Living Acres

Blog: Milkweed

Oct. 28, 2016
Seed Storage
How to Store Milkweed Seeds

Whether you have mature milkweed growing in your backyard, have an avid milkweed-growing friend or know of a public patch of milkweed – fall is the time to harvest the seeds. While there are numerous online videos on how to harvest the seeds from mature milkweed pods, the question that arises is how to store these seeds until the appropriate planting time in spring.

Dried milkweed seeds should be stored in a cool, dry place. Use a sealable plastic bag or a paper bag, folded over and stapled shut, to protect the seeds from mice and insects. Many milkweed growers also label the bag with the milkweed species and the harvest year.

If you are planning to plant this fall’s harvested milkweed seeds next spring, it is best to store them in your refrigerator. This will give the seeds the vernalization (a fancy term for cold treatment) needed to come out of dormancy and sprout when planted.

According to Monarch Watch, the best way to achieve the required vernalization is through stratification. In horticulture, stratification is the process of treating stored seeds prior to planting to mimic natural winter conditions that a seed needs for germination.

To stratify milkweed seeds, some planters will store their refrigerated seeds in moist potting soil. However, if you prefer not to keep potting soil in your fridge, an alternative is to keep the seeds between moist paper towels. This method will prevent fungi and bacteria from attacking the cell. If the seeds do not receive vernalization and stratification, the percentage of seeds that germinate decreases dramatically. You can also improve germination rates by soaking refrigerated seeds in warm water for 24 hours before planting.

Another way to stratify seeds is to plant them in the ground for the winter. After harvesting milkweed seeds, gather them in a mesh bag. The toe of a pair of nylons works well. Dig a small hole roughly 2 to 4 inches deep and place the mesh bag in the hole. Loosely cover with soil. Make sure to mark the spot you planted your seeds so you can easily find them the following spring.

Finally, apply scarification to your stored seeds. Some seed coats require physical agents to aid in the breaking down of the seed coat. Accomplish this by placing the seeds in a container with course sand or salt and shaking it for 30 seconds.

By following these steps, you will increase the likeliness of a successful milkweed grow rate. For more information on how to plant and tend to your milkweed, visit living-acres.basf.us.

Aug. 22, 2016
Plant native varieties of milkweed such as this common milkweed with purple flowers and cone shaped leaves
Native Milkweed and Where to Get It

The monarch butterfly population has been in a steep decline for the past 22 years. Luckily, one of the contributing factors to the decline – the loss of milkweed habitat, has an easy remedy that nearly every landowner can support. Simply by planting milkweed in non-cropland areas, farmers and garden hobbyists will contribute to the ongoing effort of increasing the monarch population.

There are over 100 species of milkweed native to North America, offering a wide variety to choose from when planning a milkweed habitat. It is important to ensure that the milkweed variety you decide to plant is native to the state where you are living. By planting native species, you are increasing the chances of successful growth and decreasing the amount of maintenance the plant will need, quite simply because the plant is already accustomed to the soil and climate.

The easiest way to determine native milkweed species is to visit the Biota of North America Program’s website and view their maps to see which species of Asclepias (the scientific name of milkweed) is present in your state.

Local nurseries will also have knowledge on native milkweed species and are even likely to carry some. Monarch Watch has even published a list of more than 200 vendors that sell native milkweeds in various regions across the U.S. If your local nursery does not carry any milkweed, they may be able to place an order for you.

When you are browsing for your native milkweed, try to track down root sections over seeds. Though it is common to plant milkweed seeds, only a small percentage of planted seeds germinate. Seedlings are also non-competitive and are easily overrun by other plants, making it difficult to establish a vigorous milkweed refuge from seed. Planting root sections with active buds results in the most successful establishment. The plants grown from root sections are typically much more vigorous than transplants in the first year of growth.

To ensure your milkweed habitat returns every summer, Living Acres researchers have developed best planting practices for sustainable milkweed. By following the seven steps, you can ensure that your milkweed is returning in time for the monarch’s migration period.

To learn more, explore living-acres.basf.us.

 
 

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