The survival of Monarchs depends greatly on the milkweed plant. Their little caterpillars eat nothing, but the milkweed plants, and their butterflies use the plants for laying eggs.
The population of the milkweed plant has decreased greatly over the years, mainly due to the poor management of land. To make sure that the monarchs do not vanish completely as they help provide nectar for numerous kinds of butterflies and bees, it is important to plant the milkweed plant in a sufficient quantity.
Basics of Milkweed Plant
According to Plant Taxonomy, the milkweed plant is classified as ‘Asclepias syriaca.’ They are herbaceous perennials. These plants are three feet tall. They are thin and give flowers in clusters during the summer season. The pink colored flower bunches bloom at the top of the milkweed plant’s stem, looking like a globe. Its leaves look like a four-sided figure, are broad and of a light shade of green.
The seed pods of the plant come after the flowers and look like mini cucumbers. These pods rupture open during the end of summer and this process ends when the fall season arrives. On bursting open, the pods reveal their small seeds that are fastened to silky, white colored hairs. These seeds are distributed easily when a wind blows.
You will find these plants in abundance on the roadsides of Eastern America where they grow as huge wildflowers. The most common kind of these plants normally grows from the zone 3 till zone 9.
Common milkweed plants grow best in a well-drained soil and in full sun. It is also drought-resistant.
How to Grow Milkweed Plant from Seed
Preparing the seedbed
If you are beginner gardener, then it is a wise idea to talk to the county extension representative in your area to find out whether or not the soil in your garden or backyard needs any enhancement with the help of soil additive prior to planting the milkweed seeds.
To make sure the plant has a proper seedling establishment and germination, you need to prepare an even, weeded and clump-free soil bed. If there is already some vegetation in that area, you should remove it with the help of a tiller. For reducing clumping, avoid working on wet soil. Smooth out the soil till it becomes even so that the seeds can have a good contact with it.
Sowing the seeds
You can use plastic flats for setting up the seeds. Take any soil mix that is favorable for the seed and fill it in the plastic flats. Make sure to properly immerse the soil in water, and let all extra water drain. Now, you need to plant the seed by spreading them out on the soaked up soil.
Make sure to scatter them about ¼ to ½ inch apart, covering them with around ¼ inch of extra soil. Now, softly spray water on its surface to moisten the extra soil you just added. Most of the gardeners wrap the seed in small packets fashioned using paper towels, and place them in lukewarm water for a day before planting them. This tip helps in enhancing the germinate speed of the seeds. It also works well for the seeds that need vernalization.
Temperature and watering before germination starts
After sowing the seeds in the plastic flats, you need to cover up all the flats with a transparent plastic bag or plastic cover to prevent them from becoming dry during the germination process. Now, put the flat on a luminous window, a greenhouse, or under special grow lights. Most of the seeds germinate during 7-10 days if the temperature of the plastic flats is kept at 75˚F. Once, all the seeds are through to the germination process, take off the plastic cover from the top of the flats.
Make sure to keep the soil moist till the germination process. However, slowly decrease the number of times you water the seeds when the seedlings start establishing. Light watering for 7 to 10 days, if possible in the morning, will be quite adequate for the seedlings.
Germinating and growing
Make sure that the soil is moist at the bottom when the seedlings begin appearing. To water the flat from its base, you should place it either in a big flat that is filled with around two inches of water, or in a big sink. Water it till you see moisture appearing on the surface of the soil. Make sure to keep the soil moist, but prevent the saplings from becoming extremely wet as it can result in the growth of fungus that can be hazardous for the young sprouts. Thinning the sprouts can help in reducing the dampness.
When the plants reach to a height of around 3 to 6 inches, you should transplant them outdoors. Prior to doing that, make sure to get them accustomed to the conditions outdoors by keeping the seedlings under a sheltered place in the daytime, and make sure to bring them inside during the night. The saplings should be placed at a distance of around 6 to 24 inches from each other. However, this depends on the specie of milkweed plant seeds you are using, so it is essential to read the information given on the packet’s back.
How to take care after transplanting
Make sure to frequently water the plants that have been transplanted recently, and put in mulch around them as soon as you plant them. It helps in holding the moisture in the soil and for minimizing the production of any rival weeds. If you are using a water-soluble seed fertilizer, then you should fertilize the seedlings two to three times in the growing season. However, if you are using a granulated time-release fertilizer, then you should fertilize then once during the growing period.
The videos in the following links can help you become aware of all the steps you need to follow for properly planting milkweed plants. They contain information regarding the equipment you would need, preparation of the beds, how to water the plants and transplant them.
How to Grow Milkweed Plants from Cuttings
Cuttings help in growing plants in a short time, helping you avoid the problems faced while planting them from seeds. For doing this, you need to cut the plant’s stems underwater and coat its bottom with a powerful rooting hormone. Place the stem in moist sand, potting soil or vermiculite. You can transplant them after six to ten weeks. Their survival is excellent if you make a cutting from a green stem that has a diameter of 1/3 inches and is obtained from a plant that is fertilized a little earlier.
Care Tips for the Milkweed Plant
Commonly found species of the milkweed plant grow really well in bright sunlight and a properly drained soil. It is a drought resistant plant, but the A. sullivantii and the A. incarnate species grow best in a saturated soil. Most of its species developed in areas with a good exposure to sunlight, however, the A. purpurascens specie needs a little shade for its proper growth.
To make sure your plants grow well, use a lighter soil than the one containing weighty clay. Fertilizing these plants isn’t that important as they can bear poor quality soils as well. They are difficult to contain, so you will experience some difficulty in preventing them from spreading and creating colonies. Make sure to take them out before the pods burst, or else they will disperse everywhere in your garden.
Though a few parts of the Asclepias syriaca are used for making medicines and meals, this plant is still considered as a poisonous plant as it has harmful leaves. Hence, never consume it before consulting it with an expert. Make sure to avoid bringing pets and children in the yard. Moreover, don’t eat or use them on your body and educate others regarding their drawbacks as well.