Milkweed is both a food and a host plant for monarch butterflies. Last year, my friend Cee had two milkweed plants in her wine bottle bed. A yellow milkweed and a red (Asclepias tuberosa in the Eastern U.S.). She soon found monarchs in her yard. This is Cee’s wine bottle flower bed which you first saw at Yard Art with Wine Bottles and a Plow.
This year Cee has planted seeds or plants of an impressive list of butterfly attractors – alyssum, cosmos, dill, Dutchman’s pipevine, fennel, lantana, lavender, lemon grass, parsley, penta, phlox, passion vine, sage, milkweed, purple coneflower, purple salvia, Shasta daisy, stonecrop, sweet pea, verbena and zinnia. As you can see, in the photo below, if you plant their food and host crops, they will come.
The milkweed plants came up again this year and Cee is doing her best to expand the Monarch population with netting arrangements inside and outside the house. She is learning by doing.
Inside the house, she has a netting arrangement over a milkweed plant. When the caterpillar is fully grown, it leaves the milkweed plant in search of a quiet place to pupate. It makes a silk pad or mat from which to hang. It hangs in the “J” position for about a day and then forms a cocoon. In about 12-14 days, the monarch butterfly will hatch from the cocoon.
Outside, Cee uses a mesh hamper from the dollar store to protect the caterpillars and their cocoons from predators (see first photo). She secured the bottom of the mesh hamper with rocks and mulch.
At one point she talked about moving the caterpillars. I freaked out. I do NOT do worms even if they eventually become a beautiful butterfly. She reassured me that she breaks off the leaf or uses a stick. She either encourages them to get on the stick or she uses the stick to gently pick them up. Whew, what a relief!
Cee leaves them in the hamper only a short time once she notices a monarch has hatched. She uses her fingers to pick them up and remove them from the hamper or they get on her finger and she sets them on another plant to allow them to finish drying. Most have flown right off her hand.
The number of butterflies she releases every day can vary from 2 all the way up to 7. She has about 17 caterpillars now but hopes to grow and release more over the summer.
UPDATE July 19, 2017
As spring became summer, Cee wanted a larger habitat in which her chrysalis could hatch. She found a zip-up laundry hamper (approximate size 24″ high x 14″ wide) on clearance at Bed Bath & Beyond. It has a bigger opening for pulling a wooden stand in and out. She sewed a net screen over the handles to prevent the entry of predatory insects.
From Norfolk Botanical Gardens, she got the idea to install pool noodles (blue) on the center of the wooden stand.
She uses a straight pin to remove the chrysalis from its silk pad by gently picking at the silk pad and transferring it to the pool noodles.
UPDATE JULY 25, 2017
UPDATE SEPTEMBER 2, 2017
Cee reports that 179 monarchs have been released, 26 are in chrysalis, 29 are in “J” formation and 19 are caterpillars.