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monarch butterfly on wildflower

Best Wildflowers For Attracting Monarchs To The Garden

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.
Milkweed is essential for Monarch survival, and is very easy to grow.
Milkweed is essential for Monarch survival, and is very easy to grow.

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.

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Providing Nectar For Monarch Butterflies in Summer

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 in flight. Include clumps of several different species that are appropriate for your region, to ensure blooms are available throughout the year.

Monarch butterflies reproduce throughout the summer months as they continue their northward movement. The milkweed species mentioned above are necessary in both summer gardens in northern states, as well as in spring gardens in the south.

Best Summer Blooms For Monarch Butterflies

  • 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.
  • 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.

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 from spring through fall.

Fueling Monarch Butterfly Migrations Through Fall

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. 

With an abundance of pollen and nectar, these native beauties provide an ideal waystation for migrating monarchs:

  • 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.
  • Goldenrods are a perfect partner for purple asters. 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).
  • Liatris have vibrant purple flower spikes that also pair well with asters and goldenrod. 
  • Also mix in Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa or Bee Balm), a proven monarch resource that grows throughout much of the butterfly’s range. 

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Our Wildflower Seed Mixes & Collections for Attracting Monarchs

3 More Tips For Attracting Monarch Butterflies

  1. Roosting Sites: 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.
  2. Shelter: 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.
  3. Water: 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