If you plant it, They will come.

Are you thinking about planting a ‘Butterfly garden’ this spring? The need for initial planning cannot be stressed enough when it comes to any garden, especially if you are going to propogate Milkweed and plant to attract butterflies. Here are a few bullet points to make note of before you embark on your project.

  • Place your butterfly garden in full sun and partial shade
  • Know the sun, water and soil requirements of your plant selections
  • Choose plants that offer a variety of colors, shapes, heights, sizes and growth habits
  • Plant both butterfly host plants and nectar sources

There are a variety of plants that you can choose from to attract butterflies, such as Black-Eyed Susan, (Rudbeckia hirta) Firebush, (Hamelia patens), or Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) to name a few. Milkweed however, should be on the top of your list. Milkweed not only offers a nice variety of color, but it also serves as a nectar source and a host plant. Any butterfly garden project should feature Milkweed, especially if you are looking to attract the regal Monarch butterfly. The Monarch butterfly population has declined an estimated 80 to 90% over the past few decades. As the only host plant for Monarchs, Milkweed is the best plant for concerned gardeners to put into their gardens. To grow Milkweed from seed there is an important process called cold stratification that should be performed to ensure high germination rates of seeds.

Cold stratification is crucial for the germination of Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), and Whorled Milkweed (Asclepias verticillata) seeds. This process helps to break the seed’s natural dormancy cycle by exposing the seed to winter-like temperatures that help soften or crack its outer casing. Without prolonged exposure to cold temperatures, your Milkweed seed’s ability to germinate is greatly diminished.

How to perform cold stratification in your kitchen refrigerator.

Step 1: Place your Milkweed seeds in a damp paper towel inside a ziplock type bag, and place in your fridge for 4-6 weeks (30 days minimum). Choose a low-traffic place inside your fridge, perhaps taped to the bottom of a shelf or in a vegetable bin, so it won’t get damaged.

Step 2: After a minimum of 30 days it’s time to plant the cold stratified Milkweed seeds. You will experience greater success if you use plastic form flats or pots that are a minimum of 4 inches deep. Fill the flats ¾ of the way with a ‘seed-starter potting soil’ and before placing your seeds, gently sprinkle water to moisten the soil. Water should be able to drain through the flat. Once the soil is damp, place 1-2 cold stratified seeds into each pot. To finish, place ¼ inch of soil on top of the seeds.

Step 3: Gently water the planted seeds to give additional hydration. The best way to water is from the bottom up. Place a flat (1020) tray beneath the pots and add a ¼ inch of water to the bottom of the tray. Use caution so as not to overwater. Water every other day as needed to keep the soil moist.

Cold-stratified Milkweed seeds should germinate and sprout within 10-15 days after planting. Please note, from the time you begin the stratification process to the first sprouts can take up to 45+ days, so patience is warranted.

Once your Milkweed begins to sprout you’ll need to care for your young plants. During the first few weeks, make sure your Milkweed is either in a sunny window, in a green house, or under a grow light. Milkweed requires lots of sun and warmth to flourish. If you’re using a grow light, make sure to lower the bulb close to the pots, or your seedlings may become leggy as they stretch to find the light.

After your Milkweed becomes established in your seed tray it will be time for transplanting outdoors. It’s best to transplant Milkweed when the plant is no larger than 3 to 4 inches tall. Milkweed plants often experience some transplant shock and may lose all their leaves. Planting seeds in deep flats of 4 inches or more can buffer transplant shock because the depth allows the tap root room to grow. If your plants lose their leaves DON’T PANIC. Your Milkweed is establishing its roots and will eventually grow leaves again.

Soil moisture and temperature are very important when growing Milkweed. Milkweed does well in open areas with a minimum of 6 hours of full sunlight exposure. Once your seedlings are planted, water them for a few days to get them established. After that, the plants don’t need much supplemental water. Only water if you have an unusual dry spell.

Now you’re on your way to creating a butterfly oasis. With a collection of milkweed supplemented with a few other nectar plants such as a Red Star Hibiscus or Eastern Redbud the garden will be enjoyed not only by butterflies but by you too.

For more information on butterfly gardening, plant types, and which butterflies are attracted by what plants please continue reading here: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/uw057


Posted: February 9, 2018

Category: Horticulture
Tags: Butterflies, Cold Stratification, Milkweed, Propogation


Tatiana Sanchez, DPM

October 18, 2021

Hi Lane, I attached some information via email. Thanks

Lane Pulcini
October 17, 2021

I think I know the answer to this but can you confirm that growing crops in a hydroponic system can not be sold, even at a farmers market, unless that land is categorized as agricultural or if you fall into the "limited use" category, which I believe that requires atleast a single acre of land? If this is correct, do you know if there is any exemptions, as my property would not qualify for limited use, as it's only a half acre. I'm just trying to sell my produce at farms markets as a side business! Thanks for any advice, feedback you can give.

Scott Schuppie

March 30, 2021

You certainly can try to sprout them. You will have a far far greater germination rate if you cold stratify the seed first. Its a very simple process that just requires a wee bit of patience.

March 29, 2021

I’m curious about the cold germination. I’m in zone 10 and the pods are opening. Do I need to do this cold germination process or can I just try to sprout them? Thank you.

Taylor Clem, PhD

March 24, 2021

You are right, good catch! Many of the gardens during the Renaissance Period had varying underlying principles/theories. Le Notre definitely created the synthesized definition of French Classical Gardens, starting with Vaux-le-Vicomte, which definitely had Renaissance/Baroque garden influences. One major difference I've always liked was the use of theatrical perspectives within gardens (focal points, unification around one plane/frame, and use of planes to influence depth) and Mollet's influence on parterres. Of course, the French-style gardens were substantially more grandiose than the Italian Renaissance for purposes of pleasure, entertainment, conducting court, etc, but focused much on absolutism. I'd love for you to send me some additional resources because it is hard to find them. You can send me a direct email to taylorclem87@ufl.edu Thank you.

March 23, 2021

The Gardens of the Palace of Versailles is not a Renaissance Garden. It is instead a French Classical Garden, which held quite strongly opposing values of the renaissance ideals. It was not even in close proximity with the Renaissance period.

Cynthia Sanders

January 12, 2021

Thank you for your great question. We have lots of materials and resources available online for homeowners. The Gardening Solutions webpage is a great webpage for all homeowners (www.gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu). We also have a county webpage dedicated to the Florida-Friendly Landscaping Program that includes additional resources (https://sites.google.com/ufl.edu/alachuaffl/home). Regarding services, we offer programs throughout the year relating to landscaping best management decisions and vegetable gardening. I recommend checking out our county’s programs/events page for all our upcoming programs (https://sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/events/?location=alachua). Other services we provide include our Master Gardener Volunteer Help Desk. You can reach out to our Master Gardeners Volunteers via email (mag@alachuacounty.us)or phone (352)955-2402 to help troubleshoot any issues within your landscape or garden. Also, the Master Gardeners perform Florida-Friendly Landscape Recognitions. Volunteers visit a homeowner’s property and do a landscape evaluation. This free evaluation allows homeowners to learn ways to improve their landscapes and potentially earn a Gold or Silver landscape recognition. Taylor Clem, PhD Environmental Horticulture Extension Agent UF/IFAS Alachua County Extension 106 SW 140th Terr. Suite 3 • Newberry • FL • 32669 955-2402 (office)

Richard Hanney
January 8, 2021

Is there any documentation, preferably online, that defines and lists the availability of services for homeowners and those planning on planting beneficial plants on their property?

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Taylor Clem, PhD

October 6, 2020

I recommend reaching out to our office. Dr. Cindy Sanders is our county's livestock agent and she will be able to answer your question and give recommendations. Feel free to call us from (352)955-2402

Diane Gruner Laudadio
August 23, 2020

I would like to know if horses can Eat sunshine mimosa

August 3, 2020

Great Blog! Looking forward to more!

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Taylor Clem, PhD

July 9, 2020

Genevieve, Thank you for reaching out. We have quite a few publications that can help you out! Here are a couple articles from UF/IFAS Extension relating to butterfly gardening and attracting wildlife to your landscape. If you'd like further information, feel free to reach out to our office at (352)955-2402 or email our Master Gardener Volunteer help desk at mag@alachuacounty.us. Butterfly Gardening in Florida: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/UW/UW05700.pdf Landscape Backyards for Wildlife: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/UW/UW17500.pdf

Genevieve Chambers
June 19, 2020

Interested in plants that are easy, come up each year. attract butterflies and humming birds

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Taylor Clem, PhD

May 27, 2020

Good morning, Thank you for reaching out to UF/IFAS Extension Alachua County. I'll forward your question to our Livestock Agent, Dr. Cindy Sanders. She'll be able to give you the best recommendations regarding your pasture. Thank you, Taylor Clem

May 26, 2020

I'm in Alachua county and over the years Sunshine Mimosa has spread across quite a bit of my bahia grass horse pasture. It's intermixed with the grass. I'm not finding anything that says it's toxic to horses but I don't think my horses eat it. I think I could control it with herbicide but am hesitant because it is always covered with honey bees and native bees. Is this something I should try to control? Is there a danger that it will choke out my pasture?

Scott Schuppie

April 27, 2020

Monarchs caterpillars only eat milkweed, and the butterflies only lay eggs on milkweed.

April 23, 2020

I have counted as many as 30 monarch (and queen) caterpillars munching happily on my Giant Milkweed. Later I discovered more than 15 spent chrysalis in the cat palm growing beside it.

Tatiana Sanchez, DPM

April 20, 2020

Hi Carlos, I recommend always to follow science-based information, shadow a beekeeper and have the opportunity to learn some about the biology and principles of honeybees before any major investment. Keep in mind that keeping bees in Florida is different from keeping bees in other areas so try to learn from resources that are focused at least to the South East. The beekeeping series offered in Alachua County is a good place to start, the next series cycle starts in November. I also recommend Bee College and the Master Beekeeping program at UF. You can do it online or face-to-face (annual event). You can check it out at http://entnemdept.ufl.edu/honey-bee/extension/master-beekeeper-program/. If you have specific questions on these programs you may contact Amy Vu at amy.vu@ufl.edu. Lastly, you can contact the Gainesville Area Bee Club and join them to meet other beekeepers and learn about others' experiences (https://www.gainesvilleareabeeclub.com/). Here are some recommended sources for you to start exploring beekeeping: - http://entnemdept.ufl.edu/honey-bee/beekeeper-resources/ - https://impact.extension.org/?s=beekeeping - https://honeybeehealthcoalition.org/

April 18, 2020

Hello I would like to start with bee keeping!! Any advise ?

April 16, 2020

Hello do Monarch caterpillars eat only milkweeds leave or will they ravage my entire garden?

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Taylor Clem, PhD

April 14, 2020

James, There are different types of turfgrass species, but finding a specific species that are good for sun and shade is difficult. Seville St Augustine and Empire Zoysiagrass are the most shade-tolerant turfgrasses, but they still need a good amount of sun. Areas directly under trees won't typically develop a good turf stand. The best strategy for managing turfgrass is following IFAS recommendations for growing turf in shadier conditions. If you would like to get more information, email me at taylorclem87@ufl.edu. Also, we have an upcoming webinar on turfgrass management on April 23 from 4 - 5:30pm. You can register and see more information here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/turfgrass-in-alachua-county-tickets-102293845646 Thank you very much, Taylor Clem Environmental & Community Horticulture Agent UF/IFAS Extension Alachua County.

James Smith
April 6, 2020

I am looking for a grass to replace my St. Augustine which has been eaten by chinch bugs. I have both full sun and full shade areas. My yard is now almost completely covered by sand burs. Is there one grass for both shade and sun? I am a disabled vet and mowing the grass is about the limit of the yard work I can do.

Margaret Hartman
March 17, 2020

I'm guessing the March 19 event is cancelled. However, if you had handouts about planting edible plants, would you either post them or email them to me? Thanks!

Harold Fox
February 4, 2020

Thank you so much for your article. I am a firm believer in Companion planting.

Giovana Linale
June 5, 2019

I recently purchased a giant milkweed plant. I had never heard of it before. Do monarch caterpillars like it as much as regular milkweed? Thanks!

Tom Korus
July 11, 2018

Dam awesome Kevin. I'm proud of you!

Scott Schuppie

June 12, 2018

Hi Dave - I would, as carefully as possible, transplant. Ideally you would want to wait until your plants are roughly 3 inches tall. You may still want to wait with 1/2 of your plants. I just don't know if your plants will make that size given you germinated in egg cartons. You could also cut the egg cartons apart & just transplant the whole thing. The egg cartons should decompose. Good Luck.

June 12, 2018

I have planted 6 varieties of .milkweed from seeds in paper egg cartons after 30 days in the fridge. Germination went well. I have about 20 young seedlings about 3/4 to an inch high. Should I get them out of the cartons and into pots now or wait til they're bigger? Thanks

Louise Biernesser
June 1, 2018

Santa Rosa Gardens, a mail-order company in Pensacola, Florida has incarnata and tuberosa. The website is santarosagardens.com. Tell them Louise from the Panhandle Butterfly House sent you. They are a great company.

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