Plants A to Z

How to Grow and Care for Butterfly Weed

Butterfly weed is a must-have plant for gardeners who want to attract its namesake gorgeous winged insects. Butterfly weed, also known as Asclepias tuberosa, can reach a height of 1 to 2 feet and is distinguished by glossy green leaves and clusters of vibrant orange-to-yellow blossoms rich in nectar and pollen.

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Butterfly weed, which originated in the grasslands of the Midwest, has a long medical history as well—Native Americans chewed the roots as a cure for pleurisy and other lung difficulties, and it may also be brewed into a tea to treat diarrhoea and other stomach issues.

Butterfly weed should be planted after the last frost in early spring; it will take a while to emerge, but once it does, it will grow swiftly, reaching its peak height and blooming in mid-to-late summer.

Care for Butterfly Weeds

Butterfly weed is an easy-to-nurture cultivar that can also be found growing as a native wildflower in a range of natural habitats, such as meadows, prairies, and forests. It is loved for its capacity to bring a variety of beneficial (and attractive) insects to the garden.

Butterfly weed is typically cultivated from seeds that are sown directly in the garden in the fall and thrive in different environments, including clay soil, dry or rocky soil, and even drought-like conditions.

Its seed pods will turn brown toward the end of the growing season (early autumn) and, if left on the plant, will rupture and spread seeds throughout your garden, emerging as new growth in the spring. While it may take up to three years for the plant to fully mature and produce blossoms, the blooms will become denser with each passing season. Butterfly weed is also resistant to a variety of pests and illnesses.


Light Choose a location in your yard where your butterfly weed will receive hours of bright sunlight each day, as this plant thrives in the sun. The optimum option is full light, although the sturdy plant may also survive a few hours of shade.

If you have more finicky flowers in your garden than butterfly weed, feel free to let them decide the soil composition—you don't have to worry about it with this plant. Butterfly weed thrives in a wide range of soil types and compositions, from clay to gravel, and likes a pH of neutral to slightly acidic.


Maintain a moist soil condition for the butterfly weed during its first year of life (or until new plants begin to exhibit mature growth). Once the plant appears to be well-established, you can reduce the amount of watering it receives to only once or twice a week, as it enjoys dry soil.

Humidity and Temperature

Butterfly weed can survive in a wide range of temperature and humidity conditions due to its adaptability to zones three through nine. The plant usually blooms in late spring, reaches its height during the summer months, and then dries on the stem in the fall and winter. It can also tolerate extreme temperatures and drought.


Butterfly weed is a low-maintenance plant that doesn't require any additional fertilizing; in fact, doing so can hurt the plant, so it's best just to let it alone.

Butterfly Weed Pruning

Butterfly weed does not require much pruning during the year, but it can be cut back to the ground in preparation for the winter season. The leaves on the butterfly weed are beginning to yellow in late October, and the stems are drying out and becoming brown.

This is a sign that the plant is entering dormancy for the season; at this time, you can cut the plant to the ground with a clean pair of pruning shears, where it will remain until spring.

How to Start a Seedling of Butterfly Weed

Growing butterfly weed from seed is usually the simplest and most successful approach to include it in your garden. Plant new seeds in the fall for growth the following spring, or let any existing butterfly weeds in your garden take care of it.

The plants should begin to generate seed pods in place of their blossoms in late summer or early fall. The pods will ultimately rupture if left on the stem, and the seeds inside will be blown around your garden, allowing them to establish themselves in the soil in time for the next year.

You can remove the seed pods from the plant before they burst open and sow new seeds by hand instead if you'd like more control over the final placement of any new butterfly weed plants.

How to Grow Butterfly Weed and Get It to Bloom

It is not difficult to grow this plant in general, and once it reaches maturity, it should blossom freely on its own (which can take up to three years). If you're having trouble getting your butterfly weed to blossom, there are a few things to consider.

It's critical to achieve the appropriate watering cadence for the plant. It should be watered regularly until new growth appears (which includes leaves and stems, not simply blossoms), after which you can reduce the frequency of watering. Butterfly weed plants should also not be fertilized. While fertilizer may help other plants bloom, it can hurt butterfly weed and prevent it from blossoming.

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Elissa Sanci
Elissa Sanci
Elissa Sanci, the owner of the website, and senior writer of New York Garden; graduated from Santa Barbara City College – a famous public school in California with many diverse training professions, and she majored in horticulture.