How To Harvest Milkweed Seeds: All of the Facts, None of the Fluff!
Fall is here and the time has come to harvest future plants from your milkweed pods. But if you haven’t mastered the art of defluffing your seeds things can get a little messy. These are some ways you can fight the fluff…and win!
How To Harvest Milkweed Seeds…Fluff Be Gone!
1. Don’t Pick Pods Before Their Time
If you pick pods and open them to discover light brown (or white!) seeds, you won’t have viable seeds for planting. However, it’s no fun to separate seeds after the pods have burst open because of the fluffy mess! So what’s a milkweed gardener to do?
2. Use Rubber Bands or Twist Ties
These common household items can be lightly secured around milkweed pods to keep them from bursting open. Monitor the pods to see when they start splitting open and then cut off the pods to bring indoors. You can also press on the seam of each pod to see if it starts to pop.
If a milkweed pod won’t pop open easily, leave it for another time.
2a. Tie Organza Bags around the pods to collect the seeds. These are also a great way to gift seeds for the upcoming holidays:
3. Wash or Spray Pods with Water
I got this idea when picking pods after a rain storm. All the fluff (coma) was matted down and the seeds were easy to separate. Leave the seeds in a bowl until they are thoroughly dry. This technique works well when you are picking a couple pods at once. If you have a massive amount of pods and seeds, it’s better to let the pods/seeds dry before separation.
Wash Warning: This one isn’t for milkweed seeds, but for your hands. Remember that milkweed sap can be an eye irritant, so always wash your hands thoroughly after handling.
4. Harvest Milkweed Seeds without the Fluff Part 1
5. Harvest Milkweed Seeds without the Fluff Part 2
Sometimes the fluff may have already started coming out of a pod you want to collect. Simply empty seeds and fluff into a paper bag with a few coins and shake. The coins help to separate the seeds. Then, cut a small hole in a bottom corner of the bag and shake out the seeds.
6. Harvest Milkweed Seeds without the Fluff Part 3 (Your Fired!)
While this method seems to separate the fluff, there is no mention of germination rate afterward. I have heard reports that this method kills some of the seeds. If you try this method, be careful not to blacken that green thumb!
Have you tried this fiery technique before? If so, please post a comment below and let us know your seed germination rate the next season.
7. Harvest Milkweed Seeds without the Fluff Part 4 (You’re Late!)
Did you forget to separate seeds upon harvesting? You can still separate the fluff indoors without making a mess…
Empty the contents of the seed pods inside a paper bag and put in a couple pennies. Close the bag and shake. The pennies will help separate the seeds.
After shaking vigorously, cut a small hole in the corner of the bag and the seeds should start pouring out. Shake more if necessary…
8. Storing Seeds
If you’re planting seeds next spring (or starting seeds indoors), it’s best to store them in your refrigerator. This gives them the cold stratification they need to come out of dormancy and sprout, when you finally plant them.
You can store milkweed seeds in paper or plastic bags.
If you store them in plastic bags, make sure they are completely dry before putting them in to avoid mold. I do this by leaving the seeds out in a bowl overnight. I have never had moldy milkweed seeds.
For an added layer of protection from refrigerator spills, you can place them inside another container. You’ll also want to clearly mark them so they don’t get thrown out, or used to spice up a Thanksgiving side dish!
I store seeds I’m not planting next season in a cupboard. Each bag is marked by milkweed species and the year they were harvested.
9. Fall Planting Seeds
This is you (hopefully) improving Mother Nature’s exterior design plan. Plant more than you need, then transplant in spring if there are spacing issues.
10. Extra Milkweed Seeds?
Donate your extra native milkweed seeds to Monarch Watch for their monarch habitat restoration efforts: Donate Milkweed Seeds Info
If you don’t have access to milkweed pods, you can always find seed on our Milkweed Seed Page, and save yourself from all the fluff.
Questions or Comments about How to Harvest Milkweed Seeds? Please Post Them Below
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Hi! I live in San Antonio and I have 3 established butterfly friendly plants – tropical milkweed, purple porterweed, and blue mistflower. I’m renting the house I’m in and so I’ve kept them in pots, greedily, so I can take them with whenever I move. They definitely need larger pots at this point but should I go ahead and just plant them in the ground? I imagine they would thrive in-ground vs in pots? Ty!!
Hi Jaime, they are more likely to thrive if you plant them in the garden…especially if they are getting root-bound in their containers
I have pastures full of milkweed…. I also have cattle. The weed takes away from the native grass. I normally cut or dig out and burn. Is their a market for milkweed ? I watched what looked to be millions of butterflies fly through NE Oklahoma over the years. Not trying to kill off the monarch but trying to keep a clean pasture.
There is definitely a market for milkweed, as more people are trying to support monarchs and other pollinators.
Can you leave a section of milkweed for the Monarch?
after the pod crack opens. reach inside the tip of the pod and grab the tip of the fluff. pull out gently seeds and all. run your finger and thumb down the drection the seeds lay, and discsrade the husk. and poof all the seeds fall off! please don’t mind the spelling!
Why is it necessary to separate the seeds from the fluff?
Because if you plant with the fluff attached, all it takes is a light breeze and your efforts are literally gone with the wind.
Wonderful information on the butterfly habitats!
I have set aside almost 5 acres for a Monarch habitat starting this year. I go rid of all grasses and saplings that we’re present in this plot. I purchased a mixed blend of seeds to plant for the Monarchs including 3 types of milkweed. There were probably 25 other seeds including black eyed Susans, goldenrod. Etc. the seeds ran about $450 per acre and each acre of seed would fill a couple of coffee cans. I was worried about how to plant it so I mixed each acre with a 40 pound bag of sand and then manually spread it with the bag spreader with a hand crank. I believe that I had decent coverage and just finished planting November 30 this year. As I walked through the area yesterday I noticed quite a few birds helping themselves to some of the seed. Should I try and roll it into the ground ? I really didn’t want to put straw out in fear of spreading other seeds that I may not want. I was under the impression that next spring the plants will produce more seed and thicken the area more. We are expecting low 20s in temperature in the next week here in southern Illinois. Also, what do you think about fertilizer with this?
Thanks again for all of the great information!
Everyone feel free to contact me with pictures as I am interested in all comments.
Hi James, I always plant and cover seeds, but that might not be practical for a field habitat. Prairie planting is not my field of expertise, but there is a link to planting a field for pollinators in this post:
What 5 acres that’s a lot of land. That is good for the mob of monarchs
We did this in 7 acres about 25 years ago planted milkweed and native Wisconsin plants and grasses. It’s a butterfly haven now. Sowed seed by hand and dragged the it by hand. Lots of work but turn out great. First few years we were worried but by year 3 obvious it would be fantastic. Good luck.
I live in central Ontario. I have a compost bag full of fluff and seeds. I tried the paper bag and penny method. Only a few seeds went to the bottom. My living room and myself are getting very fluffy! Help! Should I try the wet method? Do you lay them on paper?
Hi Laura, I separate the seeds from the fluff right after harvesting. Otherwise, things can get very messy. Yes, maybe getting them wet would help, but I have not done that before. good luck!
THIS IS THE FIRST YEAR I HAVE GROWN BALLON MILKWEED, THE BALLS HAVE NOT BROKE OPEN YET, WHAT SHOULD I DO …WANT TO SAVE ALL THE SEEDS FOR NEXT YEAR.
Hi Judy, the plants can survive temps as low as the high 20’s…if it’s going to get colder than that, you could overwinter plants indoors or just take a cutting of the plant with the pods and put it in water indoors to let them finish developing if they are close. good luck…
I was so excited I finally got milkweed to grow and now I find it is tropical milkweed. I am in zone 9 in central California so I know I should cut it back. It has seed pods though and they do not look even close to ripe. Should I wait and harvest seeds or should I cut back now?Yes, it still has several flowers too. It may not freeze here until mid to late Dec.
Hi Lee, if you want the seeds for planting, I would cut back the plants after you harvest them…
The tropical milk weed is very bad it Carries OE and will as the sliky gold
I am looking for ways to disinfect these tropical milkweed plants so the next “residents” will not be harmed by OE. Cutting back where previous caterpillars have been might help. What else would help?
Hi Sandra, after cutting back plants you can also use a hydrogen peroxide mix to kill pathogens on the remaining plant and surrounding soil. More info here:
We live in Ontario, Canada, about two hours driving time west of Ottawa.
On October 24, 2017, we found, and photographed 3 monarch butterflies feasting on a bed of cosmos blossoms that had not yet been hit by frost. We live by the side of the lake that moderates temperatures.
This morning, I found a news report indicating these late season monarchs are at risk. I went to goggle, found your website, and am now a monarch rescuer devotee. If I see another monarch this fall, and if I can capturing, I will in a heartbeat drive four hours to put it in the hands of someone who is driving to Florida next week. Meanwhile, I will spend my day putting organza bags around the still green milkweed pods in my garden. Thank you all for your monarch rescue missions.
Thank you for your report Eleanor and welcome to the community! I am hopeful that most butterflies have been able to start their journey from Canada. We will get a report on the numbers in Mexico in a few months…
I have several Tweedia pods that are green with some brown on them. They are not ready to pop, but the weather is now getting colder, 65 to 75 degrees during the day, 45 degrees at night. We have mostly been having sun, but some clouds will come this week. I live in a suburb of Washington DC. Next week it will probably be colder. Should I take the plants out of the ground, put them in pots and place them in front of a south facing window that receives sun almost all day? I don’t want to lose the seeds. What about my asclepias Bloodflower which also still have green pods?
Hi Diana, there’s no need to do this now unless lows will be 32° F or less. But, if you want a mature plant to start next season, you can overwinter indoors. We are overwintering 2 tweedia plants indoors. Same advice for tropical milkweed.
I’m from North East Pennsylvania and joined the Monarch release program locally this year. It was an awesome experience –
I planted a butterfly bush this spring and on the day of the Eclipse was when my 1st Monarch’s appeared.
Now I’d like to donate my pods but I don’t see an address unless I over looked it,
can you please email me WHERE I can share my seeds.
Hi Kathryn, you can donate to organizations like monarch watch or save our monarchs or join a butterfly facebook group to trade with other enthusiasts…
If any of your readers have extra seeds, they can be sent to the Live Monarch Foundation. They distribute the seeds for free every spring. They especially need northern varieties of seeds. They are located in Florida, so it’s harder for them to source them.
Live Monarch Foundation
2901 Clint Moore Road, Suite 198
Boca Raton, Florida 33496
Thanks for the address. I separated a batch of seeds yesterday wearing gloves and I can mail them to Florida today on Halloween! We only have had two monarchs all summer in our WA state garden.?
In Missouri–I cut quite a few green milkweed pods still on the stems from along our county road ditch yesterday. I thought I would dry and use as a fall arrangement. Now,I think,after reading, I need to harvest the seeds. The pods are closed up and green,and are safe in my garage. What do I do next?
Thanks so much for your help!
Hi Suzann, if you picked the pods prematurely, they won’t develop much more….if you place the cuttings in water, some that are close may open on their own with mature seeds. good luck!
Hi. I stumbles upon some plants seeds opening and ready
I live in Rhode Island should I plant now or wait
Also I’m going back to get more since they’re on a property we own. If I can get a bunch do you want some
Hi Karen, I typically plant seeds in Minnesota toward the end of October or even early November…just make sure you do it before the first snowstorm! PS…thanks for the milkweed offer but we are good ?
I just planted a few A. tuberosa this spring and only had a handful germinate. I planted them in different locations of my yard to pinpoint the best areas in my yard for future reference on plantings. One really excelled and flowered profusely, producing a dozen or so seed pods. I have read somewhere that most milkweed species require cross pollination from separate plants for fertilization and viable seeds to occur. Do you know if this is true and would the plant even produce pods and seeds if proper pollination did not occur? The pods and seeds look fully developed and the seeds look brown and healthy for harvesting. Note that none of the other A. tuberosas I planted were flowering when this particular plant was flowering and I don’t think I’ve ever seen A. tuberosa growing wild in my immediate area. It is probably not native to precisely my area but is common in the state just north of me. I’m in Louisiana in zone 9a. Also, being in zone 9a with the lowest winter temperatures being in the mid 20’s or so usually a few days of the year with fluctuating extremes to highs in the 70’s, is fall seed planting still possible when you generally have low chill factor?
By the way, I had a three late September Monarch caterpillars on this same plant. They were a good size but disappeared a few days after I spotted them. I assume they were predated by something, but they may have been big enough to start pupating though I saw evidence of such. Hopefully I’ll have more success next year.
Thanks for your time.
Hi Mike, if the pods formed, and the seeds weren’t plucked before maturity, the seeds will be viable. In your region, I would try refrigerator stratification so the seeds get adequate cold treatment:
Hi…I was just given some milkweed seed pods that were harvested in Michigan and I live in California. The pods are about 4-5 inches long. I have no idea what variety they are but the seeds look mature …brown with white fluff. Is it a good idea to plant them here? I do have some open space available and it can get below freezing at night occasionally.
Hi Laurie, much of the perennial milkweed species in Michigan will not thrive in your region. Before you make a decision, I would figure out what species you have:
Hi Tony, man your a cutie! I just started with Monarch’s this season and I’ve raised 30 and released all but 6….I live on 32 acres in MD and have space for a GOOD milk weed garden…. Here’s the thing, the State comes thru and cuts down established plants on the side of the road. So I tried to get as many pods as I could before they come thru again. I got allot but some clearly are not ready and splitting open…… So now what? Do I try to dry them in the basement or do I open the kinda green ones and separate the seeds any way to plant now or in the spring. I’m not a Gardener at all, I just really like Monarch’s and want to help and watch them grow….
Hello Heidi, thank you for helping the monarchs. Unfortunately, any immature seeds collected will not develop further so just harvest and plant (or store) the ones that are fully mature… If you’re interested in starting a garden:
Hi Tony, I have six common milkweed that I purchased and planted this past Spring in a large galvanized tub. They flowered for a week or two, then stopped. They haven’t grown that much and I don’t see any seed pods. Should I replant them in the ground now, wait until Spring, or just leave them in the tub and they’ll be fine?
I live in the Annapolis area of Maryland, and we’re getting temps between 52-76-ish.
Hi Carollynn, I would fall plant them now…they still have plenty of time to get acclimated before winter.
Thank you for your response!
I just tried the method for separating the floss in the video and it worked great! Easiest method I’ve tried so far.
great to hear Suzie…happy harvesting!
I’ve seen your other article about raising Giant Swallow Tail. Could I ask please roughly how many days the giant swallow tail larvae spend as a larvae before turning into a chrysalis?
Hi Cherie, swallowtails are unpredictable compared to monarchs, but they definitely take longer. The swallowtails we currently have in our porch won’t emerge from their chrysalides until (probably) next May. Check this group for swallowtail specific info:
We planted swamp milkweed last spring with pre-schoolers . It is fall and we have harvested the seeds. What do we do with the plants themselves? Some have very thick stems – do we cut those back? If so, when?
Also, we have one batch of swamp milkweed Ina large pot. It did not bloom, but is tall and has pretty foliage. Will it come back next spring?
Hi Caroline, you could fall plant your potted swamp milkweed in the garden. When we ‘pot’ our swamp milkweed, we do so in the spring when the shoots start to emerge. For thriving plants, it’s best that they go through the winter part of the growth cycle outdoors.
You can cut back milkweed stalks in fall or spring.
We will leave the stalks or cut them part of the way down then leave until early spring. There are many insects…spiders, bees, etc. that will use the insides of the stalks for homes.
I have three Chrysalis yet to emerge outside yet,have six Chrysalis inside yet also will it be late for these to get to Mexico ?
I have twenty Caterpillars in the house yet in different instars,think these will be able to do their thing and go south also ?
Have 10 Caterpillars at Church also and several J’s yet .
Has been a very good year for me ,I’ll have over 200 this year with 50being tagged.
Hi Judy, if you still have high temps in the 60’s they will be in good shape for release:
congrats on a successful season…
Late summer I drove around the area looking for common milkweed pods in areas that typically get mowed down. I hit the pod lottery in one area and have already separated the seeds from the slightly cracked pods and separated the fluff. I have nearly a cup full of pure seeds and need to know the best approach for storing and seeding. I assume swamp milkweed is what I have. Do I refrigerate all of them, or keep some for future seasons? I hear it takes a very long time for a small plant to grow enough to start producing flowers and pods? How long will it take for my seeds to become useful to the Monarchs?
Hi Kate, you can fall plant milkweed seeds directly, winter sow, or plant in spring:
I don’t have any pods my milkweed has been stripped down to just a few leaves at the top!
Hi Gayla, sorry to hear. If you source more seeds/plants to plant this fall or next season, hopefully you’ll be able to collect some next season. There are plant/seed vendors listed here:
I find it interesting that MNL says milkweed seeds will ripen in the pods if picked too soon. Other sources say they won’t mature if picked too soon. I have pods from plants that were mowed down on the highway and the seeds are turning brown. Will they produce?
Hi Dick, if they are close to maturity they might be ok for planting. Otherwise, no…
I collected a several milkweed seed pods of different native Illinois varieties yesterday and forgot and left them in the car this morning. When I remembered them about noon, the car was closed up and the inside temp measured about 110°F. Should I be worried about reduced viability?
Hi Arthur, I’m not sure how this will affect them, but I would still give them a cold moist stratification before planting and hope for the best…
Ok, Tony, thanks. I have had good luck with the milk jug method in the past, will try that with these. I think I’d better collect a backup pod or two from the less common plants though, for just in case. Road trip!
I just discovered we have milkweed growing in our backyard. I love monarchs and will leave them to grow to encourage the butterflies to come. They seem to just grow on their own. I would like to know which species I have and if there is anything special I should do for them. I am south of Milwaukee, Wisconsin and on the shore of Lake Michigan. The milkweed that grows is a few feet tall with very light purple flower balls
Thank you for your help!
Hi Vickie, it could be purple milkweed (asclepias purpurascens) but check out 25 species here:
Hello – I noticed someone mentioned having children in a school garden plant milkweed seeds. We were thinking of doing that too – ideally, having them harvest them from the pods and plant them. But I’m wondering if there are safety concerns I need to be thinking about? I know the danger comes from the sap but still…?
Hi Nicole, I recommend washing your hands after handling milkweed and, of course, not touching your face while handling it. Are the kids old enough to follow those rules? If not, maybe you could harvest, and then let them plant the seeds.
About a week ago I rescued a couple of Common milkweed pods from and area that was about to be mowed down. They were not ready to pop so I took part the the milkweed stem and with the pods and have hung them outside in the hope they will dry.
Do it think the pods will mature this way?
Thanks so much Tony for all the information you share, your site is a wealth of answers for me. Hopefully you have helped me get the one wild egg I found to become beautiful Monarch butterfly It is now a 2 day old chrysalis and I’m an anxious Mom waiting for a butterfly to emerge
Hi Cathern, they won’t develop anymore after they’ve been plucked from the plant. If you took the stalk and placed it in water with pods attached that were close to maturity, that might work…or stick the stem part emerging from the pod into a floral tube. Good luck with your chrysalis!
What’s the purpose in separating the fluff? Is it really necessary?
Hello Susan, the fluff makes a mess…much easier if you separate the seeds.
Hi, I’m in north Florida, and this is my first summer growing milkweed and monarch caterpillars. Your site has been my saving grace many times!
I waited until my native milkweed pods turned brown and cracked open but there were only seeds inside, no fluff. I saved the seeds anyway. Did I wait too long? I do have assassin bugs and aphids and wondered if they consumed the fluff. I also noticed the caterpillars eating the pods a few weeks ago. Will the seeds from fluffless pods still be viable? Thanks!
Hi Laura, what species of milkweed are you growing?
It is swamp milkweed with the small white blooms.
Could it be that vine with small white flowers that produces pods and is just a milkweed wannabe and not real milkweed?
yes…dogbane has small white flowers:
It could be aquatic milkweed. White or light pink flowers and no fluff on the seeds. The seeds naturally spread by water, so no fluff required. The pods act as boats and I believe that the seeds float as well. Check out Asclepias perennis. We have them here in Louisiana as well.
That sounds like your seeds aborted.
I have lots of milkweed pods.
Can they be cut and sundried?
Hi Jeanette…cut and sundried for what? I would remove the seeds as posted on the page
I have about 50 milk weed plants in my back yard. plenty of bees on the flowers but no seed pods this year. Why?
Hi Bob, what species of milkweed and where are you located?
I have about an acre of land between my yard and a wet land area. However it is heavy with fern. Will the milk weed grow and survive in that area. I collect monarch eggs to grow and release and have large flower gardens, so have plenty of butterfly’s but need the milkweed.
Hi Pat, I would try planting some and see what happens. We don’t grow many ferns, so maybe someone else can chime in with their experience…
When do the Monarchs come around this time and how do you know when to Collect the seeds from the milkweed plant. Thank you for the advice.
Hi Priam, I don’t cut off pods until I can see the seams beginning to open. If you want to guarantee a collection, tie mesh organza bags around the pods:
I have butterfly weed, can I collect the pods in the same way? Some of the pods have already split but I still have about 20+ that have not
yes Isabella, it’s the same process…
Tony, Just want to say thank you for all of this good information. I was searching for information on aphids – found that and just kept reading! This is quite a service.
Any chance that I can contact “Irene”, the lady that wants seeds for her 40 acre garden? I will be collecting close to 100 pods this fall and I would be happy to donate some to Irene.
Hi Dick, you can reply to her comment and see if she gets back to you. Otherwise, facebook groups are the best place to give or trade milkweed seeds. Here’s one to consider:
Hi, I have probably 15 pods on the few plants that popped up at our new home. I plan to plant a milkweed/butterfly garden next year and am stratifying the seeds now so I wont be needing most of my seeds. They are common milkweed and would be a donation or would LOVE a trade if you have any Asclepias Purpurascens. Its the only one Im having a hard time finding.
I havent had ANY luck this year with Monarch caterpillars but Im hoping the one I saw about a week or two ago placed some viable eggs. I did however get 6 Eastern Black Swallowtails from the dill garden (who does that? Dill garden. ) that popped up in the front planter… gotta love new houses right? You never know what will pop up!
Hi Ariana, our purple milkweed has never seeded. If you’re looking to donate or trade seeds facebook groups are the best platforms to do that…good luck and happy gardening.
Last fall collected 40 milkweed pods. I kept them, after separating the fluff, in our freezer. Then in April this year spread them on about three acre area. We have 98 plants now and I intend to collect pods again this year. I can return to the areas I picked last year plus our plants and hope to have many more seeds. Am I doing this right? I would appreciate any and all suggestions.
Hi Dick, there’s really not right/wrong ways…there’s what works for your particular situation and what doesn’t. I’d say with 100 new plants, you’re on the right track…However, if you’re in a region with a true winter, you might try fall planting seeds too.
I am converting a 40 acre parcel in the Stonington Peninsula of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, once a monarch butterfly hot spot, into a monarch refuge. I would welcome any donations of milkweed seeds you may have. Suggestions would be welcome, too.
Hi Irene, sounds like a fantastic project. I am not a seed vendor, but if you want more info about creating a pollinator field, please click the link with more info in this post:
I’m in NY and a friend from Wisconsin sent me milkweed pods over a year ago. I wasn’t able to plant them right away and now it’s the middle of June. Can I still plant them? Any way I can salvage them?
Hi Myrna, if they’re perennial seeds they need cold moist stratification first if you plant them now. If that’s the case I would wait until fall, winter sow, or plant earlier next spring
For how long can milkweed seeds be in cold storage? One year? Two years? Five? I have way more Butterfly Weed and Common Milkweed seeds than I’m going to be able to stratify and plant this spring.
Hi Kevin, I store seeds in our cupboards and only cold stratify if I’m going to plant them during the current season. I’ve successfully planted seeds that were 4-5 years old, but I replace them with fresh seeds after that, if needed. I’m not sure if there should be a ‘limit’ for cold stratification…never done it for more than a couple months.
Wow that is a relief. I have been scattering extra seeds at lakes, parks and other public places. On a windy day I can really scatter a lot of seeds with the fluff attached.
It is a beautiful sight and I have had some interesting conversations as a result.
Some of these seeds were from my first year 2013.
Thank you for all the help!
Peace Through Rotary Service
Clara Harris Lemon Grove,Calif.
I live in Florida. Children in my school planted Milkweed seeds from an only and old milkweed plant that we had. Now we have so many new sprouts and bloomed plants. We are wondering if these new ones will give us some more pods of seeds. I have noticed that other milkweed that I’ve bought, haven’t give any pods. Is there a reason for it?
Hi Sammy, congrats on all your new milkweed! Yes, the new plants should produce more seeds as long as they have a chance to grow and aren’t constantly eaten down. This can happen in regions with a continuous milkweed/monarch season. If you have an abundance of milkweed, you are more likely to have some that reaches it’s full potential.
I live in southwest Louisiana. I have the asclepias tuberosa plant. I had caterpillars on the plants until almost the end of October. I never noticed any seed pods until now (December 29). They are not large at all. Will they continue to grow? Is there a way to protect them from freezing (as we could still have a freeze…even though it is has been in the 70’s lately!). Thanks!
Hi Leigh, you could always cover the plants with a light blanket if the temps get close to freezing. If the plants don’t die back, the pods should continue to develop and produce seed….good luck!
My honeyvine milkweed (grown from seed this year) bloomed and made pods. A freeze killed the vines before the pods split. The pods are fully-grown, and two of them are starting to turn purplish, the others are totally green. Will they continue to ripen? The vine’s stems are still green but no sap is running.
I picked one of the purplish pods and brought it inside, and I’ve left all the rest on the vine. I assume they’ll dry out and split eventually and I can look at the seed color, just wondering what to expect. And should I pick all of them. I still have a few seeds from the packet I bought last year off eBay (in case they’re not quite hardy here and I need to replant) but I want to share seeds with some friends.
hi Bob, the seeds won’t develop further after a freeze, but seeds that were fully developed will receive a natural cold moist stratification outdoors and some should germinate next spring. You can always open pods to see if any hold mature seeds…good luck!
I noticed that the honeyvine pods still had plenty of latex sap in them even tho’ the vines were dead, so I left them alone thinking the seeds *might* continue maturing. One of the pods is finally dry and I cracked it open today — I don’t think it was ever going to split on its own.
The seeds are light brown. I don’t know if they are viable or not, but they look good and they might be okay. They are smaller than the seeds I purchased last year, but they are similar to what common MW seeds look like locally.
If the vines come back next year they should bloom earlier and I’ll have a better chance of getting mature seeds.
I started a butterfly garden in September . I bought some tropical milkweed in the spring just for the looks of it collected seeds and propagate some which was easy . I now have problems doing the same with milkweed I find in ditches and fields I found several varietys but no luck …
I planted some butterfly weed seed a few weeks ago but I did not refrigerate the seed . I’m in southern Louisiana it’s getting a little colder but I dunno if that’s enough
I took in 5 monarch cats from the TM today so something is working
Hi Matthias, November is a good time to plant milkweed seeds for most regions. If your region doesn’t have a true winter, you can always cold stratify milkweed seeds in your refrigerator:
Milkweed being perennial, I assume I can leave mine alone (that first sprouted this year), disregard the pods/seeds and the original plants will sprout again next spring (I’m in Chicago). In other words, no new seeding is needed, right?
Hi Cliff, your perennial milkweed should come back next spring. You’ll also get new plants from seeding and some species (like asclepias syriaca) spread by underground rhizomes. You don’t have to do anything unless you have a specific milkweed plan in mind…
Assuming they are the hardy native milkweeds (common milkweed or swamp milkweed) they’ll be back next spring and grow very rapidly, but you’ll think they won’t because they are very late coming up. I think it’s mid-May here. Maybe even early June for the swamp MW’s. HTH.
I harvested A. speciosa in 2002 from a field that is now a subdivision. Kept in the refrigerator, tightly wrapped in plastic. The seed is still viable! Just started 36 deep pots of this seed this spring. Good germination.
I live in Southern California in west Riverside County. I planted milkweed for the first time this year. The plants are suppose to be perennial. One is already coming back after dying off. I have 5 varieties of milkweed. The seeds have been dispersing themselves. and several new plants have popped up.
I’m concerned about the orangeish bugs like aphids on the plants. They have attracted lady bugs which are feasting on them. The caterpillars don’t seem to mind them. I spray my roses with a mild dish soap solution, just the affected buds. Not sure if this would harm the caterpillars.
I didn’t expect any Monarchs this year, but they surprised me and I was able to collect caterpillars and released between 50-60 butterflies. One was still flying around this week. Most have gone to Mexico.
So, I’m hoping I have lots more milkweed next year. It was a scramble to feed later this summer.
Hi Susan, I would not spray soap on plants that are currently hosting monarchs, but they should be safe after they are rinsed off with water. congrats on a successful season!
Great job! Thank you for caring for our Monarchs!
I live in Southern California and I have about 10 tropical milkweed plants in my garden. I see new monarchs in my yard every day. Lately, however, I’ve noticed a shortage of eggs in one area of my yard. Upon examination, I found a large praying mantis. I moved it to another area of my yard but he returned to my milkweeds. Is he eating the monarch eggs? If so, what should I do? I know that praying mantis are beneficial in the garden.
Thanks for you advice.
Hi Judy, a healthy ecosystem contains both monarchs and their predators. It’s impossible to stop all the predators, but you can always raise a few monarchs indoors to boost their survival rate…from 5% to over 90%. even a few makes a difference.
Saw post about raising monarchs indoors, if I pulled it off, what wold I feed them. And would it be in a terrarium? When do I release them outdoors? I’m in zone 6. My milkweed consists of a dozen orange plants of which I’ve split the root and moved a few feet over. Same with the Cinderella Milkweed I have. Thanks, Tom
Hi Tom, it sounds like you have enough milkweed to start raising, which is the first important step. These are the supplies we use and recommend:
I have a few common milkweed plants that are well established. A decade ago we even raised some caterpillars and set the adults free – great fun with a 5-year-old. I was recently made aware that I could harvest and donate some of the seeds for the Midwest region. Your website shows how to harvest, but how should I package the seeds and where do I send them?
Hi Diane, Monarch Watch has a milkweed seed program. See their instructions here:
I got a couple of milkweed pods from my brother in NY. They had not split open yet so I manually opened them. The seeds are a milk chocolate brown. Are these seeds viable or were they harvested too soon?
Hi John, it’s usually best to wait until the pods are starting to crack open. You can try planting to see if they’re viable, but I would harvest some more if possible.
I started my milkweed from a seed pod my grandpa gave me off his milkweed. My milkweed is doing great but after 2 years I have yet to see a seed pod on any of the 4 I have. Plenty of caterpillars, chrysalis.. Butterfly’s but no pods. Is this normal? I have tropical milkweed
Hi Rebecca, the caterpillars may be eating down the plants before they have time to seed…Up north, ours seed prolifically.
Is there a reason to not plant the seeds with the fluff? Why can’t I just put it all in the ground?
Hi Pamela, the fluff makes a mess..it’s easier to store the seeds if you separate. But yes, you can plant seeds with fluff attached if you wish.
My first try at planting milkweed seed. Will plant in Nov. when the pods burst open does the fluff fly everywhere? If so, this will be an issue as to where I plan to plant. Thanks
yes Nancy, the seeds will blow all over the place, but you can always put organza bags over the pods before they burst or cut off the pods prematurely.
Hello! Its May here in Florida. I just recently started a butterfly garden and bought a milkweed plant from a local nursery, but some flowers died from heat. There are still flowers, but in the old flowers’ place some large green oblong shapes have appeared, some very small and some as big as the digit of my thumb, but not very thick. They have points at the tips. Are they seed pods? Is it strange for them to be appearing at this time of year if they are? They’re too small to put rubber bands around, what should I do for now? Thank you.
Hi Anissa, tropical milkweed is a continuous bloomer…and seeder! So, yes, those are seed pods. Here’s more info:
If you want to catch the seeds, try tying organza bags around the pods…good luck!
I live down south and we still have cats on our milkweed. I found one big girl eating a milkweed seed pod! She was half way through it. Munching down. The plant was in a pot so I brought the whole thing inside. I have never seen a cat eat a seed pod before.
I was wondering, what is the lowest temperature that a chrysalis can withstand?
Hi Janet, my guess is somewhere around freezing 32° F but I would move one indoors if it was below 50° F. I have found small caterpillars alive after it dipped down to 31° F…
It is so much information I will have to read it over again.
I had so many milk weed bugs I didn’t know what to do. Is there any way to protect the plants.
Hi Carolyn, if you have a huge infestation you can always flick some into a bucket of soap water, which we do with Japanese beetles when their numbers start to spike…good luck!
I have left over TROPICAL milkweed seed that I want to plant in pots in spring. Should I store them over winter in the refrig or cabinet at room temp.? Thanks.
Hi Pam, the warm weather milkweed varieties (including tropical) don’t need cold moist stratification and can be stored at room temperature.
I’ve been riding through local alleys on my recumbent trike, blowing milkweed seeds onto the little weedpatches between the garages and the pavement. Some of my abundant seeds would find their way there without help, but this should speed up the process a bit.
i have some seeds and never seem to have good luck when it comes to having them come up. i was told no deeper than a pencil eraser but alas no luck.
Hi Kim, I have had high germination rates using the instructions I’ve outlined here, but you might want to switch it up and try winter sowing this year…I will be sending out more info on that propagation technique soon.
I live in palm springs california.. a friend from minnesota just sent me seeds.. im going to try them… can anyone tell me what natives might grow well here in palm springs
Hi David, you can check out my milkweed resources page to see what will grow perennially in your region:
If you are just looking California natives, check this out:
I have no pods on my milkweed in Westchester, Ohio. Had several caterpillars…Help!
Hi Lorri, if your plants didn’t flower this season, they won’t produce seeds. Also, if they did flower they would need to be pollinated by butterflies, bees, etc. If you need seeds for planting, please check out my milkweed resources page for more options:
I am having a huge problem with the red and black milkweed bugs on the blossoms of my milkweed just waiting for the seed pods. Then they devour the seeds.
Do you know where I could buy mesh bags to protect my seed pods while they are forming and growing??
I did not cut my milkweed back last fall so my original plants are very leggy-i will do that this year. I have just bought 3 of the narrow leaf milkweed and on one plant there are 2 seed pods. I have this plant inside in my garden window protecting those seeds.
Other wise I have just the tropical variety. What other varieties would you suggest for Southern Ca.?
Hi Ginny, you can tie organza bags around the pods like these:
or you can knock them into a bucket of soapy water. We have enough milkweed so I let ours stay, but when you have a limited supply they can be a pain.
please checkout my milkweed resources page for both native and non-native ideas. The non-natives will likely be perennials in your region too. Hope this helps:
How come some plants have pods and others have 3 or more pods? How best to plant? Can the seeds just be scattered or does the soil need to be prepared in any way?
Hi Nan, I prefer to plant more methodically, but broadcasting seeds works too. You could also try winter sowing and then plant all the seedlings next spring. Lots of options. Here more info on fall planting:
Why does the white fluff have to be removed to plant the milkweeds seeds but in nature they are wind sown with the fluff.
Hello, Di…the fluff makes a big mess and blows all over the place. It’s great for carrying the seeds to new locations outdoors. If you’re trying to store them or plant them, all it does is get in the way…
Help please. I just did a test of one pod and discovered that I’ve picked it to early.
Is there any way that I can get the seeds to mature in the rest of the pods before planting? I’m feeling pretty bad about this and would love to know what I could do. Thank you for your time.
Hi Kim, if you picked all the pods there’s not a lot you can do. In the future, let the pods start splitting at the seam before you harvest. If you don’t have any more seeds to harvest in your garden, perhaps you could try a local park or ask a neighbor. Otherwise there are many affordable options for buying milkweed seeds online. Good luck!
Thank you for the info we have some wild milkweed on my boyfriend’s uncle’s land and we are going to try and hardest some seeds this year to plant more for next year. WE learned a lot when we visited the reptile land in PA. This summer and wanted to help the butterfly’s . WE love seeing them and noticed not so many as when we we’re young we love to try and help bring them back for are grandchildren to enjoy and appreciate .
Where are some resources for those of us in Oregon. Would like to know if there is any special tasks needed to ensure good plant growth. IE Fall planting of seeds or Indoor starts in the early spring
Hi Bud, if you are on facebook this looks like a good resource for some ideas:
Do you know how long milkweed seeds last? And are there any secrets or tricks to preserve them for years to come? I have lots and don’t want them to go to waste. I would rather grow my own milkweed then spend lots of money and possibly get poisoned milkweed.
Hi Kelly, I keep seeds for about 3 years before replacing them…I’m sure some last longer but I want to insure a high germination rate.
About the germination rate of the burned-fluff seeds:
I picked several pods last fall and put them in a plastic bag. I did not know they needed to be chilled . So if I planted the seeds this spring they won’t come up? Could I put them in the fridge and then start them in containers next spring or should I toss the pods and try it again next fall? Thanks
Hi Tena, the seeds require a moist cold stratification to break dormancy. You can accomplish this with your refrigerator. Planting in fall will also give the seeds a natural moist cold stratification over winter:
Just harvested common milkweed seeds (January 15 in Minnesota). I’m assuming they are sufficiently cold stratified. How should the seeds be stored until I plant them? Do people have better luck winter sowing outdoors in plastic containers or starting the seed indoors?
Hi Diane, they need to be cold stratified until you are going to plant them. Winter sowing is one propagation technique. You can also start seeds indoors or sow directly in spring.
have tons of common milkweed growing all over the place. I would like and try to move it safely w/o loosing any plants. The plants are coming up in with all my shrubs. This past nov. I harvested and replanted lots of seeds (and gave lots away). I never seem to have monarch caterpillars tho (several others). Am going to try and add another type of milkweed but not sure what kind? any ideas? zone 5.
Hi Dana, I’m in zone 5 too. You have lots of options both native and non-native…for non-native varieties like tropical it’s best to start seeds indoors early or buy plants. Otherwise, the plants will be too small to support monarchs. Here are 18+ milkweed ideas to consider:
Swamp milkweed is a popular native variety that is both host and nectar plant for monarchs and has a later bloom period than common:
Swamp milkweed will work for your area. I had a lot of instars on mine.
Last year I obtained seeds from Live Monarch Foundation.
Folowed instructions on the seed packets and after a while I actually had about 50 milkweed plants, in addition to a failry large Buddleja Davidii, a( Butterfly Bush). Living in southern California I figured I have Monarchs all over the place.
My house backs up to a canyon, so I would consider it an open space, and saw one Monarch. I did find a hand full of caterpillars. So I assume they eventually turned in to Butterflies. I have been harvesting the seeds as directed and have high hopes next years I’ll see a few more Monarchs. At least I’ve done my part to try and attract them. Now it’s up t Mother nature.
sounds like you are more than doing your part Lou! If you want to boost their odds of survival even more, raising a few indoors definitely helps and it’s amazing to watch their 30 day transformation.
Tony I have a question. I still have my tropical milkweed outside and the pods do not appear to be ready to harvest the seeds. Last night we had a frost. What are my best options for making sure the seeds will be good for planting in the spring? Thanks
Oh, and I have one more question. I was collecting milkweed pods in a field and I came across a pod that I did not recognize. The plant was about 4 feet tall and the pods were slender and smooth. One of them was a little purplish. Have any ideas what kind this is?
Hi Karyn, it could be Asclepias incarnata- swamp milkweed? Again, it would help if I knew where you were located. Here’s info on swamp:
Thanks for the information. I am in Northern Illinois btw.
Hi Karyn, not sure where you are located. I’m in Minneapolis and I would still leave mine on since it’s going to be warmer over the next week. If you’re going to get a hard freeze, you could always take a stem cutting with the pods attached and place the cutting in water. I’ve done this with “balloon plant” before and the seeds continued to develop. If they’re not getting close to maturity, that probably won’t work. good luck!
Hi Derek, the numbers are definitely up this season…looking forward to hearing the migration count results over winter.
Hmm no open pods yet either on the raggedy Common in the garden space or the Swamp in our box.
I have seen a couple straggler Monarchs this far north in Chicago still the last couple days! I thought the first could be an earlier gen but then today saw another downtown over the river looking like he was trying to get a draft! I have seen a few downtown this year and this is the first time I can remember that happening and I have worked here 11 years. Granted I may be paying more attention now but that can’t be all of it in this case.
Hi Chris, thanks for the reminder about donating extra seeds. I added some info at the end of the post…
Fantastic, I am supplying several households with seeds this year and this will make it so much easier. It will also keep my neighbors from being upset! I appreciate you and all you do!
Hi Ginger, it’s always good to keep the neighbors happy. Happy Harvesting!
Interesting ideas. I try to keep watch on the pods and once I notice they’ve split I hold a paper or zip lock bag under the pod and carefully open it and grab the entire group of seeds for they’re attached and put them in the bag. The fluff will be attached but the paper bag and coin method seperates them. If one cannot be there when the pods split then the rubber band idea works great. I’ll be saving many seeds and planting them this fall but will also be donating many to a Monarch organization.
Thank you so much for the tips. I’ve tried growing seeds outdoors twice, but have had no luck. This year I am going to try to grow some indoors to transplant in the spring. Any advice as to when to start the little guys? Should I wait until January, or after refrigerating seeds, start them now–ion the fall?
Hi Shae, usually 8-12 weeks before your average last frost is a good time to start seeds indoors.
this was so helpful first year I am gonna try this
I am happy to hear you will be harvesting milkweed seeds Linda. Good luck with your butterfly garden!
In live in Tampa Florida and our weather is only barely hinting of possible fall – temps still in mid 80s. I am ready to start planting my native pink swamp milkweed seeds, in trays, in a protective screened enclosure. I’m still not clear if I need to “cold strat” since our temperatures rarely hit freezing (1 day only in 2014). Thoughts please. This has been such a helpful source of information. Thank you for your time.
Hi Linda, I would cold stratify the seeds in your refrigerator before planting. Here is more info:
Do I best NOT use the seeds if IF OE MAY be present. What to do? Do cut the plant completely back?
Hi Doris, I checked with the good people at Monarch Joint Venture to verify that OE is not spread by milkweed seeds and this was their reply:
“A seed is unlikely to have any dormant spores on it (because the seed would have to come in contact with an infected adult) and if it by chance did have spores on it, it’s very unlikely that the foliage of the plant would retain those spores as it germinates.”
As for cutting back plants, if you are in region where milkweed doesn’t die back over winter, plants should be cut back to between 6-12″ at least once a year to promote healthy new growth without OE spores.
Milkweed Seed Collection
If you have access to native milkweed seeds, here are some tips for seed collection that you can use to share seeds with different conservation organizations or community/neighborhood projects, or to plant yourself and expand habitat for monarchs!
Guidelines for Seed Collection
What to collect
Know your milkweeds! If you do not know the species, collect for personal use only. Propagation space is the most valuable space in the greenhouse, so mislabeled or mixed seeds can cost nurseries and distributors money. Do not collect seeds of rare or endangered milkweed species.
It is easiest to identify species when they are in bloom. If you are planning to collect certain species, identify each species before the seed pods form.
High priority milkweed seeds needed include (Monarch Watch Milkweed Market):
- Asclepias tuberosa – butterflyweed
- A. incarnata – swamp milkweed
- A. verticillata – whorled milkweed
- A. perennis – aquatic milkweed
- A. oenotheroides – side cluster (W. Texas)
- A. asperula (W. Texas) – antelope-horns, spider milkweed
Only send native, wild milkweed seeds. Distributors and nurseries want to be able to promise their plants came from a native milkweed population
Check the seeds for viability before putting a lot of work into it. Break a few seeds open. The exterior of the seeds should be brown. If they are distinctly creamy white on the inside (of the seed), they are viable. If they are brown or black and paper thin on the inside, they are not good seeds.
When to collect
Collect only ripe pods. Pods do not always ripen at the same time, so you should assess each pod individually. You do not need to remove the pod from the plant to assess ripeness.
Pods are ripe when they open at the seam with light pressure. If the seam does not split open with a gentle squeeze or press, the pod is likely not ripe yet.
Ripe seeds will be brown.
How to collect
Split the pod at the seam and peel open. Use your fingers to pull the seeds and the silk out.
Do not collect open pods with numerous milkweed bugs on the seeds or pods. Avoid introducing milkweed bugs into the bags in which you are placing pods.
It is always best to collect only a portion of the seeds in a particular location and leave some for natural regeneration.
Distributors and nurseries always prefer to receive seed that has been separated from the pods and silk because there’s not always time to do it promptly. There are many different ways to do this:
- To watch a video of how to do this by hand, click here.
- To watch a video of how to do this with a vacuum and a sifter, click here.
- To watch a video of how to do this with a vacuum and homemade seed separator, click here.
- You can put the silk material and seeds in a paper bag with stones or coins and shake it to separate the silk from the seeds, then cut a small hole in the bottom of the bag to pour the seeds out and keep the rest contained.
- In a dryer on the cool setting, you can put the silk material and seeds in a closed, cloth bag with a tennis ball.
Labeling Your Milkweed Seeds
Labeling the seeds you collect is incredibly important. Be sure to record the species name, collection location, date, and your contact information. It’s helpful to bring labels with you to your collection site so you can fill it out while you collect. Wild Ones has an excellent resource that includes printable labels.
- Store moist pods or seeds in breathable containers, such as paper bags.
- For long term storage and dry seeds, use plastic containers. If you are collecting the seeds for yourself, friends or family, store the dry seeds in an airtight container in the refrigerator. They may remain viable for years if you do this!
Seed Packaging for Distribution
If you are planning to send your seeds to a nursery or distributor, be sure to properly package your seeds before shipment.