How to Winterize Milkweed Plants

I love milkweed. When the giant stalks emerge each summer, I love to watch my garden transform into a monarch butterfly paradise!

Milkweed is a central feature in my garden, and I want to make sure it has it all to come back in the spring.

Fortunately, there isn’t everything you need to do—though there are some tips and tricks you should follow to ensure plentiful, healthy plant perennial growth.

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If you’re just starting out, you can find complete cultivation instructions in our growing guide.

Read on to learn how to care for Asclepias plants over winter, so they return as strong as ever the next spring.

winter care

Milkweed is an herbaceous perennial, and the genus Asclepias includes over 100 species native to the US and Canada.

They can be recognized by their characteristic milky white sap, which can be found inside the stems and leaves.

Plants in this genus flower during the summer, set seed in the fall, and die back in the winter.

With proper care, they’ll be ready to sprout again next spring from an underground network of creeping roots. Milkweed also spreads easily from seed.

There are species that are adapted to grow in almost all climates. If you’re growing a variety that’s native to your climate, winter care requirements will be minimal.

If you live in a cold climate or you’re growing a species that isn’t hardy enough for your area, you can add a few inches of wood chips or straw mulch to help protect the root system over winter. .

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You can find our list of recommended milkweed varieties here.

prune in fall or early spring

You can cut the plants back in fall or wait until spring.

If you hold off until early spring, this allows birds and other small animals to use the seeds and fibers from the stalks to use the surrounding fluff to build nests.

To prune, simply use a pair of clean pruners to cut each dead stem to the ground. These can be added to the compost pile.

Whenever you choose to prune, be sure to wait until the seed pods are mature and scatter their seeds first.

save and spread seeds

Milkweed plants are the main food source and habitat for the monarch caterpillar, an important and endangered native pollinator – so the more we can spread it around, the better!

The seeds of some species require cold stratification, so if you allow the seeds to spread, they will lie dormant in the garden until spring. Hot weather and Tropical species, including Curasavica, do not require cold stratification.

You can even collect them and spread them wherever you want. Do this in late fall, after the first frost but before a hard freeze.

lots of butterflies

Milkweed care in winter is a piece of cake, and the rewards are very satisfying! With barely any effort required over winter, you can watch your garden fill up with a giant patch year after year.

First the caterpillars will arrive, then charming glass cocoons will dangle from the branches, and finally the garden will be filled with butterflies!

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What are your tips for overwintering milkweed? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

And for more tips on preparing your flowers for winter, check out these guides ahead:

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