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How and When Should I Plant Milkweed Seeds?

By: Jessie Keith

“I have some milkweed seeds and wonder when I should plant them. Should I plant now or wait until spring?” Question from Lynda of West Warwick, Rhode Island

Answer: Start milkweed (Asclepias spp.) seeds indoors in mid to late winter. The seeds of these long-lived perennials can be a little tricky to start because they require a chilling period before they will sprout. (Keep in mind that this only applies to temperate species. Tropical milkweeds, like Asclepias curassavica, don’t need stratification at all.) Here is a materials list and timeline of the steps needed to get these seeds to germinate.

Materials List

  • Milkweed seeds
  • Black Gold Seedling Mix
  • 4″ pots
  • Large, sealable plastic bags
  • Labels
  • Water
  • Seedling Trays with small pots or cell packs
  • Grow lights or sunlight

Directions

  1. Mid-Winter: Soak your seeds for half a day in lukewarm water. Sprinkle several seeds over small (4″) pots filled with moistened Black Gold Seedling Mix, and lightly cover them with additional mix. (The seeds should be placed about an inch apart. I suggest planting at least a two pots up to ensure you get at least a few seedlings.) Stick labels into each pot with the plant name and date started. Put the pots in large, sealed plastic bags, and then refrigerate them for four to six weeks. Make sure the mix remains lightly moist during this time. (This can also be done in plastic bags of lightly moist potting soil, but I find that the seeds are easier to find and manage if they are pre-potted.)
  2. Early Spring: Remove the pots from the refrigerator, place them in water-holding trays, and lightly water them with lukewarm water. Set them in a warm, south-facing window or beneath grow lights. I prefer to start seeds beneath grow lights. (Click here for an article with an overview of starting seeds beneath grow lights.) Lightly spray the surface soil to keep it moist. The seeds should germinate within two to three weeks. Then water intermittently to keep the pots just moist.
  3. Mid to Late Spring: Transplant the seedlings into their own small pots or into cellpacks, allow them to grow to at least several inches, harden them off, and plant them outdoors.

Click here for a full overview of transplanting and hardening off seedlings and planting them outdoors. Additionally, click here for a list of our favorite milkweeds for the garden.

Happy milkweed growing!

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist

About Jessie Keith


Plants are the lens Jessie views the world through because they’re all-sustaining. (“They feed, clothe, house and heal us. They produce the air we breathe and even make us smell pretty.”) She’s a garden writer and photographer with degrees in both horticulture and plant biology from Purdue and Michigan State Universities. Her degrees were bolstered by internships at Longwood Gardens and the American Horticultural Society. She has since worked for many horticultural institutions and companies and now manages communications for Sun Gro Horticulture, the parent company of Black Gold. Her joy is sharing all things green and lovely with her two daughters.

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