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Entice monarch butterflies to your backyard garden by offering a diversity of wildflowers that bloom at different times throughout the year. Gardeners can support thriving populations of monarchs by pairing nectar plants with appropriate host plants to support larval development.
Wildflowers are ideal for attracting monarch butterflies because they are easy to grow and bloom with abandon. Following are the best wildflowers for attracting monarchs all season long.
Each spring, monarch butterflies leave their warm wintering grounds in Mexico for a long journey northward. The butterflies pass through the southern plains and southeastern states along the way. Unlike fall migrations, where a single generation of adult butterflies completes the full trip, spring monarchs reproduce along the northward trek. The full journey from Mexico to the northern United States and Canada takes several successive generations of monarchs to complete.
Meanwhile on the west coast, monarch populations that spent the winter in southern California begin their migrations inland and northward. For both populations, migration and reproduction require large amounts of energy which adult monarchs gather in the form of nectar. Planning for early-season blooms is a great way to give these garden beauties a boost in the spring.
Native annuals like Indian blanket (Gaillardia pulchella) get a jump on the growing season, maturing to full bloom as early as May in southern states. Sow seed in large swaths alongside the showy orange flowers of Siberian Wallflower (Erysimum hieraciifolium). Monarchs will not be able to resist the bright blooms. The quick-blooming garden annual sweet alyssum (Lobularia maritima) is another springtime monarch favorite. Plant this tidy garden favorite in front of taller wildflowers for layers of blooms.
While nectar plants are important, milkweed is an essential component of a monarch’s spring resource list. The relationship between milkweed and the monarch butterfly is well known: adult monarchs sip nectar from milkweed and lay their eggs among its leaves while monarch caterpillars depend upon milkweed plants for survival.
Early-blooming milkweed species provide a place for migrating monarchs to reproduce along the northward journey. Whorled milkweed (A. verticillate) blooms as early as May in southern states and continues to flower all summer. The white blooms stand atop tall stems and attract a flurry of pollinators to the garden. Monarchs use whorled milkweed as a host plant throughout spring and summer.
Butterfly weed (A. tuberosa) grows throughout most of the monarch’s range and is widely used by migrating spring monarchs to rear offspring. With brilliant orange blooms opening late spring, this showy milkweed is a favorite among butterflies and gardeners alike.
Butterfly Weed Seeds
Swamp Milkweed Seeds
Whorled Milkweed Seeds
Common Milkweed Seeds
While the relationship between milkweed and the monarch butterfly is well known, less appreciated is the importance of nectar plants in monarch conservation efforts. Researchers suggest nectar plants are one of the most limiting factors affecting monarch populations. Many annual and perennial wildflowers provide a rich source of nectar for monarch butterflies throughout the summer months.
To better attract butterflies to the garden, plant several individuals of the same species in a large clump rather than spreading individual plants throughout a garden. This produces blocks of color that butterflies and other pollinators can locate inflight. Include clumps of several different species appropriate for your region to ensure blooms are available throughout the year.
Among the most celebrated of butterfly plants is purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea). In addition to monarchs, expect swallowtail, painted lady, and fritillary butterflies to visit purple coneflower and the closely related pale coneflower (E. pallida). Zinnia (Zinnia elegans) is another flower with non-stop pollinator activity. Blooming over a long season, easy-to-grow zinnias attract butterflies, bees, and other pollinators.
For an orange bloom as bright as a monarch try sowing seeds of the annual Mexican sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia) in sunny beds. Keep plants deadheaded for continuously flowering June through frost. Sulphur cosmos (Cosmos sulphureus) is another excellent annual for attracting monarchs, blooming in shades from lemon yellow to glowing orange.
Butterflies are drawn like a magnet to the flowers of lavender hyssop (Agastache foeniculum). Along with attracting monarchs, hyssop blooms make excellent cut flowers. Plants are floriferous, producing an abundance of long-lasting, fragrant floral spikes early summer through fall. Another great monarch nectar plant is false sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoides), a tall perennial with golden blooms reminiscent of their namesake.
Remember, monarch butterflies reproduce throughout the summer months as they continue their northward movement. The milkweed species mentioned above are as necessary to summer gardens in northern states as they are to spring gardens in the south. In the upper Midwest and Northeast, common milkweed (A. syriaca) and swamp milkweed (A. incarnate) are also important summer host plants. Monarch caterpillars also utilize swamp milkweed west of the Rocky Mountains, in addition to regional host plants.
Purple Coneflower Seeds
Mexican Sunflower Seeds
Lavender Hyssop Seeds
The season ends with another massive migration. This time, each migrating butterfly makes the full journey from summer breeding grounds to overwintering sites in Mexico and California. Monarchs prepare to migrate by building up fat stores in their abdomen to fuel the long flight. Lend monarchs a helping hand by providing plenty of nectar resources in the landscape throughout late summer and early fall.
Many of our favorite fall-blooming plants are ideal for fueling monarch migrations. Asters including New England aster (Aster novae-angliae) and aromatic aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium) can be found buzzing with life in autumn. In addition to monarch butterflies, look for bees and other beneficial insects on flower heads.
What better partner for purple asters and orange monarchs than goldenrod? Later-season bloomers include stiff goldenrod (Solidago rigida) and showy goldenrod (S. speciose). Monarchs flock to goldenrod in autumn where they find abundant nectar to fill their tanks. Stand these showy blooms against a backdrop of the spectacular Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium fistulosum).
The cheery yellow flowers of goldenrod also pair well with the vibrant purple spikes of blazing star (Liatris spictata) and the closely related meadow blazing star (Liatris ligulistylis). Also mix in wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa), a proven monarch resource that grows throughout much of the butterfly’s range. With an abundance of pollen and nectar, these native beauties provide an ideal waystation for migrating monarchs.
Joe Pye Weed Seeds
Bee Balm Seeds
Wildflower seed collections make it easy to establish a monarch waystation in your own backyard. Seed mixes incorporate a variety of wildflowers to provide food, shelter, and breeding grounds for monarchs. Get your butterfly garden off to a quick start with the Monarch Butterfly Annual Wildflower Seed Collection. This colorful mix includes five annuals that will bloom the first season of planting.
For a long-lasting butterfly oasis, sow the Monarch Butterfly Perennial Wildflower Seed Collection in your meadow or garden. This mixture includes host plants and nectar resources that bloom all season long. With two milkweed species and a selection of long-blooming nectar plants, the Monarch Nectar Seed Collection provides everything you need to create a monarch habitat.
Regional seed mixes like the Northeast Pollinator Wildflower Seed Mix and Southwest Pollinator Wildflower Seed Mix include many plants monarchs rely on for food and reproduction. Regional mixes make it easy to find plants that will perform well under the unique conditions found in your part of the country. Try one of American Meadows’ pre-made mixes, or create your own using a variety of wildflowers adapted to your area.
This unique wildflower gets its name from the multitude of blooms that emerge on each plant, resembling shooting stars. This hardy wildflower can produce up to twelve delicate blosso...
Desmondium canadense is great for shady, moist wild gardens. Lovely foliage and flowers. Perennial...
This rare wildflower lights up the summer garden with orange/red, show flowers. The bright blooms also attract hummingbirds and butterflies! Biennial....
Turtlehead is an easy-to-grow beauty that boasts dense spikes of pure white flowers on richly-green foliage. This native plant plays a vital role in nature – It acts as a host plan...
In addition to sipping nectar to fuel their flight, butterflies require places to roost along their flight path. Monarchs only fly during the day and gather in large groups at night, seeking shelter in dense evergreen trees like cedar and fir. Though each migrating generation is several generations removed from the previous, migrating monarchs often use the same roosting sites year after year.
Butterflies seek shelter when startled or for protection from wind and rain. Planting woody shrubs alongside flowering perennials provides sheltered places for butterflies to rest throughout the day. Try planting deciduous shrubs like bluebeard (Caryopteris x clandonensis) which is also an excellent source of nectar.
Finally, provide a water source for butterflies. While a shallow dish of water can work, butterflies most commonly take up moisture from damp sand or soil, a behavior called puddling. Butterflies often congregate on appropriate sites to partake in puddling. They probe the soil with their slender mouthparts to drink water and extract nutrients from the soil. You can encourage puddling by placing a shallow dish filled with coarse sand in your butterfly garden. Keep the sand moist and enjoy the colorful display.
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