The Garden Blog is back for 2021! Make sure you subscribe to receive updates from our Butterfly Gardener, Marilyn Cavicchia. Here's her first blog post of the new growing season:
Very soon, when you come by HPNC, you'll see an unusual sight in the part of the front yard that's north of the main doors and lobby: several plastic milk jugs. The reason they'll be there is that they have been planted with seeds for two different species of milkweed: Asclepias syriaca (common milkweed, the big, tall kind) and Asclepias syriaca (swamp milkweed, which stays much shorter and doesn't spread). Seeds of some species of milkweed, like these two, will germinate (sprout) much better in spring if they are planted on the ground in fall or in jugs like this in winter. If you want to try this at home, you still can! While the two species in the yard at HPNC need a long period of winter temperatures, there's another kind, Asclepias tuberosa (short with orange flowers) that doesn't need quite as long.
If you have forgotten or don't know, the reason we plant milkweed is because it's the only thing monarch caterpillars can eat, so it's also the only place where monarch butterflies can lay their eggs. Monarch butterflies usually arrive in Hyde Park in May or June, and we want to make sure we have plenty of food for their caterpillars! Here are the directions that I like best: Winter-Sowing Milkweed Directions
You will see that the supplies you need are:
seeds (these can be ordered online)
jugs or other plastic containers that light shines into (not completely opaque) -- the directions say 2-liter bottles are best, but I prefer milk jugs because they're easier to cut
potting soil or seed-starting mix
a drill (optional) to make holes in the bottom, or you can use a knife or scissors
Here is what the jugs look like when we first plant them and put them outside:
You can see that the top is off each jug so rain and snow can water the seeds, and there is duct tape around the middle, where we made a cut in order to use the jug as a planter. In spring, when the seeds have sprouted and the seedlings are tall enough that they need a little more room, we will take off the duct tape, and this is what we hope to see:
The seedlings will stay in their containers until it's warm enough to plant them in the pollinator garden/Monarch Waystation at HPNC. Usually, that's in late May. If you have a place to plant milkweed outside at home, at school, or someplace else, let us know -- we will probably have a lot of seedlings, enough to share!