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Types of Milkweed Commonly 
found in the Midwest


Common Milkweed

  • Botanical Name: Asclepias syriaca

  • Common Name: Milkweed, Common Milkweed

  • Growability: Full to partial sun conditions, with direct sun exposure lasting for up to 6 hours a day, is required for maximum growth.

  • Grow Zone: 3 – 6

  • Plant type: Herbaceous perennial

  • Size: 2-4 feet tall, 24-30 in wide

  • Flowering: Summer

  • Watering: High water use

  • Plant uses: nectar source for butterflies and other pollinators

  • Cut back milkweed in late fall or winter; after they  have produced seed pods.

Butterfly Weed

  • Botanical Name: Asclepias tuberosa

  • Common Name: Butterfly (Milk)weed

  • Growability: Easy to grow

  • Grow Zone: 3-9

  • Size: 2’ feet tall and wide

  • Flowering: Summer to early fall

  • Water: Drought tolerant but needs regular watering  

       during the first growing season

Showy Milkweed

Showy Milkweed

  • Botanical Name:  Asclepias speciosa

  • Common Name: Showy Milkweed

  • Growability: Medium growth rate, easy to grow

  • Grow Zone: 3-9

  • Plant type: Deciduous, perennial, herbaceous plant

  • Size: 36-48 inches, spreads laterally by rhizomes forming dense patches

  • Flowering: June to August

  • Watering: Medium water or damp conditions

  • Plant uses: Important plant for pollinators, specifically butterflies and hummingbirds

Swamp Milkweed

  • Botanical Name: Aaclepias incarnata

  • Common Name: Swamp Milkweed, Rose Milkweed, White Indian Hemp

  • Growability: Full to partial sun conditions, with direct sun exposure lasting for up to 6 hours a day, is required for maximum growth.

  • Grow Zone: 3 – 6

  • Plant type: Herbaceous perennial

  • Size: 3-5 feet high, 2-3 feet wide

  • Flowering: Summer

  • Watering: High water use

  • Plant uses: Nectar source for butterflies and other pollinators


Propagating Common Milkweed Plants

Propagating common milkweed by taking cuttings can be easier than dividing rhizomes because milkweed tends to grow deep taproots, which can be tricky to dig up. With cuttings, you can create new plants in a short period of time which is ideal if you want to get a quick start to creating a butterfly garden. Here's how to propagate milkweed plants via cuttings:

  1. Take cuttings of common milkweed in the middle of the summer when stems are green. With a sharp, sterilized garden cutting tool, cut stems that are four inches long. Choose green stems with three to five leaf nodes.

  2. Remove the lower leaves of each stem and keep the top two pairs intact. Coat the bottom of the stems with a rooting hormone.

  3. Place stems standing up in potting medium that is an 80/20 mix of perlite to peat moss.

  4. Place pots in a shady cool spot out of any direct sunlight while the stem is forming roots. Keep the soil evenly and continuously moist.

  5. When roots have formed, transplant the cuttings into the ground within six to ten weeks.

How to Grow Milkweed From Seed



Common milkweed seeds scatter on their own when the seed pods burst open in the fall. The flowers produce warty seed pods two to four inches long that split when ripe to cast many fine seeds to the wind. If you let the plant go to seed, they will sprout in distant corners of your yard (and beyond), thanks to the silky appendages that allow the seeds to waft on the slightest breeze. They are rather like the seeds of dandelions in this regard. This occurs right before the onset of cold weather so the seeds can naturally go through cold stratification. You can mimic nature by simply scattering milkweed seeds in the late fall, on a weed-free site, and cover them with no more than ¼ inch of soil.


The alternative is to start common milkweed seeds indoors. Take into consideration that the cold stratification process to increase the germination rate takes 30 days so start the seeds sometime in March. Here's how it’s done:

  1. Wrap the seeds in a damp paper towel and place them in a zippered plastic bag in the refrigerator. Leave it undisturbed for about 30 days.

  2. Fill peat pots 3/4 of the way with seed-starting potting soil. Moisten the soil until it is just damp.

  3. Place one or two seeds in each pot. Cover the seed with a 1/4 inch of soil.

  4. Water the seed from the bottom up. Put the peat pots on a flat pan and add 1/2 inch of water to the tray. The pots will absorb the water.

  5. Place the pots on a sunny windowsill, under grow lights, or in a greenhouse. Keep the seeds evenly moist. You can expect sprouts within two weeks.

  6. Transplant the peat pots directly in the ground in the spring. The pots break down over time without disrupting the roots of the milkweed.

However, it is important not to use pesticides on milkweed or any other plants in a butterfly or pollinator garden, as the same chemicals that kill destructive insects will also kill butterflies and larvae.  Instead, one may use a hose, spray bottle or fingernails to scrape off predators.

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