Sep 27, 2022
This week, Matthew Dressing and Joanne Shaw welcome amateur
butterfly enthusiast Lisa-Rae Cormack to the Down the Garden Path podcast to talk about
harvesting milkweed and how to grow it from seed.
An HR professional from Whitby, Ontario, Lisa-Rae began raising
monarch butterflies when she became an empty nester five years ago.
To date, she has raised and released close to 400 monarch
butterflies. This wouldn’t be possible without the monarch
caterpillars' only source of food: milkweed.
What started as a small indoor project has grown over the years
to incorporate an outdoor enclosure, vast pollinator gardens and
two variations of milkweed. Her operation is coined “#FlyBeFree”
and in 2020, she was officially certified as a registered monarch
waystation by MonarchWatch.org. Through trial-and-error,
Lisa-Rae has taught herself how to harvest, stratify and germinate
common milkweed for this purpose.
Tune in to hear Joanne
and Matt speak with Lisa-Rae Cormack about harvesting and growing
Here are some of the questions and topics covered in this
- What got you started down this path?
- Lisa-Rae was mesmerized by witnessing the caterpillars'
- How did you learn?
- Self-taught, through trial and error and lots of internet
- Describe your setup.
- She has a full cycle operation: from egg to caterpillar to pupa
to butterfly and repeat
- Monarchs on the endangered species list; Lisa-Rae feels like
she's a part of something big
- Only 3% survive the full life cycle in “the wild” whereas she
has a 98% success rate (this year was 100%)
- Why milkweed?
- This is the monarch caterpillars’ only source of food
- Lisa-Rae’s is organic and chemical-free
- Why the decline in the monarch butterfly’s population?
- The lack of viable milkweed along the migration path to Mexico
(and back) is the main reason
- What types of milkweed do you use?
- Experienced with two types: common and tropical
- Collected common milkweed seeds from pods on the side of the
road; once pods open and fluff starts to emerge, it’s ready to
harvest (Oct – Nov)
- Common milkweed needs to be stratified
- Can be done in the freezer
- Can be difficult to germinate
- Start seeds indoors with grow lights and a fan at end of March
and move outside end of May once four full leaves have formed.
- Issues to deal with include mold, too much/little water
- Takes two years for common milkweed to really establish; the
container method works well
- Tackling milkweed pests and threats: aphids, ants and wasps,
humans (weed killers)
- What’s your favourite type? Both!
- Tropical because it is easy to grow (germinates fast and
doesn’t need to be stratified) and has gorgeous orange and yellow
flowers; it’s an annual
- Common is hearty and has beautiful blooms in its second year;
monarchs love it; it’s native and it’s a perennial
Down the Garden Path
Each week on Down The Garden Path, professional
landscape designers Joanne
Shaw and Matthew Dressing
discuss down-to-earth tips and advice for your plants, gardens and
As the owner of Down2Earth Landscape Design, Joanne
Shaw has been designing beautiful gardens for homeowners east of
Toronto for over a decade. A horticulturist and landscape designer,
Matthew Dressing owns Natural Affinity Garden Design,
a landscape design and garden maintenance firm servicing Toronto
and the Eastern GTA. Together, they do their best to bring you
interesting, relevant and useful topics to help you keep your
garden as low maintenance as possible.
In their new book, Down the Garden Path: A
Step-By-Step Guide to Your Ontario Garden, Joanne and
Matthew distill their horticultural and design expertise and their
combined experiences in helping others create and maintain thriving
gardens into one easy-to-read monthly reference guide. It's now
available on Amazon.