and let you know the results.

    • says

      Hi Lou, I have never tried the layering propagation technique though so interested to hear your results. Tropical milkweed is the easiest milkweed species to propagate with stem cuttings…

  21. Marie says

    I took 2 cuttings about 12″ long of Calotropis gigantean, Crown Plant. I brushed rooting hormone powder on the ends, removed most leaves and potted in a perlite coir mix. They rotted about 3 weeks later. I then took 2 more cuttings about 12″ long, left only 2 leaves, lightly scraped about 4″ and dipped this end in liquid rooting hormone. Again I potted them in perlite/coir mix and this time placed a 1 liter soda pop bottle on top of the 2 pots. Of course I had removed the bottom of the soda bottle and buried it maybe 1″ in the potting medium. About every other day I lightly misted the container through the 1″ opening so it acted as a miniature greenhouse. Now about a month later , both cuttings appear to have rooted since the existing 2 leaves and 2 more tiny looking leaves look healthy green. I think I will pot them up in one more month.

  22. Chris says

    Monarch caterpillars have eaten all of the leaves off of my tropical milkweed. I currently have 20 bare stems that are about 2.5 ft. tall each. Can I make cuttings from stems that have no leaves? If so, can I put the cuttings right into the soil or put in cup of water. If not, should I just cut it back now. Location: new Orleans date: 9/21/15

    • says

      Hi Chris, tropical milkweed roots pretty easily so that shouldn’t be a problem. I would rinse the stems thoroughly to get off potential OE spores. I have never started cuttings that large, but you can try it and see how it works or cut them down a bit. good luck!

      • chris says

        If I do not make the cuttings now, will the milkweed start making leaves again this season? They are completely bare stalks currently. Is it better to do a cutting that has some leaves on it or would a bare piece work?
        Thank you!

        • Tony Gomez says

          Hi Chris , I typically have just one set of leaves left at the top. If you don’t take cuttings your plants will come back next season…probably from the roots if the plant dies back to the ground. good luck!

          PS…a bare cutting should work

  23. Lou Daehnke says

    Well, I have tried air layering two times – the first time absolutely nothing happened (I was using damp peat moss). Then I remembered that the cuttings I rooted in water would swell where the plant was cut/bruised, and this is where the roots came from. I figured the swelling was due to auxins (root producing chemicals) gathering there, so I bruised two stalks and tried air layering the second time. Unfortunately, after waiting two weeks, nothing happened. I think it was due to the temperature dropping below the 70 F mark for almost that entire time. I cut the stalks and placed them in water in the house where it was warmer, and within three days I had roots, and yes, they emerged at the bruised, swollen site.

  24. larry weinstein says

    I purchased a tropical milkweed plant at a local nursery this summer. It has put out about 20 pods. However, the stems all have become woody … not the green color earlier in the summer. Can I still take cuttings from the plant?

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