Several months ago I ordered milkweed seeds from Prairie Moon Nursery. I started them from seed because I anticipated not being able to find milkweeds at nurseries because of it selling out. It is the year of the pollinator and many people are making Monarch Waystations. I also wanted to have ones that were pesticide-free. I figured that I would be saving money by starting my own as well!
I ordered several varieties including Rose, Prairie, Spider, and Butterfly. The Rose Milkweed likes wet areas and has pink flowers, the Prairie is similar to the Common Milkweed but is supposed to be less aggressive in spreading. The Spider Milkweed is a white variety and the Butterfly Milkweed likes drier soils and is orange. All of these varieties bloom at different times.
Starting the seeds was actually pretty easy! However it has been time intensive. The seeds had to first be stratified in the refrigerator for at least 30 days. Stratifying is basically doing something to a seed to trick it into germinating. The milkweeds had to be mixed in a sterile medium that was damp. I used some sand I had left over from a craft project. I used a sandwich sized plastic baggie to store the seeds. I put all the sand I had in a mixing bowl. I then added enough water to make the sand damp throughout. I then filled each baggie about a third to halfway with sand and added one seed packet to each baggie and labeled it. I mixed the seeds within the sand, pressed all the air out and put it in a drawer in the fridge. I allowed them to sit for around 45 days. I also had one bag of Blue Eyed Grasses; they are supposed to be stratified for 60 days.
I then removed the baggies from the fridge and prepared the seed trays. I found these trays at home depot for a couple dollars each. I filled them with a good quality seed starting mix. You should use seed starting mix because it is lightweight and germinates seeds a lot better. Potting mix or garden soil may cause the seeds to rot or not sprout for disease.
I found Lambert brand ($17 for 3cu.ft.) at my local seed store, which I think is really really good. I also found Greenworld brand at Southern States ($4 for a very small bag), but it was almost too light and don’t feel it would have held enough moisture. These seed mixes were hard to find. I did not want to use Miracle Grow or Jiffy for several reasons, and I suggest avoiding them if possible. You can also make your own seed starting mix out of pearlite, vermiculite, compost, coir, and peatmoss.
You can also start the seeds indoors before spring with a heated germinating tray!
I filled the seed trays with the Lambert, then I spread the sand mixture and all the seeds across the flat. I then covered the flat with a thin layer of the Greenworld seed starter. It’s not necessary to use different seed starter like this. I misted the trays and left them under cover on my gazebo to germinate. I did not leave them directly outside because I didn’t want them to fill with water or wash the seeds to the sides of the tray when it rained. You could also poke holes in the sides of the trays if you didn’t have a place to keep them under cover.
The Butterfly Milkweed began to germinate within 5 days. I had the best luck with it since practically the whole tray was covered in seeds. 3 weeks later nearly all the seeds is all the flats germinated. Some of them have several sets of leaves with roots several inches long. I began transplanting the seeds into pots after a 2 weeks.
I did not have any luck germinating the Blue Eyed Grasses. They were supposed to have 60 days of stratification and I took them out of the fridge after 45 days. Here is a guide from Monarch Watch about germinating milkweeds as well.