Gardening to Support Monarch Butterflies


The spring migration of Monarch Butterflies from their wintering grounds in Mexico begins in early March.  In the Upper Midwest, along the eastern Monarch migration route, Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) is the earliest milkweed of the season, and it emerges just when the Monarchs arrive on the scene. Migrating Monarch butterflies appear in new areas just as the milkweed is starting to grow, perfectly timed so that the females have places to lay their eggs. Known as host plants, the female Monarch deposits eggs on Milkweed plants, to the exclusion of all other plants, and the caterpillars that emerge feed upon the milkweed, exclusively.

Support Monarch Butterflies with Native Plants

Throughout the growing season, different milkweed species will mature and flower at different times. When you include a few different milkweed species in your garden it increases the likelihood that monarchs will visit for a longer period during the breeding season.

The best habitat for Monarchs includes both: plants for nectar and host plants. Both are necessary for Monarchs to produce successive generations throughout the summer, and to sustain their migrations. Monarchs lay their eggs on milkweed plants, exclusively, and rely on these “Asclepias” plants throughout their summer breeding cycle in North America. But they also need other plants for the nectar. Without nectar from a variety of fall-blooming natives the butterflies would be unable to make their long journey back to their overwintering grounds in Mexico. Make sure to include both host and nectar plants in your plan.

A 100 square foot garden of native plants is ideal for Monarch support. A few well chosen native plants can also be added to an existing garden – simply include a few clusters of milkweed in the mix you will start to see Monarchs. The top three elements needed for a Monarch Waystation are:

LOCATION.  A good butterfly spot receives 6 hours or more of full sun a day. Ideally, the location will give shelter from the wind as well. The sunny side of a garage or along a solid fence in the sun offers enough protection. Any well-drained soil is acceptable.

HOST PLANTS.  Include at least two plants from the Asclepias genus (milkweed or butterflyweed) for host plants. The Asclepias species that you choose will depend upon your soil:

For Dry Sandy soil Butterflyweed, Whorled Milkweed, Showy Milkweed, Common Milkweed.

For Loamy soil – Sullivant’s Milkweed, Butterflyweed, Whorled Milkweed, Showy Milkweed, Common Milkweed, Red Milkweed.

For Clay Soil Butterflyweed for Clay, Showy Milkweed, Common Milkweed, Red Milkweed.

For Moist Soil Common Milkweed, Red Milkweed.

NECTAR PLANTS. Don’t forget the nectar plants. Milkweeds are not the only plants that they need. Adult Monarch butterflies seek nectar from other native plants, too, which provide energy to the adult butterflies and help to fuel their flight. Fall-blooming natives such as asters and goldenrods are very important. In the fall, Monarchs need as much fuel as they can get on their long flight back to Mexico.

Select Your Plants

Each of these options includes both host plants (milkweeds) and nectaring plants.

    1. U-Pick Monarch Waystation Kit. For a limited time only! Customize a 32-plant tray, choosing from a list of host and nectar plants with the highest appeal to Monarch butterflies. Save as much as 25% on plants.
    2. Pre-Planned Monarch Habitat Gardens. We’ve done the planning for you! Our pre-planned Monarch Gardens include a planting design, instructions and high plant diversity. Just choose the size and soil type that best fits your site.
    3. Shop for individual plants from our list of Monarch Favorites. If you’re looking for a few Monarch magnets, all of the natives on this list are highly sought by Monarchs, including both host and nectar plants.