Growing Butterfly Weed Plants: Tips On Butterfly Weed Care

Wildflower View from above (Asclepias tuberosa).  Found this unique red-streaked variety in North Carolina meadow in Piedmont (foothills of Smoky Mts.)
Image by AardLumens

By Mary H. Dyer, Master Naturalist and Master Gardener

What is a butterfly weed? Butterfly weed plants (Asclepias tuberosa) are trouble-free North American natives that produce umbels of bright orange, yellow or red blooms all summer long. Butterfly weed is appropriately named, as the nectar- and pollen-rich flowers attract hummingbirds and hordes of butterflies, bees and other beneficial insects throughout the blooming season. Do you want to know more about how to grow butterfly weed? Read on.

Butterfly Weed Characteristics

Butterfly weed plants are milkweed cousins with tall, clumping perennials that reach heights of 12 to 36 inches. The blooms appear atop fuzzy, green stems, which are adorned by attractive, lance-shaped leaves. Butterfly weed plants spread by way of seeds, which are released from large pods in early autumn.

Butterfly weed grows wild in a variety of environments, including open woods, prairies, dry fields, meadows, and along roadsides. In the garden, butterfly weed looks great in wildflower meadows, borders, rock gardens, or mass plantings.

How to Grow Butterfly Weed


Growing butterfly weed requires very little effort. The plant, suitable for growing in USDA plant hardiness zones 3 through 9, thrives in bright sunlight and poor, dry, sandy or gravelly soil with a slightly acidic or neutral pH.

Butterfly weed plants are easy to grow by seed, but may not produce blooms for two or three years. Once established, butterfly weed is drought tolerant and blooms dependably from year to year. Also, keep in mind that butterfly weed has long, sturdy roots that make transplantation very difficult, so locate the plant in its permanent place in the garden.

Butterfly Weed Care

Keep the soil moist until the plant is established and showing new growth. Thereafter, water only occasionally, as butterfly weed plants prefer dry soil. Trim old growth every spring to keep them neat and healthy.

No fertilizer is required, and may even harm the plant.

Mealybugs and aphids may cause problems during the blooming season, but both are easily controlled by regular applications of insecticidal soap or horticultural oil.

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