I love milkweed. When the towering stems pop up every summer, I can watch my garden transform into a monarch butterfly paradise!
Spurge is a central feature in my garden and I want to make sure it has everything it needs to come back in the spring.
Fortunately, there isn't much you need to do – although there are a few tips and tricks to follow to ensure perennial growth of healthy plants with an abundance of blooms.
If you're just starting out, see full Cultivation instructions in our growing guide.
Read on to learn how to care for Asclepias plants in winter so they can come back hardy as always the following spring.
Spurge is an herbaceous perennial, and the Asclepias genus comprises more than 100 species that are native to the United States and Canada.
These can be recognized by their characteristic milky white sap, which is located in the stems and leaves.
Plants of this genus bloom in summer, set seeds in autumn, and die in winter.
With proper care, they're ready to sprout again from an underground network of creeping roots the following spring. Spurge also spreads easily from seeds.
There are species that have adapted to growth in almost all climates. If you are growing a strain that is native to your climate, winter care requirements are minimal.
If you live in a cold climate or are growing a species that is not very hardy for your zone, you can add a few inches of wood shavings or straw mulch to protect the root system through the winter.
Prune in autumn or early spring
You can prune back plants in the fall or wait until spring.
If you hold back until spring, birds and other small animals can use the lint surrounding the seeds and the fibers of the stems to build nests.
For pruning, simply use a pair of clean scissors to cut each dead stalk to the ground. These can be added to the Compost heap.
If you want to prune, wait for the seed pods to ripen and distribute their seeds first.
Store and distribute seeds
Spurge plants are the main source of food and habitat for monarch caterpillars, an important and endangered native pollinator. The more we can spread it, the better!
Seeds of some species require cold stratification. So if you let the seeds scatter, they'll rest in the garden until spring. Warm weather and tropical species like A. curassavica do not require cold stratification.
You can also collect them and distribute them yourself wherever you want. Do this in late autumn, after the first frost, but before a hard frost.
Caring for milkweed in winter is a breeze, and the rewards are so satisfying! With little effort in winter, you can watch your garden fill up with a huge patch year after year.
The caterpillars come first, then charming glass-like cocoons hang from the branches and finally the garden is filled with butterflies!
What are your tips for wintering milkweed? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
For more tips on preparing your flowers for winter, see the guides below:
About Heather Buckner
Originally from the sparkling lakes of Minnesota, Heather Buckner now lives with her family on a beautiful homestead in the Vermont Mountains. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Environmental Science from Tufts University and has served in many nature conservation and environmental protection roles including creating and managing programs based on resource conservation, organic horticulture, food security and leadership building. Heather is a certified permaculture designer and student herbalist. She is also a fanatical gardener and loves to spend as much time with dirt as possible!