How to Collect Milkweed Seeds From Pods

Milkweed is tricky to grow from seed. Learn how to save seeds from milkweed pods and when to plant seeds outside or start them indoors.

Save Milkweed Seeds From Pods

milkweed podsCourtesy Melody Mickelson
Milkweed pods bursting open

“I picked about 100 milkweed pods. How do I get the milkweed seeds to grow? Someone told me to spread them over mulch and lightly work them in,” asks Birds & Blooms reader Steve Ripp.

Garden expert Melinda Myers writes, “Many gardeners have found collecting and growing milkweed plants from seed a bit challenging. The seeds must be mature to sprout, so collect seeds just before or as the pods split open. Increase your chance of success by removing seeds from the pod. Separate the seed from the fluff. Store seeds in the refrigerator or an airtight container in a cold place for several months. This cold treatment is needed to end dormancy and increase sprouting success.”

Is tropical milkweed bad for monarchs? Is honeyvine milkweed invasive? Here’s what you need to know.

The seed pods burst open after milkweed flowers stop blooming. Consider tying small bags over the milkweed pods while they mature, since many distribute their seeds far and wide (especially common milkweed). “After the pods on my milkweed plants open, I take the seeds and shake them into envelopes that I’ve labeled with the year the seeds were collected. I take these seed envelopes to my local seed swap; I get all my vegetables and flowers this way,” says Birds & Blooms reader Patrick Hogan.

Learn how to grow swamp milkweed and butterfly weed for monarchs.

When to Plant Milkweed Seeds

If it’s possible, start your seeds indoors under artificial lights in a quality potting or seed-starting mix. The seedlings will be ready to transplant in the garden once they are 3 to 6 inches tall and when the threat of the last spring frost has passed. Plan for about four to eight weeks of indoor growing time.

You can also plant seeds directly outdoors. Fall is the best time to direct-sow the seeds for gardeners in cold climates. Many milkweed varieties contain hard coatings that have to break down before the seeds will germinate. Exposure to a winter’s worth of snow and cold, wet weather will do just that.

Check out the Monarch Joint Venture for more information on how to collect seeds from milkweed pods. To order seeds, contact the Live Monarch foundation.

Next, learn how to get rid of aphids on milkweed plants.

Lori Vanover
Lori has 20 years of experience writing and editing home, garden, birding and lifestyle content for several publishers. As Birds & Blooms senior digital editor, she leads a team of writers and editors sharing birding tips and expert gardening advice. Since joining Trusted Media Brands 13 years ago, she has held roles in digital and print, editing magazines and books, curating special interest publications, managing social media accounts, creating digital content and newsletters, and working with the Field Editors—Birds & Blooms network of more than 50 backyard birders. Passionate about animals and nature, Lori has a Bachelor of Science degree in Agricultural and Environmental Communications from the University of Illinois. In 2023, she became certified as a Wisconsin Extension Master Gardener, and she is a member of the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology and sits on the organization's Publications Advisory Committee. She frequently checks on her bird feeders while working from home and tests new varieties of perennials, herbs and vegetable plants in her ever-growing backyard gardens.