By MELINDA MYERS
Homemade gifts are a wonderful way to show you care. Making them from items grown in your garden adds that extra personal touch. And just like the plant, decorations and gifts made from milkweed pods are gaining in popularity.
Considered a weed by some, common milkweed is making a comeback as more gardeners are growing this important food source for monarch butterflies. Harvest the seedpods and craft them into wreaths, stars and indoor holiday trees.
Remove the pods from the plants, separate the halves and allow them to dry as needed. If you don’t have your own milkweed plants, ask a friend or neighbor if you can harvest a few of theirs.
Search the internet and craft books for creative ways to use these. You would be surprised how a little paint can turn milkweed pods into a work of art. Paint a winter or holiday scene on the inside of the pods. Or add a bit of moss, tiny dried flowers, acorns and miniatures to create a three-dimensional piece of art.
Decorate the outside with the eyes, nose and hat of Santa Claus or one of his reindeer. Add some pinecone scales for ears and evergreen needles for whiskers and you have the start of an adorable mouse.
Even those with limited artistic talent can create pretty ornaments. Paint the pod and glue a colorful feather or string of beads to the inside. Add twine with a bead or two to the top for a hanger.
Paint the inside and outside of the pods green, gold, silver or other color of your choice Purchase a Styrofoam cone and attach the pods, inner side facing out with pins. Place the pods in rows, covering the cone to create the perfect evergreen.
Glue the wide end of five pods together to form a star. Fill the center with a small cone or sweet gum pod. Still more pods? Use them to decorate a holiday wreath. If you have enough you can create a wreath of all milkweed pods. Just cover the wreath form or frame with milkweed pods or use moss, burlap or greens as a base.
But don’t stop with winter inspired decorations. Save some milkweed pods to craft into beautiful dahlias, birds, butterflies, fairies and more. Just start experimenting with paint, hot glue, florist wire and other natural materials.
Then next fall consider harvesting the pods before they open. You’ll either contain the spread if desired or harvest seeds to share with friends. Place the pods in a paper bag in a warm location to open. Use the fluffy seeds to fill clear ornaments or separate the seeds from the fluff to plant and grow more monarch-friendly plants.
Once you get started crafting, friends and neighbors will be leaving pods on your doorstep to craft into works of art. And you may find yourself adding more milkweeds to the garden. You’ll have plenty of pods for crafting and enjoy the monarch caterpillars munching on the leaves and adult butterflies sipping on the nectar in the garden.
(Melinda Myers has written numerous books, including Small Space Gardening. She hosts The Great Courses “How to Grow Anything” DVD series and the nationally-syndicated Melinda’s Garden Moment TV & radio program. Myers is a columnist and contributing editor for Birds & Blooms magazine and her web site is www.MelindaMyers.com.)