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Ready, Set, Grow! INDOOR Milkweed Part 2

Greetings Butterfly lovers!

Either you purchased seeds in packets, you harvested them from wild plants, or you were gifted them at one of my presentations. You took them home and have had them in damp paper towels in your refrigerator for 6-8 weeks and now it's time to get them out and start germination!

If you want to be sure and have 100% seed germination, you know that you'll have to have several elements to insure that success. The more costly elements are a one-time purchase and will serve you for many years to come. Remember to breathe! This is a one-time purchase!

Here's what you'll need:

1. Wire Shelving Unit

These are available at the Home Depot for about $20. Even a small one like this will hold several flats of 72. It gets a bit crowded once they are in 4" pots, though, so remember to go easy on the seeding count unless you use a larger shelving unit.

2. Shop lights

I have 4- 24" lights purchased at WalMart, Ace hardware, etc. I have retrofitted them with full-spectrum bulbs. These are available currently at the Grange Coop. You can purchase the whole unit with grow light, but that one unit goes for $42. You'll need at least 2.

Milkweed needs light to germinate and the lights will also keep the little seedlings from getting too leggy.

Seedling heat mat

3. Seedling Heat Mat

This will cut your germination time in half!

Well worth the price of about $26-$32 at the Grange or on line. Get 2. You won't regret this.

4. Electrical Timer Device

Lights go on at 6 am and off automatically at 10 pm to emulate a June light source.

There is a really dandy timer built into a multiple plug unit at Gardeners' Supply, but it 's pricey at $39.00

You will also need an extension cord that will take 6 plugs (4 lights and 2 mats). Here's a good one for just $9.

5. Seed Starting Mix

If you're only doing a few flats, you won't need a big bag.

I like to buy a new, small bag every year to be sure it's clean and sterile.

Soak your mix before putting it into the flats, as the vermiculite takes a while to absorb water. The mix needs to be moist to receive the seeds.

6. 72-Cell Seed Starting Kit

Sure, you can use old ones, but this is the easiest and most sure way to have a sterile environment.

I save the bottom and the clear plastic top and use new ins*rts each year.

7. Dedicated Spray Bottle.

This is to hydrate the tiny seedlings as they emerge.

They are so small that a column of water can knock them down!

8. Indoor Plant Food.

The Seed Starting Mix is completely sterile, so the little guys will need something to eat as soon as they emerge. I use V-F-11. It's found in the indoor plant area at the Grange. Make a liter batch (follow directions) and leave it. the chlorine in the water will dissipate and you'll be spraying the little seedlings with this mixture.

Start Your Seedlings

Now that you have everything assembled, find a sunny window where you can start those seedlings.


  • Set up the lights under the top shelf
  • You will be adjusting the shelf upwards as the seedlings gain height, so plan for that.
  • The lights should be plugged into the multiple-outlet extension cord and that should be plugged into the timer.
  • Set the timer to go on at 6am and to go off at 10pm.

Prep Soil:

  • Get your seed starting mix into a bowl and moisten it well before spooning it into the cells of your Jiffy greenhouse.
  • The "soil" mix should be up to the top of the cells. The seedlings will need every bit of it to establish roots.

Get those seeds out of the fridge:

Seeds been chillin'

  • Take them off the paper towels and gently press them into the moistened seed medium.
  • DO NOT COVER THE SEEDS WITH THE MIX. Milkweed needs light to germinate. They will find their way to getting the root into the ground. It's quite remarkable.
  • Cover with the clear plastic cover and set the "greenhouse" on the seed starting mat.

The cover gives them needed humidity, but be careful at the early stage to not put the greenhouse into the direct sun at this point. With the heat mat, the cover, and the sun on them, you run the risk of baking them. Light is good, but too much direct sun is bad.

When the first "true" leaves appear, take the cover off and store it for next year. The seedlings are ready to meet the world. You will have to feed them with mist for several days or even weeks before they are large enough to water with an an indoor plant small watering can. As they grow, you'll find that you have to raise the top shelf to keep the lights at a safe distance.

When the seedlings are a couple of inches tall, we'll get them into clean 4" pots filled with good potting mix and get them back under those lights.

Stay tuned! We'll be back with more information when that time comes.