Transplant the butterfly weed into a permanent bed in spring just after the last frost. If planting butterfly weed in clay soil, dig in 2 to 4 inches of compost to lighten the soil, or consider building raised beds to increase drainage.
Place the butterfly weed seeds in a plastic bag filled with 1 cup of moistened perlite. Store the bag inside the refrigerator for three months. Mist the perlite with water every few days to keep it from drying out completely.
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.
Water the butterfly weed seeds whenever the compost feels barely damp when pressed. Apply the water by the spoonful or use a spray bottle to keep from dislodging the seeds.
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.
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.
Leave the bucket outdoors for two or three days to let the fluff blow away. Stir the seeds occasionally to loosen more fluff. Do not worry if some of the fluff remains, since it won’t inhibit the germination process.
Apart from its flowers, it seed pods also holds a different kind of beauty.
If a month passes and seedlings have not shown their heads, try putting the flat back into your refrigerator for another month or so. Then take it out and try again.
Is Butterfly Weed Hard to Grow?
Once you’ve sown the seeds, put the entire flat inside of a clear plastic bag and place it in your refrigerator.
It’s worth noting that you may wish to try planting butterfly weed in several different locations as it can be somewhat temperamental about conditions.
Read our article about Aphids on Milkweed
Other planting options: Place dry seed (not stratified) in seed starting soil and plant in peat pots under a grow light or in a greenhouse to germinate seeds. The success rate for this is low and more difficult to accomplish. If you choose to use this option it can take months for the seeds to germinate.
Planting In Fall: If you’re planting Milkweed seed in the fall, let nature do the cold stratification for you! There is no need to place your seeds in the refrigerator before planting, you can plant seeds directly into the soil after there have been a few frosts in your area. This allows for the seeds to remain dormant for the winter and come up in the early spring. Clear away any existing growth and using your index finger to measure, create 1.5" holes for each Milkweed seed. We recommend spacing seeds about 4-6” apart. Place a seed in each hole and cover. Water thoroughly.
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Transplanting Milkweed (Asclepias) Seedling Outdoors
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Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa) is one of our great North American native flowers with rich Indian and medicinal history. The brilliant orange blooms light up meadows dramatically, and of course, visits by butterflies are a bonus. This wildflower, also prized as a garden perennial, is not easy to grow, but once established, is a tough, dependable colormaker.
If you are planting seed outside, we suggest seeding in late fall, and let the Milkweed seed lay on the ground through winter. Milkweed seed will have a long winter of dormancy, so once the sun comes out and the ground warms in the spring, the seeds will germinate on their own.
Once your seedling is planted, water it for a few days to get it established, but after that, the plant doesn’t need a lot of supplemental water. Only water if you have an unusual dry spell. Peat pots are nice to use, but you need to be sure there is no top edge above the soil line after transplanting. In dry climates, this will wick away valuable soil moisture. A small 2 1/2″ diameter x 3 in. deep pot is ideal. Asclepias are somewhat finicky native plants. So minimizing the time growing in a pot and transplanting them as young plants is the best approach.