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How to Grow Milkweed

Updated on April 21, 2015

Growing Milkweed from Seed to Attract Monarch Butterflies

Are you ready to grow Milkweed from seed? These step by step instructions show exactly how easy it is to grow your own milkweed plants. It's a very simple project that will result in Monarch Butterflies magically appearing in your yard. Not really magically, but it will seem that way since they will follow the "scent" of the milkweed from miles around. If you know how to grow milkweed, you WILL have Monarch butterflies.

Since we've just moved into a new home with no milkweed in the yard, I'm going to plant and grow milkweed to once again attract Monarch Butterflies to my yard. I'm documenting my current crop - from seed to plant - with lots of pictures and dates so if you want to know how to grow milkweed, you'll know exactly how to do it and what to expect. I've started my plants in containers and when they are big enough I'll plant them in the ground and enjoy watching the butterflies come to my yard.

This is a diary (of sorts) of How to Grow Milkweed:

My Growing Milkweed from Seed Project.

Starting with Day 1 until I plant them in the ground.

I've added lots of pictures and related items too sprinkled throughout the diary. Enjoy!

What KIND of milkweed seeds am I planting?

There are many types of milkweed.

Mine is asclepias curassavica, commonly called

scarlet milkweed. Learn all about it here at Floridata.I have collected seeds from both the red and yellow varities and have stored them all together. Soooo I don't know which colors I'll end up with!

You'll need seeds. How did I get my seeds? I harvested them myself from my own plants! - You can too

Milkweed Seed Pod
Milkweed Seed Pod

Seeds are Amazing


The pod on the right, to me, is miraculous. See how the seeds are perfectly arranged? I always get a sense of awe when I see an opened pod. The pods in the lower picture are not ready to collect. You'll know your pods are ready to harvest when they turn brownish, dry and crack open. But catch them quick after they open, or the wind will blow them away. See the video below.

How to get free seeds and grow milkweed:

If you don't have any seeds, here are some ideas to get them:

==>1) Ask a friend or neighbor (who grows milkweed) for a couple of seed pods when some are ready.

==>2) Call a local butterfly garden and ask if they have any pods to share. If you don't know of any butterfly gardens, contact your local city or county parks system and ask for the closest butterfly garden (a city butterfly garden is responsible for my own interest in butterflies). Butterfly gardeners are VERY generous people and will usually give seeds to anyone who's interested.

==>3) I've come across a website that offers free seeds. It's Live Monarch *I have not ordered from them and I have no business relationship with them.* The site looks legit and concerned for the cause. If YOU have ordered from them, please give me your take in the guestbook at the bottom of the page. Update: A guest to this page has left the following note: "I noticed you wanted feedback from anyone who got seeds from livemonarch and that's where I got mine. I sent them a donation as well and got back MANY seeds of two separate varieties of milkweed, one being tropical and the other being Speciosa (supposedly winter hardy). They also include a few pamphlets on caring for caterpillars and butterflies and other information regarding Monarchs."

==>4) Update: I'M OUT OF SEEDS!!!!!.

I'll share my seeds for free. I decided to set up an email to handle requests. Send a note and your mailing address to milkweed4monarchs@yahoo.com and I'll send you 10-15 seeds.

If you shoot me an email, please put a note in the guestbook at the bottom of the page something like - Hey puzzlemaker, check your seed-mail :). *Special Note/Please read: The type of milkweed I have is scarlet milkweed and is described as a tropical plant. It thrives in warm weather and is hardy up to Zone 8A (click here for a hardiness zone map). BUT, if you live north of Zone8, check this out: I found this discussion page over at davesgardenabout where this plant grows well from people who actually grow the plant and record their results. Read over notes from folks and list of places near bottom of the page to determine if the plant may grow well in your area.

Right now there is no charge at all for these seeds.

I'm looking into any mailing regulations that may be involved for this - especially out of the United States

I've spoken with the post office, and yes, I can mail the seeds with no problem within the US and also out of the US with a Customs Form attached to the envelope.

So far I've donated seeds to: Canada

Day 1 - Planting the Milkweed Seeds

Getting Started Growing Milkweed

Here, my daughter is holding the seeds we will plant. I collected these scarlett milkweed seeds some time ago and they are from both the red and yellow varieties. When I collected them I didn't separate the colors so I'm not sure which colors I'll end up with - ahhh a nice little mystery! Below her hand you will see the sectioned flats I found in my greenhouse. I'm going to use them to start my seeds. First I added soil up to within 1/4 inch of the top of the sections.

The sections in this flat are large enough for 4 seeds per section. We spread them out a little. With 15 sections and 4 seeds per section, we have planted 60 seeds.



We covered the seeds with 1/4 inch more soil, carefully sprinkling the soil on top so we didn't disturb the position of the seeds underneath.


Now for the last step. We placed the black plastic seed starting flat in a larger pan to make watering easy. You can see the green bucket we used to add water to the bottom of the pan. The water will seep up into the soil and soak it thoroughly. If I pour water right on top of the soil - it will roll off, displace my seeds and make a real mess. Always water seeds from the bottom at least until they sprout. Then, if you want to you can water them with a spray bottle.

Video Shows Milkweed Seeds in a Pod - You'll Need Seeds to Grow Your Own Milkweed

Days 2 to 4

Nothing showing yet

I'm leaving my flat outside. Not in direct sunlight, but in an area with very bright indirect sunlight. I don't want to cook the little seedlings, but I do want them to get lots of sunlight as soon as possible. If it was winter I'd start the seeds indoors, but it's summer and perfect for letting them grow naturally outdoors.

I've seen female Monarchs...

...so determined to get to Milkweed,

that they will lay eggs on screen enclosures

which house the plants.

Day 5 - WooHoo! Milkweed seedlings are visible - 41% germination rate

Lots of seedlings have popped up. I count 25 seedlings. 25 out of 60 is a germination percentage of 41%. Not bad so far, but hopefully I'll see a better percentage in the next few days.

This is faster than I expected and I'm ecstatic to see them up, healthy and already leaning towards the sun.

Day 6 - Most seeds have germinated into little seedlings - 68% germination rate

By the end of the day today, 41 of the 60 seeds are seedlings. That's a 68% germination. Several years ago, I achieved 74% germination. I'd love to get that again.

See how the seedlings are leaning wayyyy towards the sun? I may not be allowing them enough direct sunlight. But I've got to be careful about that since too much direct intense sunlight too early can be too much.

Milkweed does double duty!

Not only is it the host plant for the Monarch,

it's an excellent nectar plant too.

It feeds caterpillars AND butterflies.

I've seen large droplets of juicy nectar

hanging on the flowers of these plants.

Day 7-9 Growing, growing

How to Grow Milkweed - Moving Along

The seedlings are getting taller and stronger. I've been setting them in the sun for increasing lengths of time. Started with 10-15 min, then 30 minutes then 1 hour etc. This will harden them off so when I plant them in the ground the full sunlight won't shock them.

Oh, and I counted one more seedling. I'm up to 42 seedlings out of 60 planted seeds.

Butterfly rests on Penta

Butterfly rests on Penta
Butterfly rests on Penta

Day 10 - First sign of true leaves

Today I was happy to see that the seedlings now have the beginnings of true leaves. Here's my definition of true leaves: True leaves are the first real leaves of the plant. The first 2 leaves that you see are actually the seed leaves or cotyledons.

In the second picture you can see that one of the seedlings (circled) is looking bad. I think the sun was too much for it and the seed "shell" has not popped off the seed leaves. Maybe it will perk up.

I found this short video of a caterpillar emerging from it's egg - You can see this too if you have a magnifing device

Day 11 - Close Call!

I goofed up

I had a close call, but thankfully I got lucky. Early in the day I put the seeds out in direct light since the day was overcast, but I wasn't paying close enough attention and it started raining. Hard rain will destroy tender seedlings. Thankfully the rain was light and I caught it in time. The plants got a super soaking - the most since that first day with the green water pail when we filled the pan they were sitting in.

How to grow Milkweed from seed
How to grow Milkweed from seed

Day 12 - OMG I'm shocked!

More seedings have appeared!

I didn't expect to see any more seeds germinate. Apparently all the rain from yesterday awakened lots of the seeds that had not sprouted. I'm now up to a whopping 53 seedlings! I've learned a valuable lesson. I should have given the seeds another good soaking several days ago. I'll remember this for the next batch.

For those keeping count, that's 88%.

Day 14 - I saw a Monarch in our yard today...

...and wondered if it had picked up the milkweed scent

There's no way to know for sure, but it did not fly to the seedlings. Perhaps it was just a coincidence.

The seedlings, new and older, are growing wonderfully by the way. So well in fact, that I need to start transplanting them into larger containers. I'll separate them out and give each one it's own individual container. Since there are approx. 55 now, I need to allow 2 days to do this. Hopefully I can start tomorrow, but we have a doc's appt. so I'm not sure.

Transplanting milkweed
Transplanting milkweed

Days 15+ - Transplanting!

Hard work is done

I FINALLY have transplanted all of the milkweed. This took several days to accomplish. Honestly half-way through I asked myself why I planted soooo many :-). The total count now is 56 plants! To me, that is simply amazing to have such a high percentage. They look GREAT and HEALTHY. The hard work is done. All I have to do now is water them and wait until I feel they are strong enough to plant in the ground.

Monarch Butterfly Eggs
Monarch Butterfly Eggs

Day 41 - Breaking News - Eggs!!!

The plants have grown like crazy and...

While I was out running errands a Monarch laid at least 46 eggs on the milkweed!!!! While it's still on the planting table! I was shocked to come home and find the eggs, even though I knew it was only a matter of time. The little yellowish dots are the eggs. Some are on the top of the leaves and some are underneath.

Monarch lays eggs curved abdomen
Monarch lays eggs curved abdomen

Day 42 - Caught in the act - more eggs!

I caught this little critter in the act. I grabbed my camera and took several pictures. I'm sure I have around 100 eggs now. I know only a fraction of these will make it all the way to butterfly. Wasps are major predators of eggs and small caterpillars.

Caterpillars
Caterpillars

Day 46 - Caterpillars have hatched and are ravenous!

And another butterfly lays eggs - yikes!

It is caterpillar crazy!!!

I have caterpillars! I can see them and the holes they are eating in the leaves. I have so many in fact, that I may need to transport some of the caterpillars to a neighboring milkweed patch. I'll let you know about what happens with that.

And to top that off, I've had another female here laying eggs this morning. I saw her through the kitchen window and pondered how many more eggs I now have.

You'll be seeing this all the time after you grow your milkweed - a ravenous caterpillar chows down on milkweed - You'll soon have these in your yard too!

Day 47- Conclusion - See Video Below

They ate every bit of my milkweed and I ran out!

Due to some life events, I was not able to document my journal each day so here's the summation of what happened. The caterpillars continued to grown LIKE CRAZY and ate every last bit of my milkweed. They ate the plants all the way down to the stalks. I did two things to get them more food. I wish I had only done one.

1) I bought more milkweed from a local native plant store. BUT the clerk could not guarantee me the milkweed was 100% pesticide free. I did this while I waited on a return call from the local Native Plant Society. It was against my better judgment, but I felt it was the only option at the time. The caterpillars devoured an entire plant in ONE DAY.

2) I finally heard back from the Native Plant Society and found another milkweed grower in our area. I took many of the caterpillars to her house and placed them directly on her milkweed plants.

Of the remaining caterpillars I kept here at the house many showed signs of illness, turning black and dying. I read a lot about why this could have happened, but my best guess is that the milkweed I purchased was not pesticide free. I was heartbroken. I can only hope some of the caterpillars made it to butterfly. The video below shows how many caterpillars I ended up with - you can see it was quite a lot!

The caterpillars are all gone and the milkweed is again growing. As soon as the weather warms up, I will plant them in the ground.

Here's a video of some of the caterpillars - Ravenous!

Deformed insect from pesticide
Deformed insect from pesticide

Why I grow my own milkweed - plants, pesticides and more

My own disturbing story

This story is from a couple of years ago. If you've read my journal, you already know I may have again gotten milkweed treated with pesticides.

Here's a picture of a caterpillar that ate a plant treated with pesticides. It's a little frankenstein-ish as it only partly transformed into a chrysalis. I'll tell you more about what happened below.

There are lots of reasons for growing milkweed from seed.

#1 - The most popular reason is that it is cheaper than buying lots of plants. If you can get your hands on a couple of seed pods, you'll never have to buy milkweed again. Each plant will produce several seed pods and your quantity of seeds and plants can grow exponentially from just a single seed.

#2 - The other reason is that your home grown plants will be pesticide free. This is VERY important. Here's what happened to me:

I had several plants growing in my garden and lots and lots of caterpillars munching down on the plants. Perfect! That is exactly what I wanted. But caterpillars are naturally ravenous, and all of my plants were down to stalks. Yes, they will eat the stalks but I knew I'd be out of stalks too pretty soon. To get more milkweed, I drove to Target (local mega store) and bought one healthy looking milkweed plant. Too healthy looking. I should have known better. I checked the tag for warnings about any pesticides being used on the plants - there were NONE. I took the plant home and THOROUGHLY washed every leaf ...just in case. When the plant dried, I transferred my cats (caterpillars). The next morning the caterpillars were dead under the plant (save one who wandered off and came to a gruesome end - pictured above). I was heartbroken. In a fit of frustration, sadness and disappointment I found the number to the nursery that provides plants to Target Corporation and they confirmed that they DO INDEED use pesticides on their plants. No apologies.

From then on I grow my own.

I must mention here that lots and lots of native plant nurseries would NEVER sell plants treated with pesticides. After all - they feel the same way we do. They care about the butterflies and the caterpillars and understand that we WANT to see the life cycle etc. And a half munched down plant is a thing of beauty! In hindsight, I should have visited and purchased that plant from a local native plant seller.

I've have found that some native plant nurseries still sell plants treated with pesticides. The only way to be 100% sure is to grow your own.

Releasing a Monach we raised
Releasing a Monach we raised

Studying Butterflies

Being an amateur Lepidopterist

Studying butterflies is one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. Like most people, I started by studying Monarch Butterflies then moved on to more butterflies and moths. Since then I've seen and identified lots and lots of lepidoptera, but Monarchs are still one of my favorites.

How did I get started? It was an innocent nature walk with a park ranger who was already smitten by the love of butterflies. She maintained a butterfly garden and was so very passionate about it that I knew I must learn more. From that first nature walk until today I am fascinated by these amazing insects. And the best part of it all? Our entire family has gotten in on the action of our own small butterfly gardens, raising butterflies and identification.

Now that you know how to grow milkweed, you'll appreciate this shirt - Butterfly geeks will love this one

If you plant it, they will come.

Find this shirt at Zazzle.

Planting milkweed around your home will attract Monarch butterflies. It's amazing to me that they can find it no matter where it is planted. The females will lay eggs on the underside of the leaves and soon you'll have caterpillars too!

Want Free Seeds? I Can Send You Seeds to Get You Started

I'm Sharing Mine - Until I Run Out

====> Update: I'm out of seeds!!<====

*Remember, if you would like to get milkweed seeds - I'll share mine. I'm doing this for free so far (paying it forward) and I'll share my seeds until I run out. Once you grow your own plants and collect some seed pods you'll be set for life. If you would like some seeds for yourself or your class, send an email to milkweed4monarchs@yahoo.com with a short note and a mailing address, but first please read my notes at the top of the page under the seed pod picture ( #4) to determine if my seeds will thrive in your area.

My favorite book about butterflies - Author Marc Minno

Florida Butterfly Gardening: A Complete Guide to Attracting, Identifying, and Enjoying Butterflies
Florida Butterfly Gardening: A Complete Guide to Attracting, Identifying, and Enjoying Butterflies

Here are some pictures from Marc Minno's Butterfly Class. My daughter and I enjoyed it back in 2006 (Jax, Florida). Marc is passionate about butterflies!

 

This is a male. Can you tell the difference?

This is a male. Can you tell the difference?
This is a male. Can you tell the difference?

.

Thanks for stopping by! Do you have milkweed planted in your yard? - Any other host plants?

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    • profile image

      Matt 4 months ago

      I live in Australia and I'm pretty sire that milkweed is an imported weed here. I have 42 acres and I keep goats to deal with it as it is undesirable as a plant. we have heaps of Monarch butterflies, but I'm pretty sure they're an import too.

    • tricia12557 profile image

      tricia12557 8 months ago

      Have been learning about milkweed in our area. My SIL has website on native wildflowers in our area: ozarkedgewildflowers We have several varieties growing on our 150 acres and are cultivating more. Very interested in getting more Monarch's and other butterflies coming to our area. Really enjoyed your article. Thanks

    • puzzlerpaige profile image
      Author

      puzzlerpaige 2 years ago

      I am so sorry, but I am out of seeds.

    • profile image

      lisapwhitehead 3 years ago

      This was so informative for someone like me that has only recently heard about making Monarch waystations in your yard. Loved the part when the eggs appeared on your seedlings! Thanks, I will be using this as a guide to plant my own milkweed! :)

    • DrSeedBall profile image

      DrSeedBall 3 years ago

      This is a very nice lens. It has a lot of great information and detailed explanations. The author has some serious experience in the field, that is obvious. I wish that this site was higher in the rankings. It is of exceptionally high quality.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Is there a specific type of soil that milkweeds grow the best in?

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      I enjoyed reading your site. I have been growing parsley and getting black swallowtail butterflies. I wanted to try monarchs and a friend gave me some milkweed seed. It hadn't germinated yet, but after reading your sight I am going to try it again. Thanks for the tips!

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Very informative article. I didn't know you could grow milkweed in your own garden, I have always seen this plant along the edge of ponds and such. I will definitely try them in my garden. Now to get the seeds. Thanks for article.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      This has been extremely educational. I worry about the current plight of the Monarchs and their diminishing numbers due to the migration problems in the mid west. I live in Ontario and I'm not sure if growing milkweed from scratch would be of any help. The folks who need to participate need to be private citizens in the mid west. This is a marvelous site, though and I am excited to see someone who also has a passion for these beautiful butterflies.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      What a great site! You have great information. If caterpillers are messed up by pesticides like your picture, what is happening to our kids? I will get cracking on those seedlings as soon as spring arrives.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I am new at this. After raising and releasing about 12 Monarch butterflies I was puzzled about why my most recent cats were having trouble completing their life cycle. Now, thanks to your information, I can put two and two together. The most recent plant that I bought must have been treated with insecticide.

      It is so sad when you see them die right before your eyes.

      Yes, I have just started growing plants from seed. My question now is, about how long will it take for them to grow to about 2 feet tall? Do you grow yours in a place where the butterfflies don't have access? I live in Southern California, so here we garden and have Monarchs year round.

      Thanks for a great website.

      Karen

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      i SENT YOU AN E MAIL REQUESTING SEEDS IF YOU HAVE ANY LEFT

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      @anonymous: sir.. I have same problems with some plants... Did you get any answeres?

      Please share......Email me directly PLEASE

      Tks

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Hi! Thanks for posting this information. I have just cleared an area of my property and intend to use it as a butterfly garden. I have obtained some milkweed seeds from another butterfly gardener and I just have a question. How long do milkweed plants take to reach maturity? It's so late in the season, I'm afraid if I stick them in the fridge for a month and try to plant in September, they will get hit by frost before they have a chance to really get established (I'm in Ohio). Should I just wait until spring to plant?

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      hi, puzzlemaker, please check your e-mail ;)

      THANKS!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      sent ya a request for seeds by email thank you

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I've planted many different varieties of milkweed. I'm having a ton of success with germination, but the plants never develop true leaves. They seem to get stuck in the 'cotyledons' phase - stay that way for weeks, then die. I've tried raising them indoors, under good grow-lights, and outdoors, in both sunny and shady spots. Always with the same result.

      Any suggestions?

      Scott

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      hey puzzelmaster check your email

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      hey Puzzlemaker, check your seed-mail. Thank You.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      hi, puzzlemaker, please check your e-mail ;)

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      NEED SEEDS badly !!! I have sesrched everywhere to find a milkweed plant, (let alone trying to find seeds), without success. One nursery wanted $400.00 for plant! I live in FL, (zone 8-9). Your website is terrific &amp; so very helpful. Thank you for sharing it!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      hey im asking you for seeds my name is abby thanks

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Hello! I like your article and thanks so much for the day by day breakdown. While I did NOT plant mine in individual planters, I've just yesterday planted my seeds in the ground in my new landscape bed. I noticed you wanted feedback from anyone who got seeds from livemonarch and that's where I got mine. I sent them a donation as well and got back MANY seeds of two separate varieties of milkweed, one being tropical and the other being Speciosa (supposedly winter hardy). They also include a few pamphlets on caring for caterpillars and butterflies and other information regarding Monarchs. I hope that I can begin to see some milkweed sprouts in about a week as yours have grown! :)

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I enjoyed your web page. I collected a couple wild pods this fall. (Iowa) I'm thinking of starting them in the house about feb. and then plant then a few places around the yard.in april. One spot I have some prairie grass; I will put some along the edge and through-out; also with some tall flowers along my garage, I would appreciate any suggestions. Thanks. harley

    • Anthony Altorenna profile image

      Anthony Altorenna 6 years ago from Connecticut

      Thank you for sharing your experiences - both the success in growing milkweed plants and the tragic loss to pesticides. We thoroughly enjoy our butterfly gardens, and growing your own plants from seeds is a great recommendation -- to start a new garden as well as re-seeding an exisiting garden for butterflies.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      We also moved to a new home a year ago and we are starting our garden now. I have two varieties of the butterfly bush and have been visited by monarchs. I was going to plant some Milkweed too and now after reading your lens you have really inspired me to grow them from seed. We live near a conservation area and I have seen plants there and I know they do not use pestisides. I am so excited to try this, excellent lens, thank you :)

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      I forgot to mention that I'm really glad you shared your negative experiences about pesticides, what was Target thinking!

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      I live in a n apartment complex and haven't seen any milkweed but then, I didn't know there were so many types of milkweed. My sister collected wild pods and is doing her part for the love of monarchs. Now this is interesting, a couple years ago she saw monarchs on a long dead raccoon in a ditch and they seemed to be feeding.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      This is a very good lens. Excellent work.

    • Charlino99 profile image

      Tonie Cook 7 years ago from USA

      Thank you for sharing your information about this topic. I am very fond of butterflies, and grow a variety of things to attract them and the humming birds. Unfortunately, my milkweed never made it this year. Will be in touch to get seed from you.

    • mbgphoto profile image

      Mary Beth Granger 7 years ago from O'Fallon, Missouri, USA

      Very interesting...blessed and lensrolled to my butterfly lenses

    • oztoo lm profile image

      oztoo lm 7 years ago

      Very interesting and informative. A good lesson learned on the benefits of growing your own plants too.

    • Virginia Allain profile image

      Virginia Allain 7 years ago from Central Florida

      I'm a big fan of monarchs. Very interesting to see your growing project.

    • CCGAL profile image

      CCGAL 7 years ago

      I was confused at first, because what I grew up calling milkweed is a thistle, and I couldn't imagine anybody planting it on purpose - but I can see from your photos that your plant doesn't resemble mine at all. I learned a lot from this lens, and I loved your zazzle tee shirt designs! Lensrolling this to my one butterfly related lens, http://www.squidoo.com/a-tale-of-swallowtails-may-... . Excellent lens, this. Thumbs up and a favorite!