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FutureStarrGrowing Milkweed From Seed
The Monarch Butterfly population has declined a whopping 90% over the past decade due to the loss of meadows and habitat (especially in the Midwest). Plant milkweed in your gardens to help support these amazing North American butterflies!What does that mean? In the wild, milkweed plants scatter their seeds quite late in the season, at a time when the coming cold would kill any seedlings that germinated right away. However, the seeds of milkweeds (and other late-season flower plants) are cleverly programmed to delay germination until after they've been exposed to winter’s cold, followed by gradually rising temperatures in springtime. This adaptation is known as stratification. Cold stratification helps to break the seeds' natural dormancy cycle. Exposure to winter temperatures help soften or crack the seeds' hard outer casings.
At the winter plant sale this last weekend, one of the most frequent requests from customers was for milkweed plants. The most common species that we grow at TPF, in order of popularity, are narrow-leaf milkweed (Asclepias fascicularis), showy milkweed (A. speciosa), and Kotolo milkweed (A. eriocarpa). All three are essential habitat plants for the western population of the beloved monarch butterfly, and their seasonal winter dormancy is an important cue for the monarchs to stop laying eggs and migrate to an overwintering spot along the coast.In the garden, these milkweeds are not only appreciated as a host to butterflies and insects alike, but they also provide greenery and flowers deep into the heat of the summer before retreating underground again in the fall.
Milkweeds apparently love the heat, as the plants do not reemerge until the warmer months of late spring, and the seeds do not germinate until this time either. Due to this winter dormancy, we are unable to sell plants until they have come out of dormancy and, due to germination cues, we must wait to sow the seed.As a grower, I must admit that milkweed is one of the easiest plants that we grow…by far. Its predictable and uniform germination makes it an excellent candidate for first-time seed sowers. The first, CRITICAL step is to wait until we get warmer temperatures. At the earliest, you can sow the seed in March, but germination can be achieved all the way into July (sowing any later than July is risky, as the plant needs to be robust when going into dormancy). (Source: theodorepayne.org)