Growing Common Milkweed – Experimenting from seed and transplants

by Sandy Garland / FWG

As part of our Monarch Waystation project, we’re trying to learn everything we can about growing milkweeds, especially Common Milkweed. Common milkweed bloomingDespite the fact that it’s often viewed as a weed, it’s surprisingly hard to grow.

We prepared seeds of both Common and Swamp Milkweed by putting them in the refrigerator in damp vermiculite for a couple of months over the winter. We also scattered seeds outside – in a home garden and at the FWG.

But the germination rate for Common Milkweed has been only about 12-15% – much lower than for swamp milkweed (67%). As far as I can tell, none of the seeds sown outdoors has germinated.

Meanwhile, several people have also donated milkweed plants to the FWG, and we’ve had great success with those. Most of the ones we put in last fall survived the winter. See photos here.

Transplanted milkweedsAt the beginning of June, I planted 6 donated plants in a new area near Prince of Wales Drive. Although they were surrounded by dog-strangling vine, planted in the hardest, most inhospitable soil, and never watered, they are all still alive and thriving (see photo at right).

According to the experts, Common Milkweed likes to grow in disturbed areas. I think that means it’s easy to establish, but what are the implications for the long term? Do we have to dig up these areas every few years and replant?

One other experiment we are going to try is cutting some plants back (to about half their height) in the next week or so, now that they’ve finished blooming and again in early August. That will cause fresh growth and young leaves for caterpillars – especially those that will become the adults that will make the journey south to Mexico this fall. We want to them to be as strong and healthy as possible!

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