Butterfly weed is a must-have plant for gardeners looking to coax the namesake winged insects into the garden. This clump-forming perennial grows from tuberous roots to a height of 1 to 2 feet and is characterized by glossy-green, lance-shaped leaves and clusters of bright orange-to-yellow blooms that are rich with nectar and pollen. A type of milkweed, butterfly weed is generally planted in late spring after the soil is workable. It is fairly slow to become established and may take as much as three years before it flowers. When it finally does flower, its clusters of bright orange-yellow flowers will display from late spring until late summer. Unlike other milkweeds, butterfly weed does not have caustic milky sap, but it does produce the characteristic seed pods that release silky-tailed seeds to disperse on the wind.
Butterfly Weed Care
The most common issue with butterfly weed is the rampant self-seeding that happens if the seed pods aren't removed before they burst and scatter their seeds. This can be prevented by removing the seed pods before they dry and burst open. The volunteer plants that appear due to self-seeding should be removed before they establish long tap roots.
How to Get Butterfly Weed to Bloom
In general, butterfly weed is not a difficult plant to cultivate and should bloom freely on its own once it has reached maturity (which can take up to three years). That being said, if you're struggling to get your butterfly weed to bloom, there could be a few factors at play.
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.
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 Characteristics
No fertilizer is required and may even harm the plant.
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.
How to Grow Butterfly Weed
Butterfly weed plants are milkweed cousins with tall, clumping perennials that reach heights of 12 to 36 inches (31-91 cm.). 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.