If you’ve been missing monarchs recently, a large part of the problem can be blamed on the crashing butterfly population. A wicked trifecta of herbicides, habitat loss, and extreme weather is making it impossible for the monarchs to catch a break.
I am here to help you get down the basics, so your butterfly garden gets off to a flying start. If I was starting a new monarch butterfly garden, these are the essential tips, tools, and techniques I would implement to start seeing more monarchs this season.
If you have any questions after reading this post, please post them in comments at the bottom of this page.
Before you start creating your monarch butterfly garden, it’s important to research some basic info to help guide your garden decisions.
Where do monarchs live? Monarch butterflies are found across North America wherever suitable feeding, breeding, and overwintering habitat exists. They are broken into two populations separated by the Rocky Mountains, called the eastern and the western populations. https://www.nwf.org/Educational-Resources/Wildlife-Guide/Invertebrates/Monarch-Butterfly#:~:text=Monarch%20butterflies%20are%20found%20across,eastern%20and%20the%20western%20populations.
Not all plants require the same soil conditions, but many butterfly plants prefer well-drained soil that’s rich in organic matter. Compost is an excellent additive for increasing organic matter in your soil. For plants with uncommon soil requirements you can amend the soil in that area, or consider potting the plant. Research soil requirements for all your plants. This gives you the best chance to grow thriving plants!
Milkweed is the cornerstone of a successful butterfly garden and planting a mix of both native and non-invasive annuals will entice more monarchs to enter your garden gates. These varieties are utilized as both host plant for caterpillars and a nectar source for butterflies.
Tip: all milkweed varieties should be planted in groups of at least six plants. Otherwise, there is a good chance your monarch caterpillars will run out of milkweed!
1. Asclepias incarnata (swamp milkweed) offers pretty pink blooms and a sweet vanilla scent. It’s native across most of the US and parts of Canada
2. Asclepias speciosa (showy milkweed) has deep pink, fragrant flowers with a star shaped white center. It’s native to the western half of the US and Canada
Top Nectar Plants
Now that you’ve satisfied those hungry caterpillars, here are some nectar plants to give your garden instant butterfly appeal:
Eutrochium (joe pye weed)
This native perennial unleashes pink blooms in mid-late summer that monarchs, other butterflies, and bees go wild over. I’ve heard positive reports on several species including Eutrochium purpureum (sweet joe pye weed) and Eutrochium maculatum’gateway’ (spotted joe pye weed), which we grow in Minnesota.
Buddleja Buzz is compact, non-invasive and it attracts butterflies. It’s also supposed to be colder hardy for the north. It’s the only variety we’ve planted that hasn’t succumbed to Minnesota winter. Colder climates should mulch with leaves in fall, take fall cuttings, or overwinter to insure your crop. Buzz comes in a variety of vibrant colors including purple, sky blue, white, hot raspberry, and more. Grows to 4 feet.
Potted plants save space and allow you to bring the butterflies closer for convenient viewing. We pot mostly tropical plants, so we can easily bring them indoors to overwinter…
This lets you start the season with large tropical plants! Lantana plants grow well in pots if you’re looking for ideas. You can also pot small perennials like May Night Salvia.
Starting a monarch butterfly garden is an exciting journey that yields great rewards if you’re patient and persistent.