Thunder Bay

It's not too early to start preparing milkweed for monarch butterflies

Dan Fulton of Urban Greenscapes says the traditional method of growing the plant, the only food eaten by the endangered monarch caterpillar, involves refrigerating the seeds in the winter.

Traditional growing techniques involve refrigerating the seeds in winter

Milkweed is the only plant consumed by the endangered monarch butterfly caterpillar. (Urban Greenscapes / Facebook)

The head organizer of Urban Greenscapes says it's not too early to start preparing milkweed for the upcoming monarch butterfly season.

Dan Fulton has been promoting the growth of milkweed in the city as food for the endangered monarch caterpillar, which eats nothing but. 

The traditional way of growing milkweed, called cold moist stratification, involves placing seeds in a bag of damp sand or nearly-dry peat moss and storing them in the fridge for two months, he explained. 

"What it does, it fools the seed into thinking it's gone through the winter time," he said. 

They won't germinate until they've passed through a period of cold weather, he explained.  

Once people have refrigerated the seeds, they can plant them in seed starter trays inside and move them outdoors in May.

Fulton advises anyone hoping to use the cold moist method to start before the end of the month.

It's not, however, the only method to germinate seeds, he said.

Fulton himself stores his seeds in the garage, where it's cold, then soaks them in warm water for two days to germinate them, he said.  The water needs to be changed regularly, and it needs to be free of chlorine, he said. But the system works well. 

"Both methods have good results," he said.

Fulton continues to look for more places in Thunder Bay to grow milkweed, adding it's impossible to grow too much. 

"There's been such a loss of it over the years through farming and different methods and just [the] city expanding and just losing wild spots here and there, so you can't have enough of it," he said.

He plans to bring in around 2,000 plants this year from a nursery in Southern Ontario and partner with Eco Superior's annual plant sale to help sell them, he said.