GROWING INSTRUCTIONS FOR MILKWEED
Please read this entire page to get all the important information you need about growing Milkweed. The seed we send to you can grow almost anywhere in North America. Our Northern Varieties can take 30 days to germinate but typically do not need cold stratification which will save you another month of waiting with seeds in your refrigerator. Seeds that need to be stratified can easily frustrate you with no germination at all. All our seeds are germination tested >85% within 30 days and ready to sew and grow.
When you are ready to plant, soak your seeds in non chlorinated water for up to 6 hours, then place seeds 1/8 inch below the soil surface, or even in a damp paper towel, you can use growing trays, and most types of seed starters or regular garden soil if you like.
Consider using a deep pot if starting indoors, since most milkweeds have a long roots. Don't plant the seeds too
deep, because they need plenty of light and warmth to germinate and grow ( at 70
degrees within 14 days our southern Curassavica will break the soil surface, Syriaca and Speciosa may take another 2 weeks). Keep the seedlings moist for the first three weeks after they sprout,
then transplant to larger containers with quality soil if necessary. You can lightly
fertilize them lightly after the seedling stage, using a regular flower
fertilizer. Cutting off the top of the plant after they reach 8-12" creates more stalks and more leaves.
It takes about two months before the curassavica plant is large enough for caterpillars
to eat. Every type of milkweed is different and has its own growth pattern. The types we promote are the
proven easiest to grow and favored by Monarchs. We promote the use tropical milkweed as a backup food supply in many areas
so that you do not lose a caterpillar needlessly if you run out of other slower growing "Native" Varieties. Do not be scared into
inaction by anyone promoting Native or nothing as this fear based rhetoric falls short on peer based review and the
need to have milkweed is very great. We squarely place the blame for Monarch stressors on the real culprits spraying
millions of tons of toxins on millions of acres of crops, not the backyard milkweed plants so many of us cultivate to
support the Annual Monarch Migration.
Much of this information is tailored to our experience with the southern variety of Milkweed we sell and have experience with.
When the leaves have been eaten, simply cut the stem about three nodes (where leaves came out) or 4 inches
inches above the soil or just above the lowest branching of the stalk and the plant will grow
back fuller and create even more food for Monarchs. Warning: one caterpillar will eat 20+ large leaves so make sure
you have enough plants to support the number of caterpillars you have, or they
When you are ready to plant, soak your seeds in non chlorinated water for up to 6 hours, then place seeds 1/8 inch below the soil surface, or even in a damp paper towel, you can use growing trays, and most types of seed starters or regular garden soil if you like. Consider using a deep pot if starting indoors, since most milkweeds have a long roots. Don't plant the seeds too deep, because they need plenty of light and warmth to germinate and grow ( at 70 degrees within 14 days our southern Curassavica will break the soil surface, Syriaca and Speciosa may take another 2 weeks). Keep the seedlings moist for the first three weeks after they sprout, then transplant to larger containers with quality soil if necessary. You can lightly fertilize them lightly after the seedling stage, using a regular flower fertilizer. Cutting off the top of the plant after they reach 8-12" creates more stalks and more leaves. It takes about two months before the curassavica plant is large enough for caterpillars to eat. Every type of milkweed is different and has its own growth pattern. The types we promote are the proven easiest to grow and favored by Monarchs. We promote the use tropical milkweed as a backup food supply in many areas so that you do not lose a caterpillar needlessly if you run out of other slower growing "Native" Varieties. Do not be scared into inaction by anyone promoting Native or nothing as this fear based rhetoric falls short on peer based review and the need to have milkweed is very great. We squarely place the blame for Monarch stressors on the real culprits spraying millions of tons of toxins on millions of acres of crops, not the backyard milkweed plants so many of us cultivate to support the Annual Monarch Migration.
Much of this information is tailored to our experience with the southern variety of Milkweed we sell and have experience with. When the leaves have been eaten, simply cut the stem about three nodes (where leaves came out) or 4 inches inches above the soil or just above the lowest branching of the stalk and the plant will grow back fuller and create even more food for Monarchs. Warning: one caterpillar will eat 20+ large leaves so make sure you have enough plants to support the number of caterpillars you have, or they will starve.
When to plant depends on your location. It takes a minimum of 60 days from seeds to have a plant large enough to support a caterpillars' food needs. You can raise our tropical Milkweed in pots inside your home or greenhouse, and it should survive the winter. If you live in a northern climate and see snow, then request the Syriaca or Speciosia variety of milkweed seed, as it survives the winters cold. You can save your seeds till next year and start them early inside, then transplant outside when the weather warms up. Your goal should be to create a refuge of lush milkweed for the migrating Monarch and have extra plants in case of any shortages. Once you have a good supply of milkweed, you can also purchase eggs, small caterpillars or chrysalis if necessary from many breeders to ensure there are butterflies in your area immediately or assist with the genetic diversity in remote areas. Just one mating couple and a good supply of milkweed could produce many healthy fluttering friends for your community. Check with your local plant nurseries if you have questions about when to plant seeds or when to buy plants or transplant them safely outdoors.
There are over 160 types of milkweed and we hope you are able to source it locally and support your local nurseries and providers of healthy, pesticide free milkweed for your diverse regions. We have always promoted the use of whatever existing resources you may have and the conservation, propagation and sharing of these natural resources. We know that it takes effort to find these resources, ensure their proper care and support their needs long term and we ask that you reach out within your community to assist persons cultivating native varieties or become a resource yourself.
From the first year of our start in 2001 our Foundation has seen a growing movement for "native" varieties and we support it. We also support the Monarch Migration in its entirety. Along its now greatly threatened route lies millions of acres of killing fields full of poisons and sadly far to few native milkweed to ensure that hundreds of millions of caterpillars do not starve along the way. Sadly we are unable to to supply the millions of milkweeds necessary last minute to every starving Monarch caterpillar. We are here to assist you and the Monarchs by providing a resource that may not be available or in short supply. We hope to be a backup or safety net when local supply is exhausted.
The Milkweed variety we grow and seeds we sell are the two favorites of the Monarch and they prefer it for raising their young and even the caterpillars will seek it out over many other varieties if given a choice, making it an excellent choice as a backup food supply. Yes, adult Monarch butterflies can smell them from 20 miles away and will seek them out. These varieties occur naturally throughout large areas of North America, but are not native to all areas. Please be responsible in the introduction of any plants into sensitive areas.
For ground grown plants we usually start a thousand seeds all at once in these great nursery trays which have 288 separate compartments. It takes a while to place seeds in each square but the transplanting is fast and keeps wasted space to a minimum. When the seedlings have at least two sets of leaves we transplant to larger containers. We use 16 ounce Dixie cups with several small holes drilled in the bottom for good drainage. The seedlings have long roots and must be kept moist so transplant and water soon after. We suggest you purchase the best potting soil available as this will greatly accelerate the growth of these seedlings. Growing times will depend on milkweed variety and your location. 7-14 days is typical for curassavica germination.
These are some of our growing containers. The seedling on the left is about 30 days old (from seed) and at this point should be pinched. That means the tiny new leaves at the top of the plant should be cut off. This cutting forces the plant to begin new growth from each joint. The plant on the right is about 40 days old and has 5 growth stalks which will provide far more leaves for your caterpillars and gives you a much fuller bush like Milkweed. Once the plants get going the growth is dramatic from week to week. Water only when the soil gets dried out or the plants begin to wilt after the seedling stage. When the roots completely surround the inside of the pot it is time for a larger container with good drainage. Good luck and thank you.
Here is a picture of 1000+ seedlings grown in 16 ounce plastic cups. It takes a lot of patient work! The plants in front are ready to be transplanted into larger containers. Use the best soil you can and buy a good fertilizer! It will more than pay for itself in the long run. Try worm casting for a more Natural alternative or compost.
Can you spot the 75 caterpillars in this picture? Don't worry. We can't either, but we pick off that many each day and transfer them to our larger plants.
The next section gives you some very helpful advice for caring for your plants and propagating more quickly.
Click below for a section on Advanced Caterpillar raising and common questions regarding possible problems and how to avoid them. Click here for answers
APHIDS / Spider Mites and how to easily get rid of them:
In case you want to know, the oleander aphid is orange. It is the most common problem.
Methods of Removal
Try buying a bunch of Ladybugs or Lacewings. They work well or...
1. Every few days search milkweed for aphids if you see some cut
off the top of plant where they are throw it 5 feet away from your plants.
Thats it. The paracites that are attacking the aphids survive, fly
back to kill more. There are already several types of predators eating aphids commonly found in most areas of North America and by tossing them aside the aphids will die but may provide an ongoing food source for tiny wasps that may be already inside of the aphids...in a few days these aphid paracites hatch out and continue the war against the aphids. It is a war of numbers and you can easily turn the tide in your favor.
The Mix: 3 tablespoons dish washing detergent (Dawn or similar) to a half gallon of water.
Use natural pesticides like garlic or neem oil only as a last resort. Beneficial insects like ladybugs are well worth the investment!
There are many safe and natural insecticides to buy which work very well. Just follow their directions carefully, and try to isolate your caterpillars from the treated plants for as long as possible. Please be very careful when using sprays or poisons around children, animals and nearby plants. Soap also kills the orange and black milkweed sucker bugs. Always remember your actions are important and you can easily save or kill important parts of our environment by your actions. Please search out the safest methods of accomplishing your goals and ask questions. There is no need to use a chemical compound once used to kill enemy combatants during a world war.
MILKWEED SAFETY is a topic of concern for everyone and it is important to know the dangers inherent in any activity so they can be avoided completely. We have distributed tens of millions of milkweed seeds and over one hundred thousand milkweed plants during our twenty plus years of supplying North America with this resource to help preserve and strengthen the Annual Monarch Migration.
While this page has stood the test of time for 20 years we have an update! See bottom for details.
To date (Feb 2021) we have not had one incident reported from any child, teen or adult or any pet or kept animal ingesting milkweed. Please read the entire safety section and please share the knowledge.
The three rules for all milkweed:
Milkweed was named after the milky sap which contains latex, its scientific name Asclepias is the name of the greek god of healing due to Milkweed's many medicinal uses. There are over 160 different types of Milkweed a few are toxic MOST ARE NOT. Milkweed is a know purgative (makes you vomit) even upon consumption of a tiny amount and the taste is horrible. This horrible taste is the major defense of the Monarch against predators, the plants also contain varied amounts of a cardenolides which can cause harm if ingested in large amounts. Studies show to be harmed by eating toxic milkweed you must consume many leaves. The only research we could fins was provided by farmers that mistakenly fed it to their livestock... up to .1% - 2% of their bodyweight of whorled milkweed ( A TOXIC variety) was necessary to cause harm. Their paper states that animals would avoid this weed and this type is the most dangerous. "Whorled Milkweed" is not one we would ever promote or distribute. As stated previously NOT ALL MILKWEED IS THE SAME. Some is very toxic and some can be dangerous under certain extreme circumstances. The facts of this paper state that while typically avoided, silage ( Cut plants fed to livestock ) pose a threat as the animals have no choice but to eat what is provided if no other suitable grazing is available. We AGREE if you starve your animals and force them to eat food laced with a toxic variety of milkweed there will be problems as a result of your actions.
Our farm is covered by milkweed and we have fed, goats, chickens, dogs, deer, turkeys, rabbits and all sorts of critters that graze in open pens or open bottom cages. We plant grass and all sorts of ground cover for them to eat. In every case where a cage has been left over an area too long every blade of grass and all weeds except milkweed have been completely eaten. Milkweed even non toxic varieties and new seedlings are untouched by all our animals.
Milkweed is sold in Africa as a Natural medicine to promote the cleansing of ones stomach by removal of harmful contents. Milkweed is also used as a food if boiled several times with changed water much like acorns that have a bad taste. There are many valid reasons to grow milkweed especially if you care about the Monarch and Queen butterflies.
One story found on Wikipedia with some evidence is that the Dupont company upon creating a life preserver filling wanted a monopoly. The natural floss from milkweed being used as supplied to the War effort of WWI by thousands of patriotic Americans many of whom were given milkweed seeds to plant by Gov officials for this purpose was a source of competition. A campaign to "educate" local Government officials about the dangers of milkweed was funded and did alter the distribution of seeds and their classification.
The real danger of Milkweed is that by cutting a growing plant the white "milk" sap of the plant contains components that can irritate the skin and eyes. This is a real concern if you plan to cut milkweed. Hands must be washed with soap and never allowed to wipe the face or eyes. Milkweed sap is much like the juices of a hot pepper that overtime create a slow burning sensation. Gently washing hands without soap may not remove all residue and if any residue enters the eye it will take a minimum of 30 minutes to repeatedly flush the eye with clean water before relief is long term. Having cut milkweed literally thousands of times it is with this knowledge in mind that we practice safe handling when we feeding cut milkweed to hundreds of caterpillars. If you ever get milkweed sap in your eyes by accident you must wash your hands with soap and water and then wipe your face with a clean damp washcloth several times then begin to wash out your affected eye with clean water. Keep washing and cleaning all areas that may have sap on them. It will take many washes to get rid of all the latex and components on the sap. It is much like a hot pepper in that you will feel the heat for up to an hour and it is only by another rinse that you will feel relief. Do not use any drops or medications just clean water and continue to rinse every time you feel the returning heat. It will take as long as an hour depending on how much got into your eye. Stay calm and continue the washing until the sensation has completely stopped and you will be fine.
Plants are all around us and there are numerous ones that should be feared by parents of young children and pets. Azalea, Lantana, Oleander, Rhodendrion, Sago Palm, Caladium or elephant ear is highly toxic and all are dangerous found all over they pose an actual threat. These plants are responsible for hundreds of vet and emergency room visits every year.
Another plant that was reported to poison and kill children is the pointsettia but this has been proven to me a myth started in 1919 and recently proven that its only threat is the same latex as found in the Milkweed and similar reported skin / eye irritations and vomiting if parts of the plant are ingested. The American Journal of Emergency Medicine conducted a study of 22,793 cases where ingestion of pointsettia by children showed no fatalities or usual need for medical treatment. I hear about the dangers of killer pointsettias every winter as they are sold by the millions. 22,793 cases of kids eating this pointsettias we found in Google in 30 seconds and after searching the internet for an hour and calling local hospitals we can find no incidence or study of any cases of kids eating milkweed. Is this another myth? The only information about milkweed studies we could find were on its use as a great healing food (www.livestrong.com) and a possible cure for skin cancer (www.dailymail.co.uk).
We get questions about Milkweed safety weekly and there seems to be more internet "reports" lately designed to warn and scare people from planting milkweed. We agree that everyone should know the dangers inherent in any activity so they can be avoided completely but we are not supportive of fear based warnings without the full explanation of why and how a material or activity was deemed dangerous. The education of our children is more than the elimination of anything that could cause harm, it is the explanation of the natural world, the beauty and dangers inherent in it. We hope to provide the education that Monarchs are part of a Natural world and circle of life in which dangers exist and it is our shared responsibility to prepare, protect, and promote the knowledge of their needs and our place in their world.
In April of 2022 we got a call from a school that a child had a racing heart beat after handling milkweed seeds. We later learned that some seeds may have been ingested, it seems many children were handling seeds right before snack time, and oversight was not perfect. We called several researchers, seed producers, the poison control centers in their state and spoke directly to the doctors that assisted the child who was unharmed. The researchers spoke of percentages of micrograms per liter of blood necessary for the reaction and the need for a blood test to determine the dosage. Sadly no test was performed within a window that could have shed light on the amount ingested. We do not know if this child was particularly sensitive or dosed by accidental ingestion. All milkweed has know allergens and some people may be especially sensitive to it. Please act safely when handling seed, do not eat them and always wash your hands. Tweezers and or gloves are appropriate for use for extra safety.
We take the time to address the concerns for handling milkweed and know allergenic properties. There is always the remote possibility that a severe reaction can take place under certain circumstances and some basic safety should be followed. We always instruct our staff to wash hands and not rub eyes after touching seeds. Rule 1, 2, 3 !