Growing milkweed

(Question)

Hi …. Last year I noted milkweed plants placed in some borders at the TBG and want to do the same in the gardens at our small co-ownership building. I have seeds, but it seems they are difficult to germinate. Do you know where I could purchase plants in the spring, and do you have tips for their survival? Is there information on your “milkweed project?” Thanks

(Answer)

Thank you for writing, and, indeed, you have asked a question that is falling from the lips of many gardeners, both seasoned and novice: “Where to buy milkweed plants?”.  The deep pink, flat-top umbel blossoms of the Swamp milkweed ( Asclepias incarnata ), and the more pinkish-purple globe-shaped umbel blossoms of the Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) tend to be the most known in the Toronto region, while the Butterfly weed ( Asclepias tuberosa), with its distinct yellow-orange flower stalks, is also found in more open, meadow areas. The milky sap of the A. syriaca contains alkaloids and other poisonous substances, yet the Monarch butterfly larvae feed on the sap without harm — while the toxins accumulate in the insect’s body, and provide a natural defense against predators !

But, yes, the seeds are indeed tricky to germinate, and I count myself among the many who have tried scarifying the seed surface lightly, or creating a fictitious “winter season” in the freezer, but for a plant that earned the moniker of ‘weed’, they have proven themselves to be very picky to germinate.

As a non-for-profit organization, our goal is to help the public with horticultural information and education as it relates to plants, but we do not endorse specific retail locations. Yet over the past few years there have been several initiatives launched that might be helpful, including this one from the David Suzuki website:click here

We will keep you, and other gardeners interested in establishing milkweed, posted as to any other community initiatives that might sprout up this spring — which is just around the corner !  All the best with your building’s garden.