Growing Butterfly Weed From Seed Indoors

Get a Jump on spring, and the monarchs, by starting seeds inside. Some Annual milkweed varieties will flower and seed their first season if started early. {tv_default_meta_descrition:attr_safe}

Starting Seeds Inside: Support more Monarchs w/ your Annual Milkweed

Starting Seeds indoors for a
Bounty of Blooms and Milkweed Seeds

Every year we get a jump start on spring by starting annual milkweed seeds inside. Since some warm weather varieties (like tropical milkweed) flower their first year, starting them indoors can reap instant butterfly garden rewards.

One season, our Gomphocarpus physcocarpus (balloon plant milkweed) plants grew 8 feet tall and were our last milkweed plants to succumb to a harsh Minnesota winter….not too shabby for a milkweed variety that’s only cold hardy to USDA zone 8!

When growing annual butterfly plants, I follow some basic rules:

  1. Research plants to see if they are classified as invasive or a noxious weed for your region
  2. Learn what growing conditions your plant will need to thrive
  3. Research potential issues and make sure you’re willing and able to deal with them
  4. As the plants grow, keep a close eye on them and the surrounding plants for unexpected issues like disease or unwelcome pests
  5. If problems arise, take responsibility for your garden…even if that means pulling and discarding the plants

If Father Winter wipes out Asclepias species like tropical milkweed, giant milkweed, swan milkweed, balloon plant, etc…, sowing seeds outdoors each spring is not your best milkweed propagation option.

How Come? Most warm weather species don’t “get growing” until the temps trend tropical. If there’s a cool spring, your plants won’t have time to reach their full glory, or support monarchs, or produce seeds for future seasons!

Starting seeds indoors puts your annual milkweed plants on the fast track to full growth. Mature milkweed will support more monarch caterpillars and butterflies.

Start Your Milkweed

Starting annual milkweed doesn’t require a lengthy cold stratification…or even a short one!

  • Find Annual Milkweed Seeds
  • Annual milkweed options are A. Curassavica (tropical milkweed), G. Fruticosus (swan milkweed), G. Physocarpus (balloon plant), T. caerulea (blue milkweed) (Giant Milkweed) and C. Procera (Milkweed Tree) may not flower their first season in northern regions so these would need to be overwintered
  • Fill up a small bowl with water for eachmilkweed species you are starting (labeling is recommended since seeds look similar)
  • Put the seeds for each species in the appropriate bowl and soak them overnight. This will help soften the seed coat to increase the germination speed.

According to this seed germination database, you are supposed to soak asclepias seeds for a longer period. I’ve never done this, and overnight soaking has always given me a very high germination rate when starting seeds inside.

2019 Update: We’re not starting any warm weather milkweed species by seed this year, but will be starting some perennial milkweed with cold moist stratification

Part 2: Discover a little trick I use to speed up seed germination. (Last year this hot trick got my first balloon milkweed seedlings to sprout after just 3 days!)

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91 Comments

Hi Tony,
I started some A. Curassavica plants from seed several weeks ago. They are growing well, about 3” tall, but the bottom sets of leaves have turned a pinkish color, and a few of these leaves have fallen off. Wondered if this is a normal occurrence/color for the leaves or is it an ailment? Wish I could post a picture, but not sure how to do it. This is my first attempt at growing a tropical. I have found that these seeds are MUCH less work than natives as far as germinating! Thank you.

Hi Frank, it’s not unusual for the first leaves to fall from the plant. If the rest of the leaves look healthy I wouldn’t worry. Native milkweed seeds have a high germination rate with cold moist stratification

I tried cuttings of my tropical milkweed this fall, and “swished” the cuttings in a peroxide solution before rooting them in water. They grew nice roots, but within one week of putting them in soil (Miracle-Gro potting mix), every last one of them turned brown and died. Next year I am going to try using a seed starting mixture that doesn’t have any fertilizer in it. Do you think that will solve my problem?

Hi Sheri, I’m not sure if the fertilizer potting mix would have caused that to happen, but I would try an unfertilized all-purpose potting mix next time. If you can’t find tropical milkweed plants locally, check out some of the suggested milkweed store options this spring:

I started several varieties of milkweed seeds in peat pots a couple of weeks ago, and they are beginning to sprout. I just bought a small fan, because I remember reading something about running a fan on the seedlings to help them grow stronger, but I can’t remember at what stage I should start this.

Thanks so much for all of your helpful guidance.

Hi Sheri, thanks for your comment. I realize this info should be included on this page too so I added it. The original fan info was posted here:

Tony, after using Tropical m w for cuttings, I’m left with lots of leaves. Might be a silly question but can I save the leaves by freezing?

Tony, with all due respect and gratitude, in reference to your response to Tricia, I agree that growing non- native milkweed doesn’t harm or disrupt monarch migration. However, your cautionary point for southern region and California garners to cut down topical and restart from seed to avoid OE infection, also applies to those who take cuttings and overwinter. If a plant is infected with OE, so will the cutting. I believe it’s best, although more labor intensive, to start non-native tropical species of milkweed from seed each year. Probably, it would be good to consult a plant geneticist to get a definitive answer.

When we bring in our tropical milkweed to overwinter we cut it back and spray it down with hydrogen peroxide to kill pathogens…besides cutting back to discard potential disease spores, it’s also a good idea for keeping out uninvited pests! ?

I just read your article about starting annual milkweed seeds. Is the process the same for perennial milkweed seeds? I collected seeds last fall and kept them in my refrigerator.

Hi Tony,
Last year I used your plastic jug method that you suggest for the perennial milkweed. I didn’t put the topical milkweed seeds out on the patio around Super Bowl Sunday though. I placed the containers of the tropical milkweed on my patio in mid March. Even though it was still cold here in PA I had a bumper crop of tropical milkweed using that method and they were mature plants by August. Since I have three cats that eat plants sowing milkweed in the house isn’t an option.

When start milkweed plant for inside? How you plant the seed?

Hi Henry, I start seeds indoors about 2 months before our final frost date. Please click on the links inside the post for more info about planting…

I’m puzzled at how labor intensive this is. Aren’t these seeds designed by nature to propagate the species without human intervention? Shouldn’t we be able to just plant the seeds in the fall like other wildflowers?

Hi Jenny, milkweed can come up all over the place if you just let it seed. In a field this works well, but that’s not what many are look for in their butterfly gardens.

Tony,
I planted my first ever Milkweed seeds and now have seedlings. I sowed over 50 but only had 7 germinate. I want to give two away to friends but I’m stingy with so few. I planted 3 different kinds but my tags have fallen out and I can’t tell which is which. Is there any way to tell the varieties apart as seedlings? I planted, Swamp, Pink and Butterfly.

Hi Andy, I would not plant them until you are able to differentiate the species since they have different heights and growth habits…also, common milkweed can spread through underground rhizomes so best not to mix in with other milkweeds. When they reach about a foot high, it should be easier to tell them apart. At that point, post a photo on our facebook page and I should be able to ID for you:

My a. Incarnata seeds are beginning to germinate! I’m very excited, because last spring I tried germinating same, with terrible results. I read up on all the tricks and tips others had to offer, and gave it another go starting the middle of February this year. I did a moist (coffee filter) stratification in the fridge for 3 weeks, then gave them a six hour soak in 500 ppm giberellic acid solution. Surface planted them in seed starting mix, and used a plastic dome over them. I used a florescent shop light right above them, and they only took about a week to start germinating. I think part of my problem last year was keeping the seeds at a toasty 80 degrees, which most garden vegetable seeds love, but in my research, discovered this is way too warm for perennial milkweed. Now I have to figure out what to do with 100 + seeds/ plants. I really didn’t expect more than 10% or so germination. I think the GA 3 really helped, but as I didn’t use a “controll” group of seeds, I can’t be sure. Really looking forward to planting these out in the garden this summer! I hope they survive until the weather is warm enough to transplant. Still have 2 months until frost free here in Ohio

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Tony, thanks for the support specifically directed to me. In the last Week I’ve transplanted
7 different Hills Of Common milk weed tubers into my proposed screened in area most
had leaves emerging at 4 inches in length. These were planted yrs ago in a community
Garden Plot. Common MW is not listed as a native to Colorado. This one is thriving here.
You said earlier if push comes to Shove Monarchs prefer Common over A. tuberosa. I soaked the 216 + seeds overnight but my germination after 10 days is < than 15%.

I planted several different types of seeds in growing containers and now find that some seeds like Mexican sunflower have grown big enough that the dome doesn’t fit anymore but the Joe Pye Weed and milkweed hasn’t even started yet. Will the seeds that haven’t started yet be ok uncovered as long as they are on heat mats and under the grow lights? I will know better next year! Thank you. Kim

Hi Kim, the conditions are optimal for germination with the greenhouse effect of the lid, but some seeds should still sprout without it. yes, Mexican sunflowers grow quickly…the same thing happened to me a few years ago. Maybe try spring sowing containers outside if you have extra seeds. If you still have cold temps, they will grow at a slow pace…once the lid is ready to come off, spring should hopefully be here to stay.

Thinking about trying this . What if I cut 3 2 by 12s by 8 ft. and made a 4 by 8 foot small garden . Would this be big enough to plant some milkweed seeds in for the butterflies. I have 3 different species to try.

Hi Jeff, that sounds like a nice patch of milkweed. I’m not sure what you’re planting, but I would probably stick with 2 species. Keep in mind some species like common will spread by underground rhizomes.

I live in Kentucky Tony which two would you recommend me plant . I have swamp milkweed and Showy and Mexican also.

Hi Jeff, my milkweed page has 25 milkweed species listed and many of those listing have links that go to pages with even more info. Each species has native and perennial regions listed:

If you want to talk to gardeners with first-hand growing experience in your region, I would suggest a facebook group:

Hello Tony
This article may be of interest to other people in my area, this is what we have to contend with here in Arkansas, I am trying my best ,to help Monarchs and Ozark Swallow Tails.
I am an avid Gardner and last year I lost all of my Tomato Plants to this stuff.

Bayer Company of Germany is trying to purchase Monsanto for 62 Billion.

“The company also has been faulted for the legal tactics used to enforce its patents, accused of being a factor in farmer suicides in India, and blamed for contributing to the decline of the monarch butterfly.”

I ordered Swamp Milkweed and Common Milkweed from American Meadows. They are ready-to-plant seeds which have already been cold stratified. Would there be any advantage to starting them indoors or should I just wait until the last frost? I live in southern PA.

Hi Tony,
I started some tropical milkweed from seeds in September 2016. They are now almost 12″ tall, but only have a single trunk (stem? stalk?) with leaves coming off of it. Is that what it is supposed to look like? Or was I supposed to prune it along the way to encourage it to get bushy?

Hi Margaret, you could cut them back now so there are 2-3 sets of leaves and they will put out bushier growth. tropical milkweed grows back quickly.

My question is: I have 46 Tropical milkweed seedlings. I am in zone 6a (NW AR.) Is there anyway I can carry these little guys through next spring? Bring them indoors? In the garage? I hate loosing all these little guys. Thanks in advance.

Hi Nancy, you could bring them in or in the garage…you might also try leaf mulching the plants before the ground freezes to see if they’ll come back. I would guess some of them will, but now sure how many. good luck!

I live in Castro Valley, CA (below Oakland) and 2-1/2 yrs ago replaced lawn with CA native plants including balloon and common milkweed for Monarchs. I live less than 7 miles inland (as the crow flies) from Monarch Bay Golf Course where a large group of Monarchs winter every year.
For the past two years, I’ve had a single Monarch huge female (I’m pretty sure) come into my native habitat in July and August and flutter around daily for 3-4 hours. I’ve never seen two at a time. This year, I’ve watched her land for several minutes on the balloon milkweeds, Manzanita, Butterfly bush and then into the Crepe myrtle. I’ve checked, and no eggs, no caterpillars last year or so far this year.
Is she possibly the same one each year? Why just one?

Hi Liz, definitely not the same monarch…the migration generations live up to 9 months (probably less for the west coast population) and the non-migratory generations live just a few weeks. Perhaps it’s her great granddaughter coming back to say hello…enjoy! PS keep looking for eggs!

Hi, I was just wandering…..how long should I leave my milkweed sprouts under a grow lamp? I have 14 plants right now I started that have 2 sets of leaves, but we are still going through dogwood & blackberry winters here,so it’s too cold yet to put them out.

Hi Becky, I leave ours under until I bring them outside or in our porch that receives natural sunlight. If the leaves on seedlings are turning red under grow lights, you can decrease the hours of light they are receiving…good luck!

Hi! At last season’s end, I collected hundreds of tropical milkweed seeds and placed them in a baggy and into the refrigerator. I took about fifty out a couple of weeks ago and placed them in a bowl of water. Not using a heat pad or light, other than natural sunlight. Many of the seeds are growing a white cottony appearance. Is this normal?

Hi Vernon, tropical milkweed seeds don’t need cold moist stratification. Just soak seeds in water 24 hours before planting. It sounds like you have moldy seeds. If you ever put seeds in plastic bags, let them completely dry before storing them.

Iran out of my home grown milkweed; so I bought some from Lowes. I asked if pesticide-free. I was told yes. The cat grew ? grew with no signs of illness.
They grew to chrysalis size-some even started to shed; but they ALL died-some 25 cats.
So, I trimmed the 3 plants down to 4″ sticks. I filled the dirt daily.
Now the are tall & green, full of leaves.
Do you think this m-weed is safe now?

First off, so sorry to hear about this Sheila. It’s sad that this is still a common problem. I would be inclined to say your milkweed is probably safe, but that is just a guess. Pesticide levels should be far less than they were when you bought the plants. Perhaps try raising a couple monarchs and see how that goes before you take on a whole crew again. good luck!

Hi, Tony
I started my MW in side just after Dec. 26 My tropical mw is now 17″ tall and starting to flower.
My common mw is about 8″ tall and doing good in pots inside, just waiting to get in the flower bed.
Orange mw and swamp mw are not too far behind.
And I also have about 200 other nector and host plants growing also.
I’m off to a good start.

yes John, you are definitely off to a good start. I look forward to hearing more about your garden over the season. good luck!

As you know we are in drought and we have to conserve water. We had No gardens vegetable or flowers for the past 2 years. You grass is dead and trees are distress. Right now it is raining (thank God) but night are cold (30-40) So again conservation of water will be high.
How much water does the milkweed need to survive?

Hi Christiane, most milkweed is supposed to be drought tolerant to an extent, but the California drought is an extreme circumstance so your best bet is to check with other gardeners in your region to see what is working best for them. Here are some resources you should find helpful. good luck!

Hi Tony,
Last Last February I start a dozen honeyvine milkweeds (Cynanchum laeve) indoors to plant around a tree stump and was surprised when two of the milkweeds actually put out flowers and produced a couple of pods in the Fall. Do not know if the seeds are viable as I haven’t started any yet; right now I’m concentrating on starting a rack of meadow blazing stars.

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P.S. Saw flocks of Sandhill Cranes flying north today. Hope that’s a sign of an early Spring.

Hi Steve, that’s fantastic! I am actually just about to plant my first cynanchum seeds this week. I have heard conflicting reports about whether they need cold treatment, or you can just soak the seeds in water. I’m going to soak, and will report on that in the next couple weeks. Yes…an early spring sounds good to me!

Ps…keep me updated on your blazing star. I had some old seeds (2011) and threw them in a couple winter sowing containers. Interested to see if any germinate.

Did your honeyvine milkweed do well by just soaking them?

Hi Bob, I tried germinating them directly in water and that was not successful. However, I’m not sure how viable the seeds were. They may still germinate in our porch, but waiting for some warmer weather to entice them.

Yes I sealed them in Ziploc bags and placed them on top of my fridge. I’m in ohio zone 6 , so starting milkweed annuals here is a must. I also have butterfly weed, which Monarchs haven’t utilized this milkweed much but sure did last year! I also have swamp milkweed so the perennials are the easy milkweed to grow. Last year I released about 100 monarchs August-November and had more than I’ve ever had! In October I had to go to my local nursery and buy some swamp milkweed plants because the caterpillars had depleted my milkweed plants, but I’m not complaining, that’s how it should be

I’m trying the paper towel method for starting my tropical milkweed seeds & my family jewels milkweed seeds and so far the family jewels seeds have started their “tails” in 2 and 3 days!

Hi Roy, congrats! I’ve done that before using coffee filters. That’s a good method to use if you aren’t sure of your seed quality. Did you place the containers on a heated surface?

thanks for allowing your beautiful garden to get eaten to the ground. I hope to have this problem.

Hi Vicki, there are plenty of nectar plants that add color and beauty to the garden, but always happy to see the milkweed eaten down…I hope they find your milkweed patch this season!

Tony since we are having a heat wave here in southern California…I have monarchs laying eggs and caterpillars hatching I have counted over 50 eggs and tiny caterpillars in my garden. I have about 75 new milkweeds just coming out in pots, and more seeds planted, plus about 300 old milkweeds that are just putting out their new growth from being cut back for winter, so I think I’ll have enough for them to eat. But I’m sure I’ll have to do a lot of relocating as the cats get bigger. The milkweeds in pots are for our garden club spring plant sale and replacing my older plants that don’t come back.

I have lots of milkweed seeds of tropical milkweeds ( curassavica) in orange, yellow and red and the white monkey pod milkweeds (physocarpa).

So far we have seen hardly any El Niño rain we are still almost 5″ less than normal for this time of the rain season.

Hi Bill, I’m glad to hear you are seeing lots of monarchs, but I hope you guys finally see some relief from that relentless drought!

I’m very new to all this, but I decided I would try to grow some milkweed my east facing balcony. Sometimes it seems an impossible mission however I’m going to try anyway. I wanted a specific milkweed, Balloon Milkweed, but I couldn’t find it from the company that I ordered seeds from, so I bought what they had, Asclepias incarnate (Carmine Rose). Now I don’t know if I need to do a cold germination or just plant it early, but how early. I’m going to do my hardest to get this stuff to grow but it’s balcony container growing so I can only hope for the best. Any knowledge you can pass on to me would be greatly appreciated.

Congrats on taking the plunge Dean. My suggestion to you would be to try at least two varieties of milkweed to see if one performs better than the other. You purchased a cultivar of swamp milkweed. We have ‘ice ballet’ swamp milkweed (which I like) but our regular swamp milkweed attracts more monarchs. Keep that in mind if your carmine doesn’t work out. Second, check out my suggested milkweed stores at the bottom of the milkweed resources page. You’ll find almost every type of milkweed you can imagine:

Glad to see that a lot of folks are now using heat mats. I have a thermometer that with a power strip controls 4 mats of 72 cells each. When I mix the germinating medium, I add some mycorrhizal inoculate and a wee bit of rootshield to prevent damping off. Keep the whole mess at 85 degrees until about an inch tall (about a week) then into a light tent running at 200 watts. Blue not red.
Only growing tropicals. And giant milkweed does flower the first year.
Have a cloning bucket for peppers but milkweed grows so fast it would be a waste of time. If you do use a cloning bucket, make sure that you use a good rooting medium like Clonex. Makes it pretty much idiot proof. And if you use rock wool, make sure your great grandchildren like the idea because it NEVER breaks down. Happy Gardening!

Hi Bill, thanks for your comments. We have had a struggle growing the calotropis species in our northern region, but have one repotted procera that looks promising.

As for rock wool, we use it to hold cuttings in the cloning machine and discard it before planting. We had rotting issues with the neoprene inserts.

Have you grown procera too? How does it differ from growing gigantea in your opinion?

Okay, it appears I crapped up on this one. I obviously have no annual milkweed seeds. I bought six varieties:Autumn Blaze, Common, Butterfly, Mexican, Swamp, and Showy all from Seed Needs in Michigan. They’re all perennial varieties and I sense will not bloom this year? They’re presently in the refrigerator in cold stratification as I prepare peat pots and lights. What should I do that I’m not?

Hi Ken, your location will decide whether you grow warm weather milkweed varieties annually or as perennials.

common, showy, autumn blaze, and butterfly weed will need cold stratification before planting:

‘Mexican’ is tropical milkweed and that is an annual or tender perennial for most regions:

Hope this helps, Tony

What is “autumn blaze”. Never heard of it and google search comes up only with references to SeedNeeds. I am very familiar with Milkweed.

Hi David, just a marketers way to make the cultivar sound more enticing…kind of like when they call tropical milkweed ‘butterfly flower’….autumn blaze is the same as the ‘gay butterflies’ cultivar of Asclepias tuberosa

I’ve started my milkweed seeds under grow lights. Do you have information on the season in the mountains (5,500 ft.) of California? Also, I have an infestation of gophers. Will gopher purge bother the monarchs?

What are your thoughts on swamp mllkweed? Is that a sensible option for attracting monarchs? I plan to plant some white swamp milkweed this year.

Hi Larry, swamp milkweed is consistently one of our top performing milkweed species in our northern butterfly garden. We have both the regular variety and ice ballet. We typically get more eggs on the regular variety. Here’s more info:

My gardener brought several asclepias tuberosa plants, along with another plant that had long narrow leaves. The a. tuberosa were wildly popular, supporting many cats, but the other variety was completely ignored. I did not see any chrysalises or any butterflies, however. The a. tuberosa plants were almost completely denuded, and I was able to save seeds. Not knowing how to germinate them, my attempts to grow from seed were failures. I know better now.

It’s the end of February here in southern California, and already there are caterpillars on the tuberosas. In fact, one poor little plant had only a few leaves sprouting before the caterpillars arrived. I moved three of them to leaves on the more mature plants so they won’t run out of food. There are no nectar plants in bloom yet.

sounds like quite a busy start to your season Bill. Congrats and I hope you are able to keep up with the milkweed demand. I know it can get pretty crazy is southern California…good luck!

Hi Tony, I was wondering if you could suggest another site to purchase milkweed seeds other than eBay. I had a bad experience with them in the past and am reluctant to do business with them. Also, which milkweed do you recommend for southern Florida (near West Palm Beach)? I have cut down all the milkweed I have in my garden but want new ones. I am anxious to replant my little butterfly garden but its been quite chilly here for our area so I want to wait till it warms up a bit. Hopefully in a week or so. Thanks for your newsletters. They are so helpful. Louise

Hi Louise, if you check out the bottom of my resource page, there are specific ebay stores and links to other nurseries you can purchase from, including one in your region. Hope this helps:

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I also live in west palm and I found butterfly milkweed seeds at the Walmart on 45th st. Also meadow beauty nursery in boynton has the tropical milkweed and other host plants for butterflies.

I also got some free milkweeds seeds from livemonarch.com

I am not happy with these native seed companies. If you order milkweed seed in February you would think that it already has been cold stratified, NOT! most of these require a 60 day and that would make them too late to start inside. Why would they do that? Just putting them in an unheated warehouse in Mn should do just fine. Why would they not?
So frustrated!

Hi Jean, I don’t think there’s any reason to cold stratify for more than a month so hopefully that still puts you way ahead of schedule.

Every year I have at least a dozen of the wild milkweed in my yard, I never seem to get Monarchs. I have nearly every flower that they need for feeding and egg laying , why are they not laying eggs on the milkweed?

Ethel, if you are not having any luck with one milkweed variety, my best advice is to diversify your crop. There are so many different species to choose from including natives and non-natives that can be grown annually. I have 25 already listed on my resource page and will be adding more as time allows. Check these out:

Hi Tony, lovely website and bless you for your instructions.

My question: when soaking the seeds overnight, do you try to maintain the warmth of the water the seeds are soaking in or do you just begin with warm water? For those of us who don’t have heat mats, it is not likely we can maintain warm water during the entire soaking.

Hi Mary, it’s fine if the water cools over night. The main purpose of doing this is to soak the seed. All the seed mat does is speed up germination. At this point, you’ve still got plenty of time before the season.

Tony,
Thanks for your helpful article on starting milkweed seeds. I know many people will find it helpful. However I am concerned that you are using so many non-native Asclepia seeds. I am hoping that you do have other native Asclepia in your garden.

Hopefully you are aware of the scientific conerns about Asclepia curassavic right now. There is a lot of concern that it might be causing monarchs to break diapause and prolong their fall breeding, and we don’t know what the long-term consequences of that are or will be. We do know that A. curassavica carries a protozoan parasite called Ophryocystis elektroscirrha (OE).

Because it stays green so long, and sometimes never dies back, the parasite load stays very high and is infecting monarchs at a very high rate. This is having some very long term consequences for the populations as a whole. We are urging people to concentrate on native milkweeds to save the population. Thanks so much for what you are doing to help educate people.

Hi Trecia, I am familiar with the potential issues of growing tropical milkweed and have discussed them in other posts and on social media. These issues are specific to those growing in the deep south and Southern California.

Since tropical milkweed is a very popular milkweed with monarchs (especially during the migration) I have addressed precautions that gardeners can take to prevent these issues including: 1. cutting down plants to the ground in November/December, 2. potting tropical milkweed to use for raising instead, then cutting back and overwintering

If southern gardeners aren’t willing or able to take those precautions, then I would agree that they should stick with native milkweed varieties.

As a northern gardener who has had tropical milkweed the past 6 seasons, the monarchs have never layed eggs too late for migration, which indicates tropical milkweed is not their primary migration cue. (We usually have several groups of migrators come through so I will continue to monitor this every fall.)

As for not discussing natives, this article is about ‘annual milkweeds’ so it was not my intent to discuss native milkweed here. We have 15 varieties of milkweed and the majority of those ARE native. The monarchs use them all at various points in the season.

Thanks for your comment, Tony

Tony , I live in Florida
Where would I get milkweed seeds.
This would help me as I have 200 plants and they are getting old and it’s hard to buy plants now
Thank you

Hi Stormie, you can check out my milkweed resource page that has 25 different varieties. There are links for more info and to buy milkweed seeds/plants. Hope this helps:

I’m wanting to plant as many milkweeds as I can this year. Need I go with tropical varieties or will just planting native seed ASAP be my best plan?

Hi Melodee, native milkweed is the cornerstone of a successful butterfly garden, but a mix of native and non-native varieties (like tropical) will give you the best results for attracting monarchs. We now have fifteen varieties of milkweed and the monarchs use them all at various points in the season. (some for nectar, some for host plants, some for both!)

Thanks Tony. So I’m ordering asclepias tuberosa, incarnata, curassavica, syriaca & speciosa. Others you’d recommend? (I’m in Nebraska.) Do you know of a calendar that would tell me what to do when?

If you look at my my milkweed resources page and click on the links, every milkweed species I have create a page for, has a link telling you where that milkweed is native. Other varieties can be grown annually if you’re willing to put in some extra work.

As for the calendar, that’s a tough one because you have many options for planting milkweed: fall sowing, winter sowing, starting seeds indoors, spring sowing.

If this is your first year with milkweed, I would suggest creating winter sowing containers ASAP. It will give you a jump start on the season.

Also, what annual plant sales do you have in your area? If they grow organically and offer milkweed, you can usually get plants at decent prices. Good luck, Tony

Very helpful, Tony. You are my lifeline! I planted some milkweed and a great deal of butterfly-enticing flowers last year and will do more next year. The plants bloomed beautifully and now I’m left with the dead plants. Do I just leave those to reseed themselves or should I pick the seeds and replant them?

Melodee, if you planted native milkweed last season they will come back this season…..They should be bigger plants with more flowers too. If there are still seeds on last years plants you could collect them and store them in your refrigerator for direct sowing in spring…or you could put them in wither sowing containers. Hope this helps…

Ordered calotropis procera seeds and are growing them in an aeroponic clone bucket. Along with some a curassavica so far the process looks promising. I’ve had the seeds in the unit with a grow light on approximately 14 hours per day for two weeks. 3 of the 5 proceeds have sprouted. I will keep you up to date on their progress.

Hi Mary, I am also using one of the clone buckets for curassavica (next weekend). I’m interested to see how much faster this process works compared to just setting the cuttings in a glass of water…last year some of my cuttings rotted using this simpler method. I’m hoping the water pump inside the cloning bucket solves that issue.

I look forward to hearing how your procera plants do in year 1 after starting a cloning bucket…please keep us posted!

What is a clone bucket?

Hi Doris, you’d use a clone bucket to start cuttings to produce “clones” of your milkweed plant. I replaced the foam inserts that came with my bucket and used rockwool inserts because my cuttings were rotting in the foam. I typically use the bucket in late fall to take cuttings from plants outdoors, but you could also a clone bucket if you took cuttings from tropical milkweed plants overwintering indoors.

Question and Answer

Milkweed seed can be planted directly in soil, or started indoors. You can sow milkweed seeds by scattering them on the soil surface 1/4-1/2 inch apart, and then cover them with about 1/4 inch of additional soil. Water the area frequently after planting until plants become established. Many species need to be vernalized (cold treated) before planting. Vernalized seeds can be planted in the spring after the danger of frost has passed. Non-vernalized seeds can be planted in the fall, and nature will provide the cold treatment. See Monarch Watch’s milkweed propagation guide for further recommendations, information on vernalization and instructions for starting milkweed seeds indoors. Also watch our Monarch Conservation Webinar: Growing Milkweed for Monarch Conservation (scroll down to May 2016) to hear from Chip Taylor of Monarch Watch on milkweed growing techniques and best practices. For further details on milkweed growing and conservation use, visit the Xerces Society’s Milkweed Practicitoner Guide, which is a complete guide to milkweeds, including biology/ecology, propagation, benefits to wildlife, and use in restoration projects.

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