Milkweed: Harvesting & Growing

with Lisa-Rae Cormack

Milkweed Harvesting & Growing podcast image

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.

About Lisa-Rae Cormack

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 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 milkweed.

Here are some of the questions and topics covered in this episode:

  • What got you started down this path?
    • Lisa-Rae was mesmerized by witnessing the caterpillars’ transformation
  • How did you learn?
    • Self-taught, through trial and error and lots of internet research
  • 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 Podcast

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 landscapes.

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.

Down the Garden Path: A Step-By-Step Guide to Your Ontario GardenIn 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.

Don’t forget to check out Down the Garden Path on your favourite podcast app and subscribe!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

SIGN UP for your FREE Seasonal Tips Guide