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growing butterfly weed from seed indoors

Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) is a native plant that comes from the prairie regions of the midwestern United States. It goes by several other names including orange milkweed, pleurisy root, and Indian paintbrush.

A big benefit to butterfly weed is that it rarely has pest or disease problems.

What Is Butterfly Weed?

Butterfly weed should not be confused with butterfly bush, a non-native plant that is considered invasive throughout most of the U.S. In fact, it’s a good alternative to butterfly bush, which can crowd out native plants that are important for wildlife.

As far as garden design goes, you’ll definitely want to plant butterfly weed where you’ll see it often so that you can enjoy the butterflies that flock to it.

The seeds need the cold period of winter in order to germinate in the spring. You can sow them directly into your garden in late fall (usually November).

Watch for germination in two to three weeks. Turn off the propagation mat one week after the seeds sprout. Move the pots into a cold frame outdoors or against a south-facing wall with noonday shade.

Gather the butterfly weed seeds in late summer or autumn, once the pods dry to a light, rosy-beige color, but before they split open. Put on rubber gloves before handling the pods to protect your hands from the mildly toxic sap.

Prepare peat or other biodegradable pots before removing the butterfly weed seeds from the refrigerator. Fill 3-inch starter pots with a mixture of half seed-starting compost and half coarse sand. Moisten the mix and press it firm.

Sometimes called pleurisy root, butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) is a perennial wildflower grown for its showy, reddish-orange flower clusters and textured, lanceolate leaves. A member of the milkweed family, it thrives throughout U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 3 to 9, where it is frequently added to butterfly gardens and native plant landscaping.

Butterfly weed and milkweed seed pods may be harvested and planted to support Monarch butterfly caterpillars. Butterfly weed grows well from seeds, which must be harvested in late summer and either sown immediately in the garden, or started in spring after a lengthy chilling process. The seeds are viable and will germinate with little care, although they must be planted at the appropriate depth to ensure successful sprouting.

Before you begin to harvest the butterfly weed pods, sterilize your cutting tools. Dip the blades into a full-strength household cleanser, such as Lysol or Pine-Sol. Repeat between cuts to prevent the spread of diseases.

Arrange the starter pots on a propagation mat near a source of bright, indirect light such as near a partly shaded south-facing window. Set the temperature on the propagation mat to 86 F during the day. Turn it off at night.