Saturday, February 11, 2023

milkweed constellation

Despite the wildly ranging temperatures lately, February is recognizable by it's mucky, grey days interspersed with spirit-lifting glimpses of brilliant blue skies.

And right on seasonal schedule, my thoughts have turned to seeds.

Do you remember my efforts to establish milkweed stands for Monarch butterflies? A couple of years ago, I thought the population was secure: a small stand by the barn and two more below the terrace garden. There was an actual row of Monarch chrysalides dotted along the top of a garden fence by the barn, and two more in other locations. Success! I thought my work was done.

I was wrong.

For some reason, in 2021 and again in 2022 there was less milkweed growing and almost none of it blooming. Last year I saw a Monarch butterfly only twice all summer, which may have been the same individual. And I never saw a single chrysalis.

So it's back to trying to increase the milkweed population. My usual method is to do this in Autumn, when the dry pods are already releasing seed. I just wait for a day with a light breeze, stand upwind from areas where I think milkweed has a chance of doing well, and release seed little by little to float and land where it will.

But last Autumn, the only two pods I saw didn't have much of a chance to dry and I began to wonder if the seed would rot before it had a chance to mature and disperse. So when I finally saw each pod split open slightly, I took a pinch of still-compressed seeds, hoping they were viable, and put them in a paper bag to dry. Yesterday I opened the bag.


It's not a lot of seed, as you see:

I'll probably plant it directly, but if anyone has experience with planting milkweed and thinks starting it in a tray and then transplanting would be better, I'll give that a go. Please share your advice in the comments!

Apparently swamp milkweed is also valuable to Monarchs, so I bought a packet of seed to plant down in the tiny wetland where the marsh marigolds bloom every Spring. Another experiment.