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How to Grow Butterfly Weed

Keep reading for tips on how to grow butterfly weed successfully here in Arkansas!

Asclepias (Butterfly Weed) was the 2017 Perennial Plant of the Year, chosen by the national Perennial Plant Association! Every year, a notable perennial comes into focus and this selection is surely one to include in the garden!

There are many kinds of butterfly weed, and probably the most common in Arkansas is Asclepias tuberosa.

Asclepias tuberosa


This Arkansas native is what folks think of when they are considering adding butterfly weed into their gardens. Sporting brilliant orange flowers, it will look wonderful in any color arrangement. How do you grow butterfly weed successfully?  Growing in a clump 12”-36” tall, they want very good drainage in a full sun situation if you have it. If you do not have a full sun spot, ½ day sun preferably in the afternoon will also work. Quite drought tolerant once established.  Flowers are a nectar source for many butterflies and the leaves are a food source for Monarch butterfly larvae.  Asclepias tuberosa blooms from late spring through summer.  Fertilize with an organic, slow release fertilizer in the spring, once new growth has begun.


Growing Tips

The good news is that milkweeds have a long, deep taproot that helps them be drought tolerant. The bad news is: this can make them a bit tricky to transplant and relocate. Try to find their “forever” home to avoid moving them, but if needed try to get as much of the root ball as you can. If you let the seed pods dry out and open, there is a good chance the seeds might self-sow and sprout, giving you more plants.  Expect to wait a few years after the seeds germinate to get flowers.

Other Perennial Milkweeds

Asclepias tuberosa ‘Hello Yellow’ is very similar to regular butterfly weed, but is a beautiful butter yellow color. Consider growing both colors together for a bright and cheery combination. Planting and growing conditions are the same as for the orange butterfly weed.

Asclepias incarnata is a bit different, in that its nickname says it all—swamp milkweed. This one prefers moist soil and grows 24”-48” tall in full sun. This beauty has small rose pink flowers in a cluster. Breathe easy, because blooms are fragrant!

Asclepias syriaca is another milkweed native to the southeast United States and this one can grow up to six feet tall! This one can spread by underground rhyzomes so either plant it in a space with a lot of room, thin periodically and/or remove seed pods to control growth.  In addition to butterflies, this milkweed attracts other pollinators such as honeybees and hummingbird moths. In fact, it’s also called nature’s mega food mart, because over 450 insects known to feed on some part of it.

Tropical/ Annual Milkweeds 

Although these milkweeds may not come back next year, they make a nice supplement to the perennial milkweeds, providing color and nectar all season!