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How to Create a Monarch Waystation

monarch waystation pollinator garden in bloom - jenny prince

An updated photo of my Monarch Waystation in bloom, mid-August, Year 2. This garden is 10 ft deep and is positioned outside the fence of my main garden, where I grow edible and medicinal plants. In addition to seeing lots of Monarchs this year, I've noticed a huge increase in pollinators overall. Scroll down for a numbered plant list and suggestions for designing (and registering!) your own Monarch Waystation.

A Monarch Waystation is an intentionally-managed garden that provides food and habitat for the struggling Monarch butterfly population. As a rule, a waystation must include at least 2 types of Milkweed, the 'host' plant for Monarchs.

This year, I've registered my garden as a certified Monarch Waystation, through MonarchWatch.org. This means that my garden has met the criteria for providing food, shelter, and breeding grounds for Monarch butterflies and that my gardening practices have proven sustainable enough to continue supporting Monarchs into the future.

I'm pretty excited about this. Read on to find out how you can do the same!

Planning Your Monarch Waystation

A Monarch Waystation has to meet several criteria in order to be registered, but luckily for small-space gardens, size is not a very big hurdle. While your Monarch plants must be sited in plenty of sunlight (which butterflies thrive on) the overall size of your plantings need only be 100 square feet total.

You'll be asked to fill out a form accounting for how well your garden performs in the following categories:

Host Plants

A butterfly host plant is the place where butterflies lay their eggs for the next generation. Host plants also act as the sole food source for the developing caterpillars, so that they can become strong, healthy butterflies.

Milkweed and Butterfly Weed are two varieties of the same plant, and are both members of the genus Asclepias. Butterfly Weed is the only Milkweed that goes by a different name!

monarch Waystation Caterpillar

Monarch caterpillars need plenty of milkweed to become butterflies; one caterpillar alone will eat 20-30 large leaves!

Nectar Plants

While host plants are food sources for caterpillars, nectar plants are food for fully-developed butterflies. Recent research suggests that a lack of nectar plants may be playing a bigger part in the decline of Monarchs than previously realized.

  • Annual plants, which bloom quickly but don't return for a second season, play a crucial role in a Monarch Waystation. Examples include: Gaillardia, Cosmos, Marigold, Verbena, Zinnia and more.
  • Perennials, which are slower to establish when first planted, but survive and thrive in subsequent seasons, are also important additions to a Monarch garden. Examples include: Bee Balm, Black Eyed Susan, Coreopsis, Hollyhock, Echinacea and more.
  • Early and late-season bloomers. Be sure to plant varieties that will provide food for Monarchs at the extreme ends of your gardening season. For example, I've allowed a large block of Goldenrod to naturalize in my garden, which provides food for many pollinators (including Monarchs) late into the fall, when other flowers have faded.
annual nectar plants in the monarch waystation

Annual nectar plants, like marigolds and zinnias, provide food for Monarch butterflies.

Check out our full list of host and nectar plants below

Sustainable Gardening Practices

While providing habitat and food for Monarchs is a great focus all on its own, we also want to be sure as gardeners that our big-picture practices are aligned with the overall protection of these pollinators. Monarch Watch does a great job of reminding us that how we do things in the garden really matters.

  • Elimination of pesticides. This can be a tough one for everyone to get on board with, especially if you're experiencing a particularly horrific bug infestation. But as butterfly-lovers, we do need to develop an awareness that many insecticides are designed to kill a wide range of pests - pollinators included!
  • Thinning, dividing, mulching, and watering. You'll need to provide some information about how actively you care for your plants. Practices such as weeding, thinning, and watering ensure that your plants are at their best and are capable of producing high-quality blooms for your visiting Monarchs.
  • Removing Dead Stalks. This one really made me think! Because of the declining bee population, I've been following the advice to leave dead plant growth in-place throughout the winter, in order to provide habitat for all kinds of bugs, big and small. I can only assume that removing dead stalks has to do with limiting the spread of disease among developing caterpillars. For me, the jury's still out until I can dig a little deeper and weigh all of the pros and cons around this idea.*

*Update: After the season wrapped up, I decided to leave my plants in place to overwinter. Many forms of wildlife, both visible and microscopic, rely on the food and shelter that spent and dormant plant matter provides. I wait to cut them down until early spring.

remove Dead Flower Stalks for Monarchs

Should you leave dead plant matter in place throughout the off-season to provide habitat for teeny, tiny bug life? Here, last year's Bee Balm stays put while this year's growth develops.

A Quick & Easy Monarch Waystation: Our Monarch Butterfly Wildflower Seed Mix has 27 different wildflowers, including 4 different types of milkweed, nectar-rich annuals, and long-lasting perennials wildflowers that monarch butterflies can't resist. Simply sow the mix over prepped soil, water, and enjoy the show!

Certifying Your Monarch Waystation

Now that you know what will be required of your garden to become a certified Monarch Waystation, you're welcome to register your site. To do this, you can visit MonarchWatch.org and download a print form to mail in or fax, or you can fill out your form online.

Benefits and Extras of Certifying Your Monarch Waystation

  • For just a little bit extra, you can get a cool sign to hang in your garden! You can even choose a fun name for your site, which will be printed on the sign.
  • You'll receive an official Certificate of Appreciation. Mine lists my Monarch Waystation as number 13582.
  • Your garden will be listed on the interactive online map, along with all of the other Certified Monarch Waystations in the US.
monarch Waystation Sign

If you pay just a little bit extra, you'll be sent a sign to post, making your Certified Monarch Waystation official! Mine looks pretty boring right now, but some quick-climbing plants should fill in and frame my sign nicely.

A Monarch Waystation Garden, by the Numbers

numbered plant list for Jenny's monarch waystation garden

Though not every plant is visibly in bloom in this shot (Phlox! Salvia! Lavender!) here is a numbered view of my garden. A plant list is below, followed by a comprehensive list of host and nectar plants for designing your own waystation.

1. Hardy Hibiscus ‘Sweet Caroline’ (Hibiscus)

2. Canada Goldenrod (Solidago canadensis)

3. Bee Balm ‘Pardon my Pink’ (Monarda didyma)

4. Wild Bergamot / Oswego Tea (Monarda fistulosa)

5. Bronze Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)

6. Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus)

7. Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa)

8. Lamb’s Ear (Stachys byzantine)

9. Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)

10. Elderberries (Sambuca nigra)

11. Medicinal Hops (Humulus lupulus)

12. Native Grass (Haven’t ID’d this one yet!)

13. Spotted Bee Balm/ Dotted Horsemint (Monarda punctate)

14. Dill (Anethum graveolens)

15. Passion Flower Vine (Passiflora caerulea)

16. Ball Dahlia ‘Sylvia’ & Pompon Dahlia ‘Golden Scepter’ (Dahlia)

17. Calendula (Calendula officinalis)

18. Peppermint (Mentha piperita)

19. Marjoram (Origanum majorana)

20. Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)

Full List of Host and Nectar Plants for Your Monarch Butterfly Garden

Host Plants - Potted Perennials

Host Plants - Seeds

Perennial Nectar Plants

Annual Nectar Plants

11 thoughts on “How to Create a Monarch Waystation”

  • Barb Kuhlmann
    Barb Kuhlmann June 22, 2016 at 7:58 am

    I have been planting many plants for butterflies. This includes milkweed, dill, rue, fennel, marigolds, galardia, yarrow, parsley and others. I enjoy the butterflies and want to help them.

    • Jenny

      Hi Barb, sounds like we've both caught the butterfly bug! I also have lots of dill naturalizing and love the way that the Bronze fennel plants are looking in my garden, especially planted among the yarrow. But thanks for mentioning Rue - I think you've just given me my next must-have plant purchase! Happy Gardening - Jenny

  • Natasha

    Happy to confirm that blanket flowers (gaillardia) are as easy to plant as annuals but are perennials and will spread and self-seed as well. I have too small a garden with shade to have a way-station, but last year I planted my 18x18' front garden as a pollinator space with blooms from April to November with 30% natives. I have about 10 native blanket flowers and they are loved by all sorts of pollinators

  • steve lyons

    I am hoping to take back some lawn this year and create an environment for wildlife. Butterflies and birds as my primary focus.
    1) How or where would you begin with plants
    2) What would you suggest to begin '
    3) please list some species, the number of each etc.
    4) And the primary plants you may suggest
    Thank you

  • Christine

    Do you have any advice for those of us trying to establish a meadow, but struggling. I have a large area I am trying to establish a meadow on (about 850 sq ft). I had plugs planted in April 2015 so the area has been growing for two years now. The area was grass and weed prior to the meadow. My first problem is that I am struggling with weed competition and since I refuse to use pesticides, I am trying to battle the weeds by hand. I already tried corn gluten with little headway in the battle against weeds. I also tried mulching with straw and nuggets, neither of which helped very much. The nuggets helped better than the straw, but nuggets also inhibit the plants reseeding themselves.

    My second problem is that by July, everything is done blooming. I am not having any success with late bloomers.

    My zone is 7a. And, I am trying to stick to Virginia native plants. Last fall I scattered various seeds in hopes that they germinate and out compete the weeds. And, I am going to try growing my own plugs indoors and transplant them in spring.

    Any suggestions on how to address either of these problems?

  • Becky Elitzer
    Becky Elitzer July 18, 2017 at 7:41 am

    I, too, will be building a Waystation. I have many perennials in place already and will be excavating a Milkweed/Butterfly garden this fall! My question is about my existing perennials such as Shasta Daisy, Monarda, Swamp Milkweed, Ecinacia. I've been reading a lot about leaving them intact over the winter, but what about springtime? Are you saying to leave them completely alone as habitat, even in the spring? Looking forward to learning more about this new practice! Thanks in advance!

    • Jenny

      Hi Becky, I know - that issue was a head-scratcher to me as well. The way that I've handled this, is to leave my perennials completely intact throughout the winter, and then to do spring clean-up a few weeks <em>before</em> I plant the majority of my garden. In mid-to-late spring, I do some basic clean up, moving plants and relocating 'babies' that I want to grow out/ give away. I like to keep the dead growth in place, as it helps me to identify what's planted where. I also feed and mulch areas that I plan to leave as-is. I don't do this work too early, as in the past I've accidentally disturbed overwintering wildlife, like frogs - which makes me feel terrible. In late spring, I do prune most of my perennials down to the ground/ a few inches above. At this point, I feel like more habitat is becoming available to all wildlife. Hope this helps and Happy Gardening - Jenny

  • Michael

    My son is planning on building a Monarch waystation for his Eagle scout project and the church where it's going to be is concerned that it will attract bees. Do waystations attract bees? We would like it to not because of the location at the church.

    • Jenny

      Hi Michael, many Waystation-approved plants will draw in a variety of pollinators in addition to the Monarch butterflies. Milkweed, for example, is visited by both native and honey bees for its nectar. I think that you might be able to find some varieties on the list that are less of a draw to bees, but if there is a strict "no bees allowed" policy, I'm not sure that you'll be able to make any guarantees! I have kept bees for many years and I can tell you that they are simply not aggressive unless you are trying to disturb their hive (especially before dawn and after dusk). Often times, people think of yellowjackets and assume that bees behave in the same threatening way, which is untrue. This year, my Waystation drew in tons of wasps and my husband was not very happy about it! But after we did some research, we realized that they were excellent pollinators and 'solitary' wasps - meaning that they don't have a collective hive to defend and therefore don't act aggressively. Not sure you'll change any minds with this info, but it's what I would share if you think it will help. Best of luck, Jenny

  • Debby hagemann

    I am interested I. The garden featured in this article. I would like to order the plants that are um reed in this diagram but the list that should match the picture does not have the numbers connected to each plant. Could you clarify this for me? There is not a unique number for each plant.

    Thank you

    • Gabi

      Hi Debby! Thank you for catching that - this has been updated and each plant is now associated with a unique plant. Happy Gardening!

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