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Flowers form into balloon shaped "hairy balls"

Ask Gardenerd: Pruning Back Milkweed?

A question came into Ask Gardenerd this week that I even asked myself last year:

First year planting swamp milkweed for Monarchs – just had two butterflies exit their cocoons this morning. Had five plants this year – going big next year. Question – lots of info on how to get plants started but nothing on end of season maintenance. Should we cut back the stems on the existing plants or do we just leave them? Not sure what to do now that winter is approaching. Thanks – Bob

You’re right, Bob, not many sites talk about what to do with the milkweed after it’s finished for the season. I ran into the issue last year when I was staring at an 8 ft. stalk of Asclepias Physocarpa, denuded after a season of successful Monarch habitation. What now? The answer is, it depends.

Flowers form into balloon shaped "hairy balls"
Flowers form into balloon shaped “hairy balls”

Annual vs. perennial – if the milkweed you are growing performs as an annual in your hardiness zone, like the Asclepias Physocarpa pictured above, you can scatter the open seed pods around the soil and cut the stalks down to the ground. The roots will dissolve over time and new plants will grow from dispersed seeds.

This milkweed was supposed to be perennial in my garden, but after waiting several months for new growth to appear (meanwhile other milkweeds were sprouting new leaves) I decided to cut it down.  I left about 6″ of stem above ground, just in case it decided to leaf-out again, but it didn’t. Instead new sprouts came up from seeds I dispersed nearby.

You mentioned that you are growing swamp milkweed, Asclepias incarnata. Technically it is a perennial, but if you run into issues like I did (no leaves emerging) then re-seed and cut back old foliage.

Perennial milkweeds grow back year after year. They provide habitat for traveling Monarch butterflies.
Perennial milkweeds grow back year after year. They provide habitat for traveling Monarch butterflies.

If the milkweed is a perennial, like Asclepias curassavica (tropical milkweed) pictured above, you’ll notice tiny leaves growing from the base of the plant at some point after the upper stems have been consumed. Wait for that. Then cut back stems to the new growth and the plant will take off from there.

As a reminder, it is ideal to grow milkweeds that are native to your state if possible. In California, we have several native milkweeds, and seeds can be obtained from Theodore Payne Foundation for at least one of them.

MonarchWatch.org has a vendor list of seed sellers as well.

Thanks for writing in, Bob. Good luck with your butterfly garden!

This Post Has 110 Comments

  1. Ariel

    Hello from Southern California. I have two tropical milkweed plants growing and I am ready to cut them back, but they both currently have about a dozen total caterpillars feeding on them. Should I still cut the plants back with so many active caterpillars on them, or should i wait until the numbers lessen.

    Thank you in advance

    1. Christy

      Definitely wait! I’ve got competing sources that say different things when it comes to timing for cutting down tropical milkweed. Some say now, others say Christmas. So you’re good for a little while longer.

  2. Lori

    If I bought plants at Lowe’s and gathered seeds to replant are they contaminated with pesticides or will the new seeds be “clean” plants? Thanks

    1. Christy

      HI Lori, that’s an excellent question, but the answer is “it depends”. I encourage people to contact their garden center and grill them about the sources and practices for spraying prior to sale. Many garden centers like Home Depot tag their plants with a sign that says, “This plant is protected by glyphosate” or something like that. But many don’t. Call Lowes HQ and inquire about their practices. If they spray their plants before sale, then the seeds will have residues of pesticides in them. An interview I heard last year stated that pesticide residues can remain in plant pollen and nectar for up to 7 years after spraying. I don’t remember how long it is traceable in seeds, though.

      The other question to ask is whether your milkweed is a hybrid or not. Hybrids don’t breed true to type – they are wild cards so seeds saved from them won’t grow out the same as their parents. Most milkweeds are not hybrids, but double check to be sure.

  3. Kim

    I live in Chicago and have a patch of common milkweed that planted itself in my corner garden (surrounded by sidewalk and street). Last year, it got so tall it flopped over. Normally, that wouldn’t be a problem, except mine flopped over into the street and onto the sidewalks right as they started blooming. The plants were run over and smooshed. Would it be possible to prune these plants to keep them at a more manageable height or should I get a whole lot of stakes to try and hold them up?

    1. Christy

      You can prune them, but yes, you can also use stakes. Gardener’s Supply sells a lot of “grow-through” type stakes and supports that allow you can keep those tall flowers upright. It may be too late for grow-through supports now, but if you prune the milkweed back you might be able to install one. Otherwise use regular stakes and floral tape or twine to secure then to your plants.

  4. Kathy F. in

    I have a nice patch of native milkweed growing in my garden. I couldn’t tell you which one. I gathered the seed near my house when I lived in Brighton, CO. I didn’t want to order seed from another area of the country. It’s the third year and it’s really spreading, contained for now, by a paver walkway and paver stone deck. It gets fairly tall and sprawls. I’ve cut down on the amount of water it gets. I’m a big fan of gardener, Tracy Disabato-Aust, who is famous for pinching and trimming perennials to stagger bloom. I’ve been searching online to see if anyone pinched their native milkweeds to make them bushier. My monarchs don’t come through my area of Colorado until later in the summer. Your thoughts would be much appreciated. Or…perhaps I’ll just do it and report back.

    1. Christy

      I admit that I don’t do anything to my milkweed, I just let it go. But if you want to make it bushier, feel free to pinch. We’d love to hear how it goes!

  5. VB

    Hello from Central Florida!
    This year I started swamp milkweed and tuberosa milkweed saplings from seeds. I have used 22″ large pots. The swamp variety has come up in two pots about 15 saplings each. The tuberosa variety hasn’t come up. Only 8 little saplings of clustered leaves among 2 pots. I have 2 Qs:
    1. Is it okay to leave 15 saplings each in pots or do I need to thin them out?
    2. The tuberosa saplings are not growing at all… Still about an inch or so tall while the swamp saplings are almost 10-12 inches by now. Do they still have promise to grow?

    1. Christy

      A 22″ pot is a good size, but I’d probably limit it to no more than 4-6 plants in that pot. Transplant the rest to other containers or in the ground to give them enough room to thrive. Besides, pollinators and butterflies like a 3′ wide swath of plants to enjoy so spreading them out will give them more room to feed. As for #2, I unfortunately don’t have any experience with tuberosa milkweed. It’s a perennial, and according to Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center, they can take 2-3 years before they start flowering. So they may just be really slow growing. It also says they are best propagated from cuttings (I’m guessing for the same reason). As the weather warms up they may take off. Keep us posted!

      1. VB

        Oh wow! So happy to see your response. Thanks so much for the guidance. I couldn’t find this website again after posting the Qs. And I kept monitoring my email to get a response notification. I was so lucky to find the post again and to see the response. Thanks again. I shall keep you posted on how it proceeds.
        VB

  6. Robert flynn

    I live in the Sandhills of NC, I have beautiful crops of common milkweed,some swamp. Should I cut my common to stagger the maturity throughout the summer and fall?

    1. Christy

      That’s a good question, Robert. I don’t have experience with pruning to time out staggered blooms. I usually just let it grow, go to seed and re-seed itself when it feels like it. I’m guessing MonarchWatch.org would have more information about pruning for timing. Check them out.

  7. Vicki Hawkins

    I live in Florida and I just had a seed pod open. Should I save the seeds and plant in the Fall

    1. Christy

      You can plant them just about any time in your climate, just make sure to cut down all plants to a few inches above the ground around Christmas to prevent pathogen infection of the plants. I assume you’ll have volunteers popping up if you just let the seed pods disperse naturally as well. The method is up to you. Either way, enjoy them!

  8. Lisa

    Hello,
    I heard that you should not use milkweed from the year before, it’s bad for the butterflies. Is there any truth to that?

    1. Christy

      I think what you’re referring to is the notion that some types of milkweed that doesn’t die back over winter can carry a pathogen that kills Monarch butterfly caterpillars. Tropical milkweed doesn’t die back in warm-winter climates and so it is recommended to cut it back to about 4″ tall in December to clear the plant of any possible pathogens. The regrowth will be clean. So I suppose others may suggest pulling and starting anew each year. But you don’t have to do that if you cut them back.

  9. Victoria J Korol

    My milkweed is not thriving and it’s a perennial. About half of the branches are drying up while the others are ok. I treated them for aphids last month. I live 2.5 miles from the Pacific Ocean. The first year they were great. The second and third years were not very good. Thoughts?

    1. Christy

      Different cultivars of milkweed behave differently, but even perennial milkweeds die back. You might check the soil for root nematodes (that’s a biological soil test you send off to a lab like Earthfort). I don’t recommend treating for aphids because even organic sprays can harm good bugs indiscriminately. Milkweed regrows after you cut it back. If you didn’t cut it back to about 4″ from the soil in December it might need to be cut back now. Keep us posted on how thing go.

  10. art bernabo

    AND …one more question please – Which type of honey suckle that is not invasive but is AROMATIC? ART

  11. art bernabo

    For some reason my milkweeds(I have several different indigenous types – Mo) are not being the host of Monarch caterpillars this year- even tho the milk weeds look very healthy and in bloom. THAT BEING SAID – I have been spraying a product called DEER – FENCE, because earlier in the year the deer were eating all of the milk weed as well as the butterfly bushes. This product says it does not harm animals or plants. AND the spray has definitely kept deer off the plants. Yes there are monarchs landing on and taking the nectar from the milkweeds, but could this spray prevent the caterpillars from being on these milkweeds even tho the butterflies are using the milkweeds for other reasons?

    1. Christy

      I’m noticing a lack of activity on my own plants this year, whereas others are posting photos of caterpillars all over theirs, so I’m with you, Art. I just observed two Monarchs visiting my plants yesterday, so maybe they are just later in your area this year. It is always possible that pesticide drift can ward off insects. I couldn’t find any info (anecdotal or otherwise) that Deer Fence wards off Monarchs. That said, you might try spraying around the plant instead of spraying it directly.

  12. Linda Wicker

    I transplanted 4 plants of milkweed (some of the had zero roots attached), have watered them everyday, fertilized the heck out of them, gave them a drink of root stimulator. All the old leaves fell off, but now i am getting new leaves on the nude sticks and new leaves at ground level. I am so excited to see this, but I am wondering if I have any chance of seeds for next years crop, or is this just a feel good moment that wont produce anything for the monarchs this year or a start for next year? It the common milkweed and I live in northwestern Ohio, growth zone 6a. Thank you!

    1. Christy

      Hi Linda, it depends on when your first frost happens and how durable these milkweeds will be when that time comes. It may be long enough to flower and go to seed this year. Fingers crossed.

  13. Rita

    I purchased various milkweed plants online. It is now mid-June and these plants are already producing seed pods. Seems way to early – what am I doing wrong?

    1. Christy

      There are so many types of milkweed, and so many factors that could possibly contribute to the plant’s seeding early: wacky weather, plant stress (watering issues, crowding, sudden temperature changes), or just what that type of milkweed does. I wish I could say which it is, but without more information it’s really hard to say. You probably aren’t doing anything wrong, Rita, but if you look up the particular variety that you purchased that is seeding and search for “xx milkweed signs of stress” or “xx milkweed seeding early” you might find some info on a forum specific to your region or hardiness zone. Sorry I can’t be more help

  14. Linda Oetting

    I just can’t find an answer to my question.
    We have swamp milkweed and it has been coming back yearly for the past 2 years and this year, the 3rd, it is bold and beautiful. :o)

    My question …after it flowers can I cut off the flower heads now? We don’t want to reseed, not necessary in our small garden. We live in Missouri and keep our milkweed watered during the dry, hot summers but other than that I don’t know what kind of maintenance is best. If I can cut off the flower heads after they bloom do I cut the stems back about 1/3 also even though it is the month of June. Help … so much appreciated.

    1. Christy

      I don’t know much about swamp milkweed, since it isn’t native to my area, but I did find this: swamp milkweed propegates from rhizomes (in addition to seeds) so it will keep growing year after year if you don’t let the seeds disperse. MonarchButterflyGarden.net states that you can prune off spent flowers if you don’t want to seeds to spread. I would hold off on pruning further than that until fall, which is when official pruning is recommended.

      1. Linda Oetting

        Thank you so much … I didn’t realize my question had been answered. I really appreciate your answer. Helps a lot!

    2. Kara

      Here in North Dakota, I pinch back a few milkweeds of both the common and swamp varieties to spread out the bloom time.

      As they bloom, I keep the old flowers trimmed off so they continue blooming. About mid August I start letting them all go to seed. I don’t need more plants, but a couple organizations collect milkweed seeds, so I give the seeds to them.

  15. Patty Caniff

    A mower company cut mature common milkweed….can I still transplant or will it sprout again this season?

    1. Christy

      Most milkweeds that I’m aware of will sprout again. Maybe not this season (depending on where you live) but it will probably come back. As for transplanting, we say in the business that there’s always a 50/50 chance of survival when you transplant something. Since the foliage has already been cut back, it will focus on root development when you move it. So it might work.

  16. Vicky

    Caterpillar’s have stripped all the leaves and buds from my milkweed. Will the milkweed re-generate more leaves on existing Stems or should I cut it back. I am on East Coast South Carolina

    1. Christy

      It depends on which type of milkweed, but many of them will regenerate more leaves. If you prune the tips off, that will help trigger new growth.

      1. Marilyn Shafer

        Thanks Christy! I had the same question hereIn Florida. Just bought 6 more plants to rotate. My 30+ cats are chowing down. I’ll prune the tips.

  17. Tamara

    Today someone accidentally cut my lush, budding milkweed down to the ground with a weed wacker. I am heartbroken and wondering if there is anything I can do to save it and help it regrow.

    1. Christy

      I’m sorry to hear about your milkweed incident. Most milkweeds grow back on their own when cut to the ground. It may take some time, but it’s early in the season, so keep an eye on it and watch for new leaf development. I hesitate to offer suggestions to feed it because milkweeds are usually, but not always, a native or invasive species that really don’t need much help from us. If there is anything growing nearby, clear a space to prevent competition around it. That will give it a fighting chance.

      1. Steve Denmark

        You may want to add non-flavored used dry coffee grounds around the base of each plant and lightly mix it into the soil. Milkweed, like us, seems to loves a good coffee bean. Mine has really thrived.

        1. Christy

          Thanks for sharing your tip, Steve. We love coffee grounds for veggies, but hadn’t considered them for milkweed. Glad to hear it helps milkweed thrive.

  18. Kirk

    Can I “shape” milkweed as it grows..would like ‘bushy instead of ‘tall’..

    1. Christy

      I honestly couldn’t find anything about shaping milkweed during the season, only about pruning back at the end of the season. My first thought was to suggest that you grow a short type of milkweed in front of a taller variety so you don’t have to worry about pruning mid-season. Just make sure it’s native to your area.

  19. Janis

    We live in Minnesota. We have a large open field where native Milkweed has been making a good home. We leave these plants all summer without cutting or mowing and they are increasing in number. However, as fall approaches we wonder if we can safely mow these plants down along with the rest of the field. We want to do whatever is best for the Monarchs. Thank you for this information which has appeared almost impossible to find in all our research.

    1. Christy

      Hi Janis, typically milkweeds are cut back in late fall, so you’re right to do it. However you may want to check with your native plant society to verify the travel timing of Monarchs in your area.

  20. Ryan

    Hello, I am a first-year gardener/butterfly gardener. I have swamp milkweed, antelope horn milkweed, and butterfly weed, and am in deep south Texas (Laredo). I am particularly curious about my antelope horn (which I grew from seed): should I cut it back? If so, how and when? As of now, it’s about 10.5 inches long, and a little scrawny, but otherwise seems healthy. As a side note, I chopped back one of my swamps, and it grew back quickly and robustly. Thanks.

    1. Christy

      Hi Ryan, typically milkweeds are cut back in late fall. I don’t know if you get snow in Laredo (I’m guessing not very often), but if so, you’d cut it back before your frost dates, which might be earlier than late fall. You can check with your native plant society in the area to see what they have to say specifically for your neck of the woods. They may have more knowledge about Monarch travel patterns in Laredo.

  21. Gregg

    I plan to cut my field soon, along with the milkweed. Will a second crop of milkweed come back?

    1. Christy

      HI Gregg, it depends on a few factors: how long is your growing season, what type of milkweed is growing, and how far back are you going to cut the milkweed? Since milkweed has the word “weed” in it, chances are it will come back. But if you have a really short growing season, it may not come back into flower before frost. It’s best to look up the type of milkweed growing and look specifically for pruning advice on that variety for your hardiness zone.

  22. Daniel Hite

    Hey Christy,

    Writing from over here in the Phoenix AZ. I work at Audubon Arizona and we have a monarch way station. We used only really plant Asclepias subulata but we’ve noticed that it doesn’t really provide a whole lot of forage for caterpillars. We do get a few monarchs and queens but we’d like to see more. So we’ve started trying to diversify a bit. We’ve begun planting A. erosa, A. linaria, and A. augustifolia. None of them are really available in nurseries so its been a bit slow going. I was hoping you might have some tips for growing them.

    Also, I recently ran across some A. subulata that was pruned and shaped quite a bit. Normally I would just let it grow how it pleases and only remove dead growth but i noticed that the pruned plants had a much denser form and more growth. Do you recommend doing that? I imagine it would provide more forage and space to hide.

    Thanks,
    Dan Hite

    1. Christy

      Hi Daniel,

      Thank you for growing Arizona native milkweed! The pruned plants would tend to produce more foliage because pruning causes a chemical reaction in plants once you remove the apical-dominant growth tip (which exudes auxin – a chemical that prevents other branches from being the “leader”). But given that you work for the Audubon, you probably know that already. This website has growing tips for these particular milkweeds: It doesn’t really have any pruning advice, but it does include advice on how to care for the plant. I hope this helps!

      1. Daniel Hite

        Hey Christy,

        Thanks for the speedy reply! I’ll browse around your web sight a bit for more information on those species. I might have to try out pruning some of them this year, so we’ll see how it goes!

        Thanks,
        Dan Hite

  23. Gloria

    Can I spray bug spray on my milk weed for tiny black and yellow bugs

    1. Christy

      I wouldn’t spray anything on your milkweed. We don’t want to poison the Monarchs. They don’t mind competition from other pests (aphids, milkweed bugs, etc.) and they generally don’t spread to other plants in your garden. Let them be and they will die or become food for hunger beneficial insects in your garden instead.

    2. Sarah

      You can use spray some of the bugs off with water or use Dr Zymes. If you read about it you will find that it is totally non-toxic. Aphids and other pest WILL spread to other plants in your garden. Ants farm (Moving them to flowers and other plants) Aphids so they can feed on the excrement they leave behind.

  24. Annette Sharp

    I had the most beautiful Red Butterflies Milkweed last season!! Hardy after moving twice. I had lots of butterflies, too! They are supposed to be the perennial kind. I cut back the milkweeds in the fall like I was told to.

    We had an unusual cold snap here in Zone 8, extreme NE Texas. Got down to 10 degrees.

    The stems are still there, hard as a rock and dead as a door nail. I’m so afraid they won’t come back!! I’m not touching them except to cut off the remaining “sticks”. is it possible it will come back from the root? I loved them and they added so much to my landscaping.

    1. Christy

      Sorry to hear about your milkweed, Annette. From what I’ve read it’s not particularly frost resistant. Monrovia recommends bringing it indoors before first frost. Also, most milkweeds generally send up new growth from the stems, not the base. That said, I’m always hopeful, and nature is powerful. I wouldn’t give up on it yet. In the future you might consider mulching around the plant over winter or potting it up indoors if you haven’t tried that already. Keep us posted!

  25. Ellen

    Any advice for growing milkweed in Florida Keys? Lots of monarchs enjoying jetropha blooms (not much else blooming after Irma) but I’m seeing only the tropical milkweed reseeding itself. I’d like to make sure there are plenty of good host plants.

    1. Christy

      I believe the native milkweed there is swamp milkweed, but according to this article, Florida has 20 native species (8 of which are native to South Florida). Another article lists the following:

      Native Larval Host Plants for Monarchs in South Florida

      Curtiss’ milkweed (Asclepias curtisii)
      Swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)
      Fewflower milkweed (Asclepias lanceolata)
      Longleaf milkweed (Asclepias longifolia)
      Savannah milkweed (Asclepias pedicellata)
      Butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa)
      Whorled milkweed (Asclepias verticillata)
      Green antelopehorn (Asclepias viridis)
      White vine (Sarcostemma clausum)

      Native Nectar Plants for Monarchs in South Florida

      Mist flower (Conoclinium coelestinum)
      Cat’s tongue (Melanthera nivea)
      False blazing star (Carphephorus corymbosus)
      Flat-topped golden rod (Euthamia caroliniana)
      Yellow top (Flaveria linearis)
      Goldenrod (Solidago fistulosa, odora var. chapmanii, sempervirens or stricta)
      Spanish needles (Bidens alba or bipinnata)
      Blazing star (Liatris garberi, gracilis, or chapmanii)
      Climbing aster (Symphyotrichum carolinianum)
      Hempvine (Mikania cordifolia)
      Scorpiontail (Heliotropium angiospermum
      Crownbeard (Verbesina virginica)

      Some of these varieties need swampy living conditions so if you live where it’s dry that might be why you aren’t seeing other varieties re-seeding themselves. As for help growing in your area, here is a brochure from Xerces Society on growing milkweed in the South Eastern US.

      I hope this helps.

      1. Ellen

        Thank you so much for your comprehensive reply. So many varieties. Yes, on the arid side in the Keys area. Now to keep the iguanas from eating the seedlings.

  26. John

    Planted a giant milkweed tree was growing great untill i covered it when the temp here in florida got below 32° now it looks sad and dead should i cut it back HELP not sure what to do

    1. Christy

      You can cut it back and that will trigger new growth. Wait until temperatures rise above threat of frost first or your new growth will freeze again.

  27. Laura Fordahl

    Nobody has talked about desert milkeed, if it some. At the desert museums plant sale, it looks like is alive, haha should I cut the stalks back? This is my first year!👌

  28. Nicole

    I live in Southern California and have a variety of milkweed including the tropical milkweed, narrow leafed, and this yellow flowered one that looks similar to the tropical milkweed. They are all still sprouting new leaves and flowering. Due to the unusually warm weather this year in October, I discovered lots of monarch caterpillars yesterday. I took in about 15 babies yesterday and there are still many on the milkweed. When would I cut the milkweed since they are doing so well? Won’t the Monarchs not survive when they finally hatch since it will be fall/winter?

    1. Christy

      Hi Nicole, This blurb comes from the Monarch Joint Venture on BackToNatives.org:
      “If you already have tropical milkweed in your garden, prune the milkweed stalks to about 6 inches in height during the fall and
      winter months to discourage monarchs from establishing winter-breeding colonies*. Cutting back the milkweed will also help
      to eliminate OE spores that may be present on the plant. Re-cut the milkweed every few weeks as leaves re-sprout. Tropical
      milkweed might pose fewer problems in the northern monarch breeding range because it dies back naturally when it freezes.”

      I also read to cut back after it stops flowering. Monarchs tend to interrupt their migration to hang out with topical milkweed, so we’re providing them with a pit-stop that’s not necessarily good for them. If you want to wait until the plant finishes flowering, and the caterpillars have moved on (which they most often do), then cut it down (or remove the tropical varieties), make that your plan.

      1. Nicole

        Okay thank you, I appreciate the information! I want to stick to natives but its kind of hard to get rid of the tropical milkweed since the Monarch caterpillars seem to prefer them, and they are so hardy with the heat.

  29. Darlene Krauss

    I live in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada & purchased my Asclepias – Soulmate – seeds from a supplier in Ontario, Canada. Last year I planted the seeds, two plants grew to about 10-16 inches, no flowers. This year, both plants took off, growing to at least 48 inches tall, with tons of flowers. Unfortunately, no Monarch butterflies were to be seen in our yard, but the flowers definitely attracted several types of bees. The flowers produced endless pods containing seeds which I have harvested in abundance. Last fall I cut the plants down to about 6 inches above ground level & this year’s growth appeared to have come from the stems that were cut down plus new growth. The stems of this year’s plants are very hardy & strong, their appearance looking much like bamboo stalks. I did stake the stems this year as the weight of the flowers & then the pods were bending the stems which did interfere with other plants in the flower bed. I plan on cutting the stems down to about the 6″ height & hope they will come back next year just as hearty as they did this year. I am also planning on trying to dry this year’s stems that I cut off & hopefully they can be used much the same way that bamboo stalks are. Wish me luck.

    1. Christy

      Thanks for sharing, Darlene. Good luck!

      1. Linda

        I am now a Texas resident with lots of the same milkweed incarnata ‘soulmate’ that I bought as good sized seedlings. I have seven types of milkweed in my garden but this one is not a monarch favourite. It’s a fine nectar plant.
        The bad news is you can’t reasonably expect any monarchs in Saskatchewan. I was a Master Gardener in Calgary for over 20 years and am now an Entomology specialist. There are over 100 native butterfly species in the province, but you’d need to get to Ontario to see large numbers, or occasionally in BC. The range map on the link is a good guide. I’m guessing the prairie sightings on the map are likely misidentified Viceroys.

  30. Yvonne McLeod

    I live in Zone 4, Southern B.C. This is my first year periennal milk weed, the bottom leaves have turned yellow, the plants are 3-4 ft. tall. Do I put stakes around them for the winter months as they are leaning over and how far back so I prune them? Thank you in advance.
    Yvonne

    1. Christy

      Usually we prune back milkweed in the fall before winter hits. Cut back to 4″ above soil level. For now you can stake them to keep them from falling over.

    2. Linda

      Yvonne, Your milkweed will naturally die back to ground in Zone 4. You can keep the dead stalks in place until Feb or March for winter interest or for insects who might overwinter. Just clean up the dead stuff before the new growth starts coming back. You may also find that you need to treat is as an annual in BC. It may just get too cold. No harm trying. But just collect the seeds and save them to plant in late March or April.

  31. Michele

    I am in New Orleans. My milkweed is in a pot. I’d like to cut it back because it looks rough. Yellow leaves and no more flowers. It’s my first year with it. When should I cut it back and how far?

    1. Christy

      The rule of thumb is to cut back milkweed in winter to about 6″ above soil level. Many milkweed varieties sprout new growth on old stems after they flower. You could wait it out, or cut back now. It’s hard to know what will happen without knowing the specific variety you’re growing.

      1. Yvonne McLeod

        I have planted Butterfly Flowers – Asclepiade Incarnata. I greatly appreciate your info and advice. Many thanks

  32. Shelley B

    Hi live in the CA Bay Area, and have about a 4′ x 25′ patch of native showy milkweed that is flowering and covered with aphid.
    Should i cut it back and hope for fresh growth for the monarchs?

    thanks,
    Shelley

    1. Christy

      Honestly, we just leave the aphids. If they stay there and leave your other plants alone, great. That’s a trap crop and we usually welcome them in the garden. You’ll soon have ladybugs feasting on them, so it’s okay to leave the plants the way they are. Just don’t spray anything, and you’ll be great.

  33. Ava Butcher

    I live in Virginia and the tropical milkweed does not survive our winter so I just save the seeds and start new plants in late winter to be ready for the Monarch season. I do have a question about common milkweed.I want to cut it back so that new shoots will be ready for the fall monarchs.when should I do that?

    1. Christy

      Ah, Ava, seems you are on a different schedule than we are here in SoCal. I don’t know the specifics of pruning for fall growth, but I would tip prune when you see flowers fading this season. That should give plants enough time to generate new growth. If others who live in Ava’s climate want to weigh in about your timing, feel free.

  34. Karen Phillips

    We have about 300 milkweed growing in our school garden. A lot of it was blown over by a heavy thunderstorm last night.

    What should I do with it? Should I leave it? Should I try staking them? Should I cut the fallen milkweed back?

    1. Christy

      I would leave them and try to stake them. Cut them back in fall.

  35. Margaret

    I live in Florida , it is May and our milkweed had been completely eaten and the plant is just sticks. Is this the time to cut it back?

    1. Christy

      It will most likely generate some new growth from those sticks. You can leave it until fall if it isn’t too unsightly for you.

      1. Ann Fischer

        Happened to me to Florida too , but it’s grown back surprisingly vibrant. I didn’t do anything to aid the process, it simply revived itself!

  36. Lori B

    I have 3 pots of milkweed. They are flowering and growing. Some of the leaves are yellowing but it think I’ve over watered…with that being said, I seem to be attracting a lot of bees (they appear to be honey bees so this is good). My question is do I need to cut back the plants to get them fuller and growing longer time or doin just let the. Go and do what they do?

    1. Christy

      My rule of thumb with milkweed is just to let them do what they do. They are tall and lanky. It’s their growth habit (most varieties, anyway). Plant them in the back of the garden and plant a medium or short height plant in front of them.

  37. Anita

    My swamp milkweed came back from the roots but it hasn’t blossomed this spring. This is the plants 2nd year in our garden. Others in my area are seeing caterpillar action. Patience is not my long suit.

    1. Christy

      I wish I knew more about swamp milkweed. Maybe one of our Gardenerd community members can post a suggestion to get it to bloom sooner.

  38. Leon R Rousso

    I have a few catapillars now. Should I cut off flowers from my Milkweed or wait till October?

    1. Christy

      I’d leave it. Butterflies are all over the place right now, and the flowers will go to seed and reseed themselves in fall. If you want that, then leave them.

  39. Leon R Rousso

    Its April and I am seeing a few Catapillars. Should I cut of the flowers from my Milkweed. They look great but someone told me to cut them back now and not wait for winter.

    Confused

  40. Mary Ann

    In Southern California do I cut back the milkweed now to get larger milkweed bushes? I planted about 25 plants and I want them to grow larger next spring. How low to do I cut them back?

    1. Christy

      If the stems have been denuded of leaves, cut them back to a few inches above the ground. According to LiveMonarch.com, to get larger plants in the spring, “Cuting off the top of the plant after they reach 8-12″ creates more stalks and more leaves.” These are Reduction cuts that generate more growth from side branches. That should do it.

  41. Leon

    I use Dawn dish soap and water in a spray bottle on aphids and it smothers them over night. Also the orange and black bug also.

    1. Mike

      I have 2 milksweeds, I have them in large containers and had them up on a wall where I get more sun… When I looked at them recently the leaves were not growing and it was covered in millions of aphids. I decided not to use the soap and water, but just went with the direct spray with a water bottle, I would spray them off morning and evening, 5 days later, maybe I find 2-3 and new leaves are starting to grow.

      1. Christy

        Thanks for sharing, Mike. We gardenerds can never underestimate the power of a strong blast of water.

  42. Irish Newt

    I’m a 1st yr. Milkweeder. Not sure what type plants I have. I’ve had several sets of Monarch larva, and have seen two crystalist. I think they both failed. Located in Tulsa, OK
    NOT sure when to prune, frost probably 60 days away. I think I’m seeing new seed pods forming, but as a 1st timer & not really knowing much I could use some guidance. I’ll try to attach photos.

  43. LINDA CARVALHO VINCENT

    JUST WANTED TI KNOW IF IT IS A MUST TO CUT IT DOWN BEFORE IT GET TO COLD. SO BF WILL BE ON THERE WAY TO MEX.

    1. Christy

      Yes, it’s a good idea to cut it down before winter, especially if you have a tropical milkweed. This will help prevent the spread of the pathogen that is killing Monarch caterpillars.

  44. Jewell Kelley

    Hi, I live in Col. Ohio, I have had the same milkweed bush grow for 3 yrs., it has grown nicely, first yrs. never seen any caterpillars but plenty of seed pods, now my bush is going to seed pods already, had plenty of honey bees but no butterflies, why are they getting seed pods already, and can I cut it back once the seeds are done forming?

    1. Christy

      Hi Jewell,

      It could be a number of factors contributing to your milkweed bolting to seed so soon. Stress is the usual culprit. High temperatures, lack of water, etc., can cause plants to give up the ghost early. Compacted soils may cause other problems. If the plant already has seed pods, I’d let it go to seed and collect them for next year. Each generation is more adapted to your climate, so this seed may do better than your original plant.

  45. Donna

    Hi,
    I planted about 7 milkweed behind my home on a slope. They did very well over last winter and spring and this year seem to appear to be dead. Not sure what happened. Does anyone think these plants will come back in spring or did I lose them? I know I have aphids on the ones in my yard and I smash and rinse those off but can’t reach the ones on the hill. Do you think this may have killed them?
    I do not want to replace them if it is going to be a recurring problem. I guess I should have mentioned I am in Orange County California and these are the ones that were native to my area.

    1. Christy

      Hosing off the aphids most likely didn’t kill your plants. They may come back. It’s hard to assess from the description. Give them another month, if they don’t leaf out or start sending up new shoots, start over. It’s important to keep in mind that some milkweeds are annuals and some are perennials. You may want to check with the nursery where you bought them, or read up on the variety online to see what the behavioral pattern is for that particular variety. Thanks for writing in. I hope this helps.

    2. Brian

      I live in santa barbara and we had aphids on our milkweed as well. We hosed them off and we had sticks in a pot for the winter. To my surprise they came back strong this spring!

  46. John

    We have a milkweed (Asclepias curassavica) from Home Depot here in San Diego (Vigoro Brand). It did very well over the growing season. It says it is perennial on the pot tag. How much do we cut it back? Also, I did gather seeds from one of the seedpods and I have sprouted 4 plants in small seed pots to plant later on.

    1. Christy

      HI John,

      I’ve heard differing opinions on how far back to cut it. Some say down the the ground, others day leave about 4″ above soil level. The folks at Monarch Joint Venture recommend cutting back to 6″ above soil level and regular cuttings through fall and winter to help eliminate OE spores. They also recommend gradually replacing those plants with native varieties to eliminate the problem altogether. Here is their publication on the subject: http://monarchjointventure.org/images/uploads/documents/Oe_fact_sheet.pdf

    2. Hope

      How did your caterpillars do on that brand? Just bought home from HD and they said it isn’t sprayed but I’m paranoid.

      1. Christy

        I’m not sure what you mean by brand, but I grew them from seed, rather than buying plants at a nursery. We had tons of caterpillars that year.

      2. Kelly

        I purchased 7 plants from HD this season and have many caterpillars and eggs. I too was nervous but was VERY pleased! Good luck.

    3. Greg

      John, please be careful when buying plants from Home Depot and Lowes. Many of their flowering plants were tested and half of them were loaded with systemic pesticides. One customer took a swamp milkweed plant back because it killed the monarch caterpillars. They use neonic pesticides which harm butterflies, honeybees, and bumblebees. I buy from nurseries which do not use pesticides on any of their flowering plants. You can find many nurseries which do not use pesticides on any plants that attract pollinators.

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