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 the larval development of Monarch caterpillars.
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.
Providing Nectar For Monarch Butterflies in Spring
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.
Spring Blooms For Monarchs
- 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.
Host Plants For Monarch Caterpillars in Spring
While nectar plants are important, milkweed is an essential component of the monarch’s spring resources.
The relationship between the monarch butterfly and its host plant, native milkweed, is well known. Adult monarchs sip nectar from milkweed, and lay their eggs among its leaves. Monarch caterpillars depend upon milkweed plants for survival. One monarch caterpillar can eat over 20 milkweed leaves in its lifetime!
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 (Asclepias 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.