Do you want to grow something different in your yard this year? The common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) is a great addition to any garden. The main reason gardeners like having the milkweed around is its ability to attract butterflies into the yard.
The Monarch butterfly is a big fan of the milkweed, laying its eggs on the herbaceous perennial. When the caterpillars hatch from the eggs, they feed on the milkweed leaves until they are ready to pupate and turn into the next generation of butterflies.
The milkweed grows to heights of two to four feet, depending on the growing conditions. The plant displays a vertical, thin growing habit, producing oblong leaves with a milky-green color. The long leaves provide all the food the caterpillars need to fuel the next stage of the life cycle and transform into a Monarch butterfly.
Cutting the leaves and stems of the plant produces a white, milky substance that gives the plant its moniker. The milkweed produces small star-shaped blossoms in pink, yellow, purple, or orange colors in June through August, putting on an impressive floral display. The fertilized flowers develop large seed pods, with the pods splitting open in the fall to release thousands of seeds.
The milkweed is native to the roadsides and fields across North America, and it’s suitable for growing in USDA Zones three through nine. This guide gives you everything you need to know about growing milkweed in your garden this season.
How to Grow Milkweed Plants
Growing milkweed is easy for beginner gardeners. The plant grows vigorously without much attention required during the growing season. When planting your milkweed, space them around 18-inches apart; the roots grow quickly, filling in the space between the plants.
You don’t need to fertilize your milkweed plants, and they’ll grow in just about any soil condition. The gardener’s biggest challenge in growing milkweed lies in containing the growth. As the name suggests, they have the tendency to become fairly invasive if left unmaintained for long periods.
The milkweed spreads in nature through rhizomes and seeds, forming colonies of the plants in natural locations. We recommend gardeners remove the seed pods after the plant finishes flowering to avoid them spilling onto the ground or floating in the air to other parts of the garden.
The milkweed enjoys growing in full sunlight conditions. Plant it in a spot in the garden that receives at least eight hours of sunlight each day. Since the milkweed self-sows readily, the gardener should locate the plant in an area of the yard to control the spread and prevent it from getting out of hand.
Choose a spot in the garden with protection from the wind to stop the seeds from blowing around the yard if the pods accidentally open before you get around to harvesting them. Providing cover from the wind also provides a hospitable environment for the butterflies when they arrive to lay eggs on the plant.
- Pollinator Garden - Milkweed plant is the perfect plant to grow to have your very own butterfly garden. Also great for pollinators.
- VARIETIES - The 4 varieties included in this assortment is rose, butterfly, common and showy milkweed flower seeds for planting!
- SAVE THE BUTTERFLIES - Butterflies rely on certain plants. Monarch butterflies need milk weed to help them survive.
- BEAUTIFUL - Not only are milkweed plants helpful to butterflies and bees, they are beautiful plants, with showy flowers.
- PACKETS - Each milkweeds seeds packet is printed on water resistant paper, in full color with growing and harvesting directions included. Each heirloom flowers seeds packet contains at least 400mg of seeds.
- Monarch Butterfly - Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) is the only food source for Monarch caterpillars, and grown Monarch butterflies love the plant as well. With declining Monarch populations in the US, these host plants help provide homes. Minimum of 400 mg per packet.
- Beautiful - Common Milkweed is a native to most US states. The beautiful native produces purple/pink clusters of flowers and is a favorite wildflower among gardeners.
- Pollinator Friendly -The nectar in Milkweed attracts many butterflies and bees. Milkweed also provides the necessary large leaves for caterpillars and nectar flowers for grown butterflies.
- Easy to Grow -- Instructions included on each packet with additional growing tips in the “How To” section of our website. Plus we are available to answer your questions as well. If these seed don’t germinate, we will happily make it “Right” for you.
- Safe Seed -- Sow Right Seeds has taken the Safe Seed Pledge and sells only Non-GMO heirloom seeds that are safe for you and your family.
- QUALITY - All seeds packaged by Seed Needs are intended for the current and the following growing seasons. All seeds are stored in a temperature controlled facility that is free of significant amounts of moisture.
- QUANTITY - Seed packets by Seed Needs offer generous quantities. You can share with friends and family, or save your extra seeds until the next season, if properly stored.
- PACKETS - This packet displays a beautiful illustration of the variety to be grown, as well as detailed seed sowing information on the reverse side as well. Measures 3.25” wide by 4.50” tall.
- PROMISE - Seed Needs will never knowingly supply GMO based seed products. The vast majority of our seeds are open pollinated & heirloom, with the exception of a few hybrids.
- GERMINATION - Seed Needs packets contain some of the freshest seed available. Direct from the growers. If sown correctly, you will begin seeing results in only a matter of days.
Last update on 2023-07-22 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
The milkweed, like most other weeds, relies on taproot systems. Therefore, it’s not suitable for transplanting, and the stress will typically kill the plant. The best strategy is to plant your milkweed seeds outdoors in the right spot in your flowerbeds in the fall.
This strategy gives the seeds time to go through stratification, exposing the seeds to cold, moist conditions before they germinate. The seeds germinate in the springtime after the last frosts finish. The stratification of the seeds provides for better blooming the following season.
If you’re buying seedlings from the nursery, transplant them out into the garden in the late springtime after the last frost. Check your local listings for frost dates in your area.
Milkweed will prosper in almost any soil condition. We recommend planting in soft textured soil with no clumps to get in the way of the taproot. Use a rake or tiller to prepare the ground for the plants.
There’s no need to add additional fertilizer or amendments to the soil unless it’s really bad.
Gardeners can propagate their milkweed through rhizome cuttings or from seed. Take your cutting during the last weeks of the fall or in the early springtime when the plant is still in the dormancy cycle or just coming out of it.
The milkweed has more energy during the dormancy period, allowing it to recover faster than during the growing period. You’ll also put less stress on the plant for taking your cutting during the dormancy period.
New sprouts emerge from your cuttings as the weather warms up. Most plants will produce flowers in the first year of growth.
Gardeners can mulch milkweed if they want, but the plant grows readily without the addition of nutrients to the soil.
In hotter climates, a layer of mulch around the plant base helps to limit the effects of evaporation in the soil. In most cases, the milkweed will grow just fine without any mulching.
Most gardeners don’t bother with pruning or maintaining the milkweed during the growing season. Since it’s not going to be on display for a show, why go to the hassle of maintaining it? If you want to overwinter the plants, you’ll need to cut back the stems near the ground before adding a layer of mulch.
Like many other flowering perennial plants, the milkweed requires pruning the flowers after they wither to allow for another round of flowering in the later season. Still, it’s up to the gardener if they want to take it this far.
Planting for Monarch Butterflies
The Monarch butterfly relies on milkweed as an important source of food. The threatened butterfly species will flock to gardens with milkweed growing in the yard. Planting a small patch of milkweed in an out-of-the-way corner of the yard is a great way to attract these pollinators into your garden.
The Monarch uses the milkweed for many important purposes during its lifecycle. Gardeners will get entertainment from watching the caterpillars feed on the leaves before they transform into new butterflies.
If you spend enough time observing the plants, you’ll see all stages of the life cycle, from egg to caterpillar to butterfly. Plant a patch of six to eight milkweed plants or the best results in attracting these butterflies to your garden. The more plants you add, the more butterflies the patch attracts.
It’s important for gardeners to include a water source for the butterflies nearby. A birdbath is a great option. If you don’t have a birdbath, leave a pot saucer filled with water close by.
The milkweed itself is not a visually attractive plant, evoking no visceral response from the gardener. However, it attracts legions of Monarch butterflies to the yard. These butterflies are a visual attraction, and they also help to pollinate other plants around the garden.
The milkweed flowers produce a pleasant fragrance that’s somewhat strong but won’t overpower other blooms in your yard. The milkweed spreads aggressively in the yard, and gardeners need to keep a close eye on it in the flowering season to harvest the seed pods before they open.
Pests and Diseases Affecting Milkweed Plants
The milkweed is surprisingly pest and disease resistant. However, it does have to deal with a few problems during the growing season. Whether you decide to leave the pests or remove them is up to you.
The milkweed is at risk of aphid infestations. These pests appear as balls of small black bugs on the leaves and stems of the plants. You can chase them away by praying them off with a hose or spraying down the plants with neem oil.
Many gardeners don’t bother with treating the plants, relying on them as a diversion to keeps the bugs away from the rest of the flowers in the yard. It’s best not to spray the plants with pesticides as you’ll kill the eggs and the butterflies.
Typically, the Monarch butterfly will lay a single egg under the leaf on the milkweed plant. Milkweed aphids don’t have the typical black appearance of other species, and they have a yellow color that’s a little harder to spot.
Some gardeners may confuse the Monarch egg with an aphid. However, the egg is typically out there on its own, while the aphids hang around the leaves in colonies.
Slugs and snails are a problem with milkweed. However, like aphids, most gardeners just let the slugs have their way with the plant, distracting the pests away from other plants in the garden. Milkweed is resistant to most diseases, and it rarely has to worry about powdery mildew infections.
Overwintering and Toxicity Notes
Milkweed plants can overwinter in cooler climates by entering a dormancy period in the winter. If you want to overwinter your milkweed, cover them with a 4-inch layer of mulch in the late fall. The mulch helps to insulate the soil, protecting the milkweed from the cold during the winter months.
When the spring arrives, remove the mulch and expose the plant. The roots will awaken and start growing again. The leaves and flowers of the milkweed are toxic to people and pets.