‘esperimentin’ with Milkweeds
Back in October and November, I got busy with the wild Milkweed seed that I had collected last summer, planting most of it at our farm in Mississippi. The majority of the seed I planted then was Asclepias viridis, aka Green Milkweed. I hope to see some results later in the summer when it gets good and hot, or in the spring next year, if I’m really lucky. I prepared the ground for the plantings by burning one section and mowed with a bush-hog, the other. I then planted and now can’t wait to see what comes of it, if anything.
One species that I was focused on growing it in a nursery condition this year is Asclepias obovata, or the Pineland Milkweed. I took a few lessons from Dr. Mac Vidrine, following his recommendations. See his articles on Milkweed production on cajunprairie.org newsletters. http://www.cajunprairie.org/newsletters/201403.pdf
Anybody can buy a bunch of seeds from who-knows-where on the internet, but getting species local to your area, at least for us on the Gulf rim, is said to be the ultimate goal of people working with restoring habitat. Local provenance means the plants you grow from seed may be more inclined to survive since they are likely to have the genetic capability to fend off our unique environmental extremes. I hope more people look into growing Milkweeds from local stock. What we need in the nursery trade is a strain of seed of each species with local genes that is bread to grow. How wonderful if someone produced a Pineland Milkweed strain that so prolific, they escape and naturalize to the level of being invasive! ha! Take that! Round-up Ready Corn! Even better, a Round-up resistant super-prolific strain of Pineland Milkweed. ha! Hopefully some folks are working in that direction.
Growing Milkweed seed takes a lot of patience, skill and luck. Some species are easier to grow. Asclepias perennis is an easy one for sure. The Mexican currisavica species is a weed just about. Conditions have to be really favorable to get a crop of most native Louisiana species in the nursery.
You have to get things right for stratification and then sowing the seed at the right depth is always a good thing. Keeping a eye-out for root rot, dampening off, and hungry slugs. Ugh, slugs!!!! This is the task of the Milkweed grower.
To avoid dampening off, use the highest quality well-drained soiless potting material you can find (or make your own using masonry sand, crushed pine bark, and compost).
Use deep containers when growing Milkweed since the roots generally grow more deeply than the upper, above ground parts. I always used three gallon pots trimmed at the soil level in the nursery, to provide for good air circulation at soil level. You basically need a breeze blowing across the soil surface, keeping maximum sunlight to all areas of the soil surface, as well. The 3-gallon pot works okay but I used a twenty five gallon pot this year just to have all the seedlings in one container. Plus its like a garden in itself and I was hoping for seed germination via soil disturbance, each time a wave of seedlings were lifted. This disturbance encourages the seed to germinate. This is a natural adaptive mechanism that the seed has in its genes. Disturbance, a change in condition around the seed, can trigger germination.
above, a 25-gallon pot with asclepias seelings on one side and no seedlings of Passiflora incarnata on the other. Hopefully the passion vines will germinate soon.
If you use small pots for seedling germination, raise them up above ground to avoid getting wiped out by slugs (getting slugged-out!). Milkweed seedlings are basically lobster to slugs. So, beware. Big pots like the 25 gallon should ensure some protection for seedlings from slugs. So far, so good.
Use tiny plug trays, 50 packs of 6 inch x 1 inch x1 inch plug trays, or 72 cell pack trays, so your roots can reach down and to the edge quickly, where the soil and the pot meets. There they’ll be able to get ample oxygen. You just may watch the seedlings up and slowly die, with too much water by their roots. So, careful, careful.
Dig out your seedlings with a butter knife or some other tool that can go deep without disturbing the soil too much. Push the knife down a couple inches from the stem and lift while barely pulling on the plant. You can feel the roots either break off or come free from the grip of the soil. Take the seedling off to the side to transplant later.
above, these are the seedlings, about three weeks or so old, with a set of true leaves. April 11, 2015
above, I am holding a single seedling of Asclepias obovata. April 11, 2015
This is a week later when they have been healed in a bit, adjusting to the transplant. April 18, 2015
above, a week after transplanting, a new batch of seedlings emerge (April 18, 2015); a new generation. I disturbed the soil as least as I could in the transplant and then took some dry soiless mix of potting soil and dusted the entire soil surface with soiless mix in order to change the light to soil regime once again.
Once the transplanting has been done, use your finger, stuck into the soil, to determine if the tray needs water. Or just pick the tray up and feel the weight of it. If its heavy, it is probably not in need of water. DuH! When you water, water thoroughly and don’t water again until it is absolutely necessary. Too much water kills seedlings. Don’t over water those suckers. Its easy to do, especially if you’re getting rain and no sun like we have had for about three weeks now. Bring them under a canopy til the rains are done with, then set them back in the sun; full sun. Repeat as needed. Your Milkweeds will love you for it.
Fertilize them! Use some type of liquid fertilizer if you can, without killing the seedlings in the process. When in doubt, read directions for application. Fertilizing will add some vigor to the mix and this will help with problems that will occur due to needy, hungry roots. Hungry roots are a bit wishy washy and Mr. Root Rot is usually the first one to know it. He usually pounces on the opportunity and clobbers Mr. Milkweed if he can find a weak spot.
Mitch’s Milkweed experiment at our Farm, Carriere, Mississippi, established fall 2007
If you come to the field trip this coming Saturday, you can see one of my favorite spots in the entire ten acres. Its a small area, about 50 feet by 50 feet that was excavated of the topsoil and planted with various prairie plants and seeds. Mitchel Jacobs, a friend who was working with me for some time and was getting his horticulture degree at Mississippi State, Meridian Community College, was very active at the time growing cool plants, using the greenhouse at MCC to experiment. He grew a bunch of Asclepias tuberosa plants and planted them in this excavated area along with the other plants and seed. One year in this spot, I counted over 70 plants of tuberosa. Thank you Mitchel! That was about seven years ago. Below are some photos of Mitch’s work taken yesterday. All seems to be going well with these girls.
They are hanging on mighty nicely.
Crosby Bog Visit
I volunteered some time yesterday to help Terry Johnson pot-up cool aquatic plants for the Crosby Arboretum Aquatic Plant Sale. these are the best photos of the day at the Arbo, below
above, butterfly nectar heaven, at Crosby Arboretum yesterday helping Terry Johnson prepare for the Aquatic plant sale in July, Erigeron vernus (probable, via Charles Allen)
above, enlarge awesomeness by clicking photo.
In amongst the Erigeron, Early White Top Fleabane, are the hidden treasures…
awesome Rose Bud Orchid, kicking like Van Damme
a stolen-off-the-internet image of it, its perty.
cool Sarracenia psitticina, the little dwarf Parrot Pitcher, in peak flower @ Crosby April 17, 2015. Aquatica magnifica!
the find of the day at the bog, Asclepias longifolia, LongLeaf Milkweed
above, a sweet Monarch visited my giant verbena bonariensis yesterday. it was an event.
A Cool Milkweed Model
One thing I can suggest for those wanting to grow lots of Milkweed is to mimic the semi-natural condition where I’ve found the most Milkweed plants. In the Black Belt of Mississippi and Alabama, you’ll find an old cow field littered with cows and Green Milkweed. The Milkweed is native and the cows don’t eat it, but they eat most everything else, selecting around the Milkweeds for their meals. The result in some cases I’ve seen is a large field filled with thousands of Green Milkweeds. Its an precious site to behold and you know that there’s some heavy usage by all types of butterflies, Monarchs included.