Harvesting Milkweed Seeds

Timing is everything when harvesting milkweed seeds! Too soon and the seeds will be immature and won’t germinate, too late and they will have either blown away or create a flossy mess you’ll need to deal with. 

When the seeds are ready to disperse, the floss will expand, causing the pod to burst. For those wishing to collect seed, this floss can be problematic, creating a messy barrier to gathering large amounts of viable seed. There are several options for separating the floss, but the best option is to plan your timing so that you are able to easily remove the seed as soon as it is mature, but before the silky floss has expanded.

Once the milkweed seed pods open, the wind will blow the floss and seeds away from the pod making it difficult to collect the seeds.

Milkweed seeds should be brown and leathery when mature, though the pods themselves may still be green. You can test an unopened pod for maturity by applying gentle pressure to the seam. If the center seam of the pod pops with gentle pressure, the seed pod is ready to be picked. If it does not open readily, the seeds inside are immature.

The perfect time to harvest seeds from milkweed pods is when the pod is starting to pop open at the suture and the seeds are brown. Typically seed pods are brown when the seeds are ready to harvest such as the common milkweed pods on the left.  The showy milkweed pods on the right are green but since the seeds are brown they are ready to harvest. (Photo courtesy of Brent Potter.)

Be aware of the milkweed beetle around open seed pods. These beetles are orange and black and will damage the seeds, making them nonviable. While the bugs do no harm to the plant, if a pod is covered in these insects it’s likely the seed inside is no longer viable and those pods should be avoided.

The beetle is not able to chew its way into the pods but will wait for the pod to open. A rubber band lightly wrapped around the pod will prevent the milkweed beetle entry to the seedpod. Cheesecloth or organza can also be used to surround the seedpods until they are mature.

You can use rubber bands on the milkweed pods to make it easier to harvest the seeds. It can also help prevent the milkweed bugs from getting to the seeds. (Photo courtesy of Linda Herard.)
Organza bags are a perfect solution to protecting seed pods on milkweed and making it easier to collect seeds. You can find them in craft sores or on Amazon.

Once you have collected the milkweed seeds you can store them in a paper bag or envelope until you are ready to plant them. Most native milkweed seeds require cold stratification in order to germinate. Seeds can be planted in the fall on a prepared bed, winter sowed in containers, or planted in the spring after the seeds have been cold stratified in the refrigerator. Click here for more details: http://butterfly-lady.com/three-ways-to-sow-native-milkweed-seeds/

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