Grow Milkweed From Seed

| Gardening Tips, Pollinator

Even though it is March the Monarch Spring Migration is starting! Thankfully for those of us up North, we have just enough time to grow Milkweed from seed and be ready for their arrival. If you want to watch the Monarch’s progress, check out Journey North. There are a few stages that our Milkweed seeds need to go through before they take off. First is cold stratification, second is germination, and then you will see sprouts ready to grow into full Milkweed plants.

Cold Stratifying Milkweed

Honestly, this should say cold moist stratification. Stratification really just means the seed has a coating on it that needs something, in this case, cold and moisture to prep itself for gemination. There are a few methods that you can use and we will start with the least successful, then work our way to the most successful.

Of course, if you are really short on time you, can just scatter your seeds in the garden. Milkweed is a perennial so even if there are not enough cold days right now they will come up next year. Just keep in mind that the success rate is very low this way. Many animals will find the seeds to be a tasty treat!

Another option is to clip a very small portion of the tip of the seed. Some people say this provides just enough space for the first root to erupt from. However, cutting the seed too deep will prevent its ability to germinate.

The last method which will drastically increase your success rate is to mimic the winter conditions for 30 days. Take a wet paper towel and wring it out so it is just damp, too much water might cause mold. Then on one half of that paper towel sprinkle milkweed seeds. Make sure they have enough space between them don’t be afraid to move a few if you need to. Then fold the empty side over on top of the seeds and then fold one more time to make it a square. Now take a plastic bag with a zip-top and write what type of milkweed and the start date (or end date). Lastly, place the seeds into the bag and then into the fridge. Leave it undisturbed for 30 days between 33-38 degrees F. This will break the dormancy cycle that the seeds are in.

Germenating Milkweed

On to the next phase of growth, germination. This means we will actually get to see some growth depending on the method you choose. The method you choose really comes down to how much time you have and your dedication. In both methods, keep in mind that if you have a seed heat mat, use it. This process requires warmth instead of cold. Too much water with soil in this stage will also terminate the seed. Of course, at this stage, you can once again direct sow right into your garden if you wish.

The first method is pretty simple and it is time to get a bit dirty. That is right, fill up your containers with dirt and then place your seeds right on top. Yup, right on top Milkweed seeds actually need light to germinate, so don’t cover with dirt or bury into holes. You may wish to use some clear plastic wrap over the top with just a few air holes to create a greenhouse effect. Just make sure to take it off after about 5 days.

The second method is fun because you can actually watch the root start to grow. Place the seeds in water and place them in a warm spot that receives light. Then, ideally twice a day once, in the morning and once at night, change the water out with room temp water. Within 3-5 days you will start to see a little root pop out. As soon as you see that white bit, transfer it to your containers. Again do not burry the seed. Try using tweezers to gently set the seed into the soil with the white root pointed down into the dirt.

Milkweed Seedlings

Now that the seeds are safely in the dirt it is time to watch the green portion of the plant emerge. Milkweed loves sunlight so use grow lights when possible. Place them right over the top of the containers. Watch daily to see if the growing plant is just about to touch, then raise the grow light just a little bit. About the time that the first set of leaves appear is a good time to set up an oscillating fan. This will recreate the wind that the seedlings would normally endure outside and is a great first step in hardening off your plants.

The next step is transplanting. While it has been fun watching the seeds grow into little green stems with leaves, it is time for them to move out. Milkweed has a taproot that does not like to be disturbed, so do not repot. After any and all chances for frost has passed, it is time to start the move. First, give your plants a drink and place your seedlings outside where they will get sun for a few hours, about 2-4 hours. Then the next day place them outside for 3-6 hours. On the third day give them about 5-8 hours. Finally, on the last day, it is time to plant them in your garden for those Monarchs to enjoy.

Time to Grow Milkweed

By now you have fully enjoyed watching Milkweed grow from seed. But the best is yet to come. Milkweed has a beautiful ecosystem unlike any other. With this one addition to your garden, not only will you welcome the Monarch, but so much more. You may find yourself researching a bunch of new fascinating insects. Even the bird population might increase from this powerhouse plant!

As always, make sure to check out our events page to see what that chapter is up to. We host an annual seed swap where you can pick up a few verities of milkweed. Sometimes we even hand out free milkweed seeds at our events!