How to Get Texas Native Milkweed Seeds to Germinate

Our friends at Native American Seed have been working for years on the best way to get persnickety Texas native milkweed seeds to germinate.   “Native milkweeds simply don’t do well in containers,” said George Cates, seed wrangler at the seed farm and land restoration company in the Hill Country town of Junction.  “They require a very specific set of conditions and have an extremely long tap-root, making containerization untenable.”

Want native Texas milkweed?  Start with seeds.  Photo courtesy Native American Seed Co.

Want native Texas milkweed? Start with seeds.

So what’s the solution to getting native milkweeds into our landscape?  Start with seeds.

The process has been perfected by Cates, who has germinated thousands of seeds in the last year for Native American Seed‘s customers and the Xerces Society.    Read a report about the project and the status of native Texas milkweed seed production here.   Here’s Cate’s process:

Milkweed Stratification Procedures, Courtesy Native American Seed

NOTE:  Cates insists that sterile rubber (latex) gloves be worn at all times and that containers and implements be sterile.   Otherwise, mold can grow in the vermiculite and damage the seeds.

1. Mix seeds with pre-chilled distilled water and let soak for 24 hours in the fridge.

2.  After 24 hours, pour seeds into strainer and rinse with distilled water.

3. Moisten vermiculite with distilled water, the exact quantity required varies with different media, moist but not dripping is best.

4.  Mix rinsed seeds into vermiculite using your hands, and wear sterile gloves.

5.  Seal container and store in fridge for 30-45 days at 35-45 degrees.  Remove and plant immediately if you see mold.

6.  Plant entire mixture or sift seeds out and plant in prepared seed bed when soil temps are warm (70 degrees+).

7.  Water often until germination occurs.

 

Antelope horns milkweed, a Monarch butterfly host plant, in bloom.  Photos by Native American Seed

Antelope horns milkweed, a Monarch butterfly host plant. Photos by Native American Seed

Soaking and washing the seeds removes natural chemicals that inhibit germination.  When the seeds are moved from the cold darkness of the refrigerator to the bright light and warmth of the sun, they are “shocked” into sprouting.  “The stratification process is meant to mimic nature,” he said, adding that the plants likely developed this dormancy strategy as an answer to drought conditions.

Good luck with your milkweed seeds and let us know how it goes!

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25 thoughts on “How to Get Texas Native Milkweed Seeds to Germinate

      • Usually 1/4 inch or you can set the seeds on the surface of your growing medium and then lightly sprinkle some growing medium ( I use seedling starting mix). I use a seedling heat mat underneath the flat of seeds and I place a plastic dome over the flat to keep it humid. I’ve had seeds start to germinate in as little as three to four days.

  1. Thanks for what you are doing. I hope to try this if I can get the seeds. I’d like to try to find some of the native seeds for this.

  2. I have just received 64 little 3-4″ tall Milkweeds to plant throughout my yard and big new flowerbed…I got anxious and did not do this in the Spring..I heard we are to have a hard winter … would you greenhouse these babies or go on and set them out…I just got so excited I ordered. They did not tell me the variety but said they would send per my area…thank you.

  3. Mr. Cates, thank you for your efforts to help the monarchs and for promoting native plants. I plant Pennsylvania native milkweeds using seed balls and fall plant them with good success. I think the our Common milkweed in germinates a little easier than your species, though. Germination rates among Asclepias seems quite variable. It is great that you developed such a sure fire method for yours, and that you shared it online!

  4. What’s the expiration on old seeds? I have some that are a couple of years old to 5+ years old that are in my seed stash. Would love to try them but if they won’t work, I need to throw them out.

  5. How long are the taproots? I just read that they are long, but never how long. I would guess the length varies a bit between the types.

  6. i AM COLLECTING SEEDS OF A DARK RED MILKWEED FROM MY PLANTS NOW. I HAVE ABOUT 12 SEED PODS. I AM BREAKING THE SEEDS AWAY FROM THEIR PARACHUTES AND STORING THEM IN PLASTIC PILL BOTTLES. AM I ON THE RIGHT TRACK? SHOULD I REFRIGERATE THEM UNTIL SPRING (FEBRUARY OR SO) AND THEN PLANT THEM?
    i AM ALSO SHARING WITH FRIENDS AND WANT TO GIVE THE THE RIGHT PLANTING ADVICE FOR MISSOURI.

  7. DRAT IT, MILKWEED BEETLES GOT 3 OF MY PODS, NOT ONE SEED IN THEM. GUESS I WILL HAVE TO TIE THEM UP IN NYLON STOCKINGS NEXT YEAR TO KEEP THEM OUT. THERE HAVE BEEN MOER OF THEM THIS YEAR AND THEY SEEM TO ATTACK ONE POD AT A TIME AND THEN MOVE ON TO THE NEXT ONE. AT LEAST THE RAIN TODAY KNOCKED MOST OF THEM OFF.

  8. We wish to plant an appropriate species or variety of milkweed for Monarch butterflies here in NW Louisiana. What do you suggest, and do you have that species or variety?

  9. Last ? Summer our blooming trumpet vines were a stop for hundreds of Monarchs possibly on their migration route. It was a beautiful sight to behold! They stayed for maybe 2 or 3 days and then were suddenly gone. This was was the first time this has happened in our yard, we’re hoping it will happen again this year. Would they have been just resting or feeding or both.

  10. What I think is really needed are instructions for establishing native milkweeds in wild settings like roadsides. To date, I’m not aware of any “plant milkweed save the monarch” groups that have posted instructions for growing milkweed patches from seed along roadsides or posted photos showing examples of how roadside patches were established via planting seeds.

    • Paul, finally! I save seed from my milkweeds and start them in the spring in peat pots. When it is warm enough, I plant them along my gravel road, fairly close to my house so I can keep an eye on them. Of course, keep them beyond the road easement, maybe put up a bright painted stick next to them. Road crews tend to cut everything green and do not always cut just the easement. Here, they are told to cut as far as they can (if a tree does not stop you) so it helps to talk ni8cely to the county road department. That is our biggest hurdle, getting them to understand why they should not cut everything. I finally resorted to parking my car across the road. The sheriff was called out and then county commissioners to determine that YES, they were cutting private property and had to stop. Now, they have to pay attention to what they are doing.

  11. I’m in search of milkweed seeds for my daughter who is currently building a new home on five acres in the Texas Hill Country, south of San Antonio. What seeds would do best here and where do I purchase them? Are they all “invasive” species in that you have to plant them with some kind of containment device in order for them not to take over an entire area? Are they like the “running Bamboo”? I had to deal with that a few years and it “wasn’t pretty”… as I loved my quickly expanding grove, until it headed towards my pond!!!! In any event, is there milkweed for the Monarch’s to thrive, that isn’t invasive also. Appreciate all the help I can get! Thank you.
    Barbi Morell

  12. I am trying to find the location of a milkweed source in Collin county texas, it is some where around the Gainsville area. Somewhere I have heard the name Clark Haven, but I cannot find it on any web site

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