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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