Preparing Milkweed Seedlings for Park Planting

em247(5a IA)January 27, 2014

Hello fellow Milkweed enthusiasts! : )

I have a question that I'm hoping one of you experienced milkweed-ers can help me with. I was wondering what the best way is to prepare milkweed seedlings to be planted on state land so that they will be most successful on their own without any additional care after the initial planting. I have a fairly sizeable amount of common milkweed seed left from my milkweed newbie seeds after starting a couple of jugs for our own garden, and my mom knows has the contact info for someone that can get us the go ahead and places to plant. I just wasn't sure how to go about it. I was thinking the aluminum lasagna pans with the clear tops might be a good solution, and I do have a lot of paper towel rolls I could put in there to keep the roots separated and minimize root disturbance during planting. I also have access to some small yogurt cups that I could transplant any germinated seedlings to to allow them to get a bit bigger before planting. If anyone has any tips or tricks on how to do this and how big the plants should be before we plant them it would be greatly appreciated. I would just hate to go through all the work just to end up wasting milkweed seed to produce plants that die after we get them in the ground


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Tony G(5a)

Hi Emily,

before you settle on common, do the people who manage this land care if the common mw spreads? If the answer is yes, you may want to limit that species and offer some other varieties instead (or in addition too). Swamp milkweed butterfly, purple milkweed, prairie milkweed, showy milkweed, etc...

It would be a shame if you did this, and then they decided they wanted to pull it all in a couple years because it's unmanageable.

If you winter sow then plant in spring, I wouldn't worry about roots becoming entangled...that's an issue with more mature plants. (I would suggest spacing seeds and not just sprinkling)

In addition to transplanting seedlings, I would also direct sow more seeds in case some of your plants don't make it.

good luck with your project, Tony

    Bookmark   January 28, 2014 at 8:46PM
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docmom_gw Zone 5 MI(5)

I agree with coolbutterfly that sowing in small containers for planting, and direct sowing a few extras, is a good approach. Once the seeds have germinated and gotten some roots going, they should have a decent shot at surviving wherever you plant them. Milkweeds are pretty tough. Keep up the good work.


    Bookmark   January 28, 2014 at 8:57PM
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em247(5a IA)

Thanks for the helpful advice. : ) I'll save some of the seed back to plant along with the transplants to help ensure that some milkweed plants are available either way. We'll be planting in naturalized areas, so spread shouldn't be an issue. Maybe an updated post with pics will be in order down the road when the plants are established.

    Bookmark   January 30, 2014 at 12:08PM
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mary_littlerockar(8a-7b mid Arkansas)

I would encourage, if OK with land owner, at least planting Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) at the beginning.

In my experience, it grows faster than other perennial milkweed, especially during the first year, providing some nice size leaves to help encourage egg laying and food for the tiny Monarch cats.

Once your other milkweed varieties become established, you can use roundup to spot treat and eliminate the Common MW if it becomes a problem. In a natural setting, I'm not certain if spreading will even be a problem. In a small, confined home garden, spreading might become more troublesome.

If you're located in Iowa, I'd think you still have time to winter sow seed. I winter sow mostly in containers made from 2 liter soda bottles. The plastic is very pliable, making it easy to cut and to make drainage holes in the bottom (even with cheap scissors.) When I'm ready to plant out, I just slice down the sides in several places with a paring knife and lift out the root ball.

Monarch Watch ( and click on Milkweed Market) will be selling milkweed plants by the flat again this year and this might be something to consider. They contract with Applied Exological Services in Kansas to grow the milkweed for their program. I bought Milkweed plants last year and they were big and healthy; I was very impressed.

Good luck with your project and thank you for planting for the Monarch butterflies.


Here is a link that might be useful: Monarch Watch website

    Bookmark   February 21, 2014 at 11:36AM
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docmom_gw Zone 5 MI(5)

Anyone who can afford to, I would encourage donations to Monarchwatch. They have excellent connections with many organizations which are well situated to have powerful influences on the Monarch situation. Any money sent their way will be put to good use. I am not connected to them in any way, except that I donate seeds and money to their efforts.


    Bookmark   March 2, 2014 at 9:09AM
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