How and Where Should I Plant Milkweed Seeds?

Planting milkweed seeds is a first step in creating an environment for Monarch Butterflies to carry out there metamorphosis. Plants in the milkweed family are the only host plants that Monarch butterlies will lay their eggs on.

Some varities of Milkweed, you might consider include:

Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca): This plant spreads by strong tap roots which it shoots out horizontally. You keep it under control by digging out the feeder plants as they emerge. Zone 4-9

Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata): Monarchs particularily like this native variety. This plant is well behaved in the garden and will have to be divided every few years. Swamp milkweed is a wetland plant but will do well in medium moist conditions once established. Zone 3 to 8

Tropical Milkweed (Asclepias curassacia) This variety is the Monarch’s favorite milkweed. It grows fast and flowers readily all summer. It must be used as an annual and does not require cold stratification like perennial milkweed seeds. Collect the seed in the fall and start indoors in the spring so that the plants are ready for butterfly season. Zone 9-11

Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa): This plant is in the milkweed family. It is a great nectar source. It does well in dry conditions and because it is a bit shorter than other milkweeds, it makes a great front of border plant. Zone 3-9

Milkweed is commonly found growing along roadsides, in ditches and in fields and meadows. When you put milkweed in your garden, you may choose to grow it in mixed borders, in meadows or in natural areas. Milkweed needs a sunny location in your garden. It is going to grow anywhere from 2 to 6 feet so you want to plant it at the back of a border. The milkweed flower will be pink to purple depending on the variety and will bloom from June to August.

The perennial varieties mentioned above are best planted in the fall. You can collect the seeds from the dry pods on milkweed plants. The seeds require cold stratification which will occur naturally over the winter. Here are 10 simple steps to planting milkweed seeds.

1. Put your seeds in a small bowl and take them to your planting area.
2. Prepare the planting area by clearing away any mulch or rocks that might block the growth of the small seeds.
3. Water the area thoroughly to saturate the soil.
4. Put on your garden gloves and stick your index finger into the dirt up to your first knuckle. Measure between holes by making an “L” with your thumb and index finger.
5. Place a seed in each hole.
6. Cover the seed with the moist soil and cover the planting area with a few inches of straw or leaf mulch.
7. Mark the area with sturdy plant labels.
8. If squirrels are a problem, you could consider covering the planting area with chicken wire of put off the planting till just before the ground freezes or just before your first major snowfall is forecasted. November is the ideal planting time.
9. Relax for the winter.
10. In the spring, pinch off any extra plants or transplant the seedlings that you thin out in order to get the spacing that you want.

Plant as much milkweed as you possibly can, the Monarchs will thank you and you will have the pleasure of observing the miracle of the metamorphosis of the butterfly next summer.

An excellent resource is:

Beaubien, Thelma,  Gardening for Butterflies  Kitchener, ON, 2017.

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