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How to Plant Wildflowers
Step by step instructions on how to plant your wildflower seeds.
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Milkweed, also known as Asclepias, is one of the best native wildflowers for attracting pollinators to the garden and is the sole host plant for the Monarch butterfly. Many gardeners realize the importance of adding milkweed to their gardens to help the disappearing Monarch population. But Milkweed is also a decorative and showy addition to the garden, offering up tufts of long-lasting blooms in the summer months. Depending on the variety, flowers come in all shades of pink, orange, and white, fitting in with any garden style as long as you have a spot to really let it multiply and grow.
Once established, this native plant is a breeze to grow and requires little maintenance. Although you can plant Milkweed in the spring after cold stratification and starting seeds indoors, fall is the easier — and more natural — time to plant. Why is this? If you’ve ever seen milkweed in action in the fall, it’s easy to understand. Large seed pods open up and self seed readily, spreading this native wildflower’s seeds each season. So planting your milkweed seed in fall not only mimics how milkweed is planted in nature, but it eliminates the need for cold stratification as the cold winter months will do that for you. In short, direct sowing milkweed seeds in fall is much easier than planting in the spring.
Most milkweed share the same advantages in the garden: they thrive in all regions, tolerate almost any soil type, bloom in the early-mid summer, are deer resistant, and — of course — attract bees, butterflies, and more to the garden. So how do you decide which varieties to plant in your garden? It’s really personal preference. The most common varieties are orange Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa) and pink Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), but there are dozens of other varieties to choose from. Whorled Milkweed (Asclepias verticillata) is native to the Midwest and boasts light green/white blooms that illuminate in the moonlight. Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) is a red, showier variety.
When selecting your Milkweed seeds, check the label to make sure they are neonicotinoid-free. All of the milkweed seed we handle at American Meadows is non-GMO and neonicotinoid-free. This is important because some seeds treated with neonicotinoids could harm or even kill pollinators when they feed on the plants.
It's important to carefully choose the spot where you'll plant your milkweed as they will self-seed and spread rather quickly. Choose a self-contained area in the garden that isn’t in the middle of an existing garden bed. Or, block out a corner of a garden bed to plant the seeds. You can plant the seeds anywhere. Milkweed is extremely forgiving when it comes to soil and really only requires full sun (at least 6-8 per day).
Like all wildflowers, milkweed should be planted on bare soil. Depending on the size of your area, you can either remove existing growth by hand and then rake the soil up before planting, or use a rototiller. Rototillers are often available for rent at your local hardware store for a minimal fee. The key is to make sure there is no existing growth in the area before planting, so the milkweed seeds won’t need to fight underneath the surface to establish their roots.
This part is easy and fun! Because milkweed seeds are large enough to pick out and spread one by one, you can do this to ensure the seeds aren’t over-crowded. Or, if you prefer, you can simply throw them out by the handful. Depending on your area and garden style, either method will work. If you do scatter them loosely by hand, come spring when the seeds start to germinate you may want to thin them out if they are extremely close together.
After you’ve sown your milkweed seeds, you need to compact them into the soil (but don’t cover them!) to help with germination. Stepping all over the area is an easy way to do this, but if you’re seeding a large area you could also use a seed roller.
Once you’ve pressed the seeds into the soil, give the area a good watering to set the seeds. Because you’re planting in the fall, you won’t need to water after this until early spring when the seeds start to germinate.
And that’s that! I planted several packets of milkweed seed for this blog and it took me less than an hour (including stopping to take photos). Fall seeding is extremely quick and easy because you’re letting nature do all the ground work until germination. Remember that because milkweed are perennials, the first season you’ll likely only see foliage as the plants get established in your garden. In the second summer and for years to come you’ll enjoy bursts of blooms that are irresistible to butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds.
Similar to Common Milkweed in looks, Showy Milkweed has soft, pastel pink flower clusters with longer petals. This sun-loving asclepias grows well in dry, fast-draining soil and requ...
Spider Milkweed, is extremely drought tolerant and thrives in dry, fast-draining soils. A showy variety of asclepias, Spider Milkweed's off-white blossoms surrounded in green, along ...
Prairie Milkweed (Asclepias sullivantii) is extremely easy to grow and grows in any sunny spot in the garden or meadow. The highly fragrant blooms not only attract hummingbirds, but ...
Poke Milkweed grows best in indirect sun or partial shade, making it a superb plant for gardens with dappled sunlight. An important resource for Monarch butterflies, the bi-colored f...