How to Start a Monarch Butterfly Garden that Brings Home the Butterflies…and Caterpillars
If you’re thinking about starting a monarch butterfly garden, this is the year to get growing…the future of the majestic monarch migration could depend on it!
If you’ve been missing monarchs recently, a large part of the problem can be blamed on the crashing butterfly population. A wicked trifecta of herbicides, habitat loss, and extreme weather is making it impossible for the monarchs to catch a break.
I’m sure you’ve heard the saying the first step is always the hardest. I think it’s especially true when you’re not sure where to begin. When starting a monarch butterfly garden there are many points to consider, and those first decisions will have a big impact on your eventual butterfly garden success…or failure.
But even if you’ve already made unfortunate decisions creating your garden, it’s never to late to assess your situation, and make a course correction that will guide more butterflies into your garden.
I’m here to help you get down the basics, so your butterfly garden gets off to a flying start. If I was starting a new monarch butterfly garden, these are the essential tips, tools, and techniques I would implement to start seeing more monarchs this season.
If you have any questions after reading this post, please post them in comments at the bottom of this page. Now, let’s get your garden started…
Assess Your Situation
Before you start creating your monarch butterfly garden garden, it’s important to research some basic info to help guide your garden decisions.
1. Where do monarchs live?
Check out this helpful global distribution map to make sure it’s possible to get monarch butterflies in your region.
If you’re in the western U.S., check out western butterfly garden resources.
2. When are monarchs usually in your in your region?
Sightings maps from Journey North reveal where and when monarch sightings are reported. They even have archives of past seasons.
3. Discover Your Zone
The USDA has created a plant hardiness zone map to let you know what plants are appropriate to plant in your region. Some plants outside your zone can be treated as annuals.
4. Soil Conditions
Not all plants require the same soil conditions, but many butterfly plants prefer well-drained soil that’s rich in organic matter. Compost is an excellent additive for increasing organic matter in your soil. For plants with uncommon soil requirements you can amend the soil in that area, or consider potting the plant. Research soil requirements for all your plants. This gives you the best chance to grow thriving plants!
5. Sun to part Sun
While many sources say a butterfly garden should receive full sun, experience has shown me a variety of conditions is optimal. Some plants grow better in partial sun, and the butterflies may need refuge from the dog days of summer. Let’s say “mostly sunny with a side of shade.”
6. Light Breeze
Butterflies prefer areas with little to no wind. Make sure your garden isn’t a wind tunnel or the butterflies may blow right on by.
7. Make a plan
A butterfly garden plan doesn’t need to be anything elaborate, but think about some important details before grabbing your shovel.
- If you want to explore butterfly garden design layouts, try searching butterfly garden design layout images online, and then cater a plan to your specific needs.
- Do you plan to expand?
- How much time will you spend on your garden? (this will determine garden size and plant choices)
- Read this post for a full list of things to consider before starting your school butterfly garden (much applies to home gardening)
- Planting a field for Pollinators? Click here for more info
If you need more ideas and inspiration for your butterfly garden, sign up for our 100% free butterfly tips newsletter.
Make Way for Milkweed
Milkweed is the cornerstone of a successful butterfly garden and planting a mix of both native and non-invasive annuals will entice more monarchs to enter your garden gates. These varieties are utilized as both host plant for caterpillars and a nectar source for butterflies.
Tip: all milkweed varieties should be planted in groups of at least six plants. Otherwise, there is a good chance your monarch caterpillars will run out of milkweed!
1. Asclepias incarnata (swamp milkweed) offers pretty pink blooms and a sweet vanilla scent. It’s native across most of the US and parts of Canada:
Swamp Milkweed Plants and Seeds from Joyful Butterfly
Swamp Milkweed Seed and Plants from Amazon
2. Asclepias speciosa (showy milkweed) has deep pink, fragrant flowers with a star shaped white center. It’s native to the western half of the US and Canada:
Showy Milkweed Seeds and Plants from JB
Find Asclepias Speciosa Seeds on Amazon
3. Asclepias curassavica (Tropical Milkweed) serves double duty for the monarchs. It’s reported by many to be one of the most popular species for egg laying females. It’s also an extremely popular nectar source for late season monarchs in our northern region.
Find Asclepias Curassavica Plants and Seeds on Joyful Butterfly
Find Tropical Milkweed Seeds and Plants on Amazon
4. Ascelpias tuberosa (butterfly weed): this is a popular native milkweed grown throughout North America. While it’s reported by many to be a popular nectar plant, there are conflicting reports about whether monarch mamas bypass its rough, sapless leaves for smoother varieties.
Buy Asclepias Tuberosa on Joyful B
Find More Butterfly Weed on Amazon
Top Nectar Plants
Now that you’ve satisfied those hungry caterpillars, here are some nectar plants to give your garden instant butterfly appeal:
This native perennial unleashes pink blooms in mid-late summer that monarchs, other butterflies, and bees go wild over. I’ve heard positive reports on several species including Eutrochium purpureum (sweet joe pye weed) and Eutrochium maculatum’gateway’ (spotted joe pye weed), which we grow in Minnesota.
Find Joe Pye Weed Plants and Seeds on Joyful Butterfly
Eutrochium Maculatum Seeds on Amazon
2. Tithonia rotundifolia (Mexican sunflower ‘torch’)
Reported across North America to be one of the most popular annuals for attracting monarchs, hummingbirds, and other precious pollinators like this sulphur butterfly:
Find Mexican Sunflower ‘Torch’ Seeds here
Find More Tithonia Rotundifolia Seeds on Amazon
3. Buddleia davidii (butterfly bushes)
These beautiful, long blooming perennials attract monarchs, hummingbirds, and many other butterflies. There is an ongoing (exhausting) argument about where these plants are invasive, and where they’re considered safe for planting.
For all the controversy, there are only two states in the Pacific Northwest where butterfly bush has been prohibited as an invasive species.
In recent years, sterile and non-invasive varieties have been created to allow butterflies (and gardeners) to enjoy these nectar flowers without the risk of crowding out native plants. I am suggesting two of the non-invasive varieties that I know attract butterflies.
a. Buddleia davidii (Buddleja Buzz Butterfly Bush)
Buddleja Buzz is compact, non-invasive and it attract butterflies. It’s also supposed to be more cold hardy for the north. It’s the only variety we’ve planted that hasn’t succumbed to Minnesota winter. Colder climates should mulch with leaves in fall, take fall cuttings, or overwinter to insure your crop.
Buzz comes in a variety of vibrant colors including purple, sky blue, white, hot raspberry, and more. Grows to 4 feet.
Buy Buddleia Buzz Butterfly Bush Here
b. Buddleia davidii (Miss Molly Butterfly Bush)
This proven winner is also a non-invasive variety that butterflies love. It’s as close to a true red as butterfly bushes get. It’s a mid-sized variety that tops out around 6 feet. Gardeners I’ve talked to give Miss Molly rave reviews for both appearance and the power of attraction…
Buy Buddleia (Buddleja) davidii ‘Miss Molly‘
Find a WIDE VARIETY of Butterfly Bush Plants on Amazon
Find More Buddleia Varieties on Etsy
4. Verbena bonariensis (purpletop vervain)
A tall verbena variety growing up to 6 feet. Frequently visited by monarchs, hummingbirds, bees and other pollinators. Has the potential to become invasive in warmer regions. A great annual for USDA hardiness zones 4-7!
Find Verbena Bonariensis Plants and Seeds Here
5. Lantana camara (Ham n Eggs or Miss Huff)
Lantana camara is a tender perennial in the southern US. It’s also a popular annual for colder climates. It flowers all summer long, attracting monarchs and other pollinators. There are many different colors and cultivars.
If you want a hardier variety (cold hardy to zone 7) that attracts monarchs try Miss Huff. Most lantana varieties will attract butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds. Grape lantana is a trailing variety that tiger swallowtails can’t stay away from in our garden.
Find Lantana Camara Plants Here
Find More Varieties of Lantana on Etsy
6. Liatris ligulistylis (meadow blazingstar)
One of the top nectar attractor for monarchs I’ve seen. We have had as many as 60 butterflies in our patch at one time. Don’t substitute with another species of liatris or you’ll miss out on all the monarchs!
Find Meadow Blazing Star Seeds Here
Liatris Ligulistylis Plants and Seeds
Tip: Plant at least 10 liatris together to host an amazing late summer feast for the butterflies.
For a full list of native and annual nectar flower options for your butterfly garden, visit our Butterfly Plants Resource Page
Potted plants save space and allow you to bring the butterflies closer for convenient viewing. We pot mostly tropical plants, since they won’t survive outside overwinter…
This lets you start the season with large annual plants! Lantana plants grow well in pots if you’re looking for ideas. You can also pot small perennials like May Night Salvia.
Containers are widely available locally, but if you’re looking for high quality, affordable, butterfly plant containers check these out
Memorial Butterfly Garden
Many butterfly gardens are created as lasting tributes to someone special that is no longer with us including parents, military members who made the ultimate sacrifice, and children that have left this earth far too soon.
Butterflies represent positive transformation and freedom. Some believe that butterflies are the souls of the dearly departed fluttering in to say hello, and that they miss you too!
An additional idea for a memorial butterfly garden is to have a garden stone with a special tribute to the person that inspired your garden:
Butterfly Memorial Garden Stones
Monarch Watch is a non-profit organization that conducts research that promotes the conservation of monarch butterflies. Waystations are community-created monarch habitats throughout North America.
By registering and creating your own waystation, you’ll be helping the monarchs recover from devastating population loss over the past decade. I’m proud to own registered waystation #3972. I hope you too, join this dedicated community of monarch enthusiasts.
Starting a monarch butterfly garden is an exciting journey that yields great rewards if you’re patient and persistent. Start with the basics, and when you’re ready, I’m here to help take your garden to the next level.
Do you want to know more about attracting monarchs to your garden doorstep? Get more details in my 5 star rated butterfly gardening book:
Bring Home The Butterflies Vol. 1- How to Attract More Monarchs to your Butterfly garden…and Keep Them There!
I live in northern Indiana and am looking for shorter (12 inches tall or shorter) Zinnias to plant that will attract Monarchs and other butterflies. I am looking at Profusion, Pinwheel, Thumbelina, Short Stuff, and/or Dreamland. Do you have any recommendations?
Hi Ann, check out this post for some of our favorites…profusion has been a good performing dwarf variety:
5 Big Zinnias for a Busy Butterfly Garden
Just local natives, please. Non-native plants are useless for butterflies and pollinators. Every non-local plant is a wasted opportunity to support local fauna and flora
Hi Michelle, monarchs are a migratory species and not native to one area. yes, natives are the cornerstone to a successful garden, but non-invasive non-natives can help take your garden to the next level. Also, many local pollinators do take nectar from non-native plants. If you don’t believe me, check out the video on our Mexican sunflowers page taken in Minnesota:
Love your website and products!
What is a good amount of time from when eggs hatch in container to transferring to a mesh cage?
I’m sure it’s in your blog or books. I can’t seem to find.
Hi Paula, check out this link for more info:
Monarch Life Cycle
My name is Karen, we lost my mother in October 2018 she loved butterflies.
I have a butterfly bush in my yard she gave us, I bought a wooden arbor we are going to screen in and try to make a butterfly habit out of it,
I’m excited and scared at the same time.
should we treat the wood?
what kind of screening should we use?
i have a lot of work to do I have to get some milk weed and more plants but very excited,
I have seen where you get the egg, then you have a caterpillar, then the butterfly. can you put all of them in the habit or do all of the steps need to be done in door seperatly?
also do we need to put something stronger on the top for rain and sorts?
sorry for all of the questions.
Hi Karen, sorry to hear about your mother but happy to hear how you are honoring her memory. We use mesh habitats because they are easier to clean, which helps prevent diseases. If you want info about building a habitat, your best bet would be to post your question in a facebook group:
Monarch Facebook Groups
Last year was my first year for raising monarchs. It is the most interesting thing I have every done. I released 75. Mother Nature is unbelievable. I wanted to thank you for your website. Without it and youtube I would have been lost.
I wanted to let everyone know that I had no problem with aphids. I have Red swamp and Common milkweed and I planted garlic cloves in and around the milkweed, which seemed to do the trick. Will be doing the same again this year.
Again thank you for all your help.
As many of us are planting or planning on planting milkweed to welcome the Monarchs back to our gardens, I thought I’d share a report by Environmental Entymology (2017) which corroborates what a couple of people on Tony’s website have already remarked: there is greater mortality of Monarch caterpillars that consume Asclepias sullivantii, especially in their early life stages. The report states that mortality is higher for these caterpillars between pupation and eclosion, too. Asclepias hirtella likewise increases their mortality. Only about a third of caterpillars who feed on these two types of milkweed will survive, according to the report.
Because of the higher mortality rate, the report recommends not growing sullivantii or hirtella.
Here’s the report: https://academic.oup.com/ee/article/46/5/1098/4107652
Hi Colleen, thanks for sharing the study. I’d be curious to know what accounts for the difference in mortality rate. We only have 1 A. sullivantii in our garden and the females love laying eggs on it. I often find small caterpillars on the plant and will bring them in to feed on common.
Hi Tony, lots going on here in my garden. I bought your book and for some reason it’s no longer in my iBooks app, so, I need to ask you. In the past 5 days I have happily found 10 monarch cats but since this is only my second year to do this so this I’m no expert. I’m using the baby cage with fresh common milk weed daily. I just checked them (I’m mesmerized) and 2 of the larger ones have left the milkweed and are halfway up the mesh sides and are very still. I’m not sure if they’re the 4th or 5th Instar. I don’t see any silk pads and they’re actually headed down, not up. I took 2 photos but don’t know how to send them?
Hi Laurel, when they are facing down on cage sides it’s often before they molt (shed their skin)…once they finish they will crawl back to fresh milkweed. I”ll resend your download link…
We just planted a small (8′ x 12′) garden in north east Kansas. Good mix of nectar and cat food plants(I think). All are flowering profusely. So here is the newbie question…. When will we see butterflies? Or did I plant too late for this season?
Hi Pierce, you should have the opportunity to see monarchs throughout the season from not through the migration…good luck!
Today I noticed that one of my cats has developed wider black bans then the other
cats I have.
His colors are still bright, but with the wider black bans it gives it a darker appearance
Have you any thoughts on this?
Hi David, no conclusive answer to this question…it could just be a natural variation. Some believe it could be an immune response or influenced by sunlight exposure. The few I’ve raised have always emerged as seemingly healthy adults.
Is it ok if the caterpillar climbs to the top of the net type cage, and just hangs from the net to from his chrysalis? Dose it have to hang on something besides the top of the mesh cage?
Hi Dave, they can attach directly to the cage roof…
So happy to have found this site. Last year (2017) I bought a milkweed plant and kept it in a pot in my garden. An amazing sight was a monarch caterpillar seemingly suddenly appearing on the plant. At the time, I had no idea what it was, but he (or she) was so beautiful.
He or she ate the whole plant, so I eventually went to the nursery and bought five milkweed plants and kept them in pots.
Then the most amazing sight was at least ten monarch caterpillars, all big, fat and happily munching on the plants!
Within about a few weeks, they disappeared, I presumed to cocoon (if that’s the term). The only information I had was some advice from a friend who lives back east (I live in Southern California).
But now there’s nobody, so after reading all the information here about predators and pests, I’m so paranoid that something killed my caterpillars. I have tried to look in bushes that are next to the potted milkweeds, but the bushes are too thick. The only pest I ever saw were those horrible orange aphids, but I took cotton swabs dipped just in water and removed them .
How can I find out what happened? I want my caterpillars!
Hi Shelley, hopefully your monarchs made it. Unfortunately, there is a long list of predators. Aphids feed on milkweed sap, and are not a monarch predator. Here are 13 monarch predators
Our church started a monarch garden last year. We are not sure how to care for the garden. It has a lot of dead stems and such from the winter and new growth is starting to appear. Should we clear out the dead stems or just leave it be? We have no idea what is the proper maintenance for such a garden.
Hi Jane, we clear out the dead branches in spring…good luck with your garden!
I just released the last of 25 monarch and queen butterflies. I have read that I need to clean the mesh butterfly habitat before starting again. What is the best way to do that ?
Hi Becky, there is info about cleaning habitats here:
Cleaning Caterpillar Cage Info
Hello, we planted our first butterfly garden this October with hopes for 2018 caterpillars, but found 9 caterpillers in September! We had a lot of variables go wrong since we weren’t quite prepared. First we ran out of milkweed (we had only planted one), so now we have 4 bushes. All but one of the caterpillars made it to pupation stage, but only one of the remaining eight caterpillars were successful in becoming a butterfly. We believe it was OE, but not sure. My question is, is now a good time to prune my milkweed back for a healthy start next year?
Hi Trisha, whenever there is a ‘lull’ in activity, it’s a good opportunity to cut back and throw out overused milkweed that could have OE spores and/or other pathogens. For more info on OE and other common issues:
Monarch Diseases and Caterpillar Killers
I had a late crop of Monarch caterpillars in Central Arkansas that I brought inside to my butterfly tent just before they formed their cocoons November 6th & 7th. There were 13 of them. As of November 27th, they are all still green and healthy looking. Could these be overwintering like Swallowtails do?
Hi Roger, monarchs don’t overwinter. If temps are cold, or they’re kept in a dark room this can really slow down their metamorphosis.
We have many milkweed plants in our immediate area. There are perhaps 100 or more pods I can pick when the time is right. I’ve noticed some pods already split and seeds are coming out. If I pick a pod that has not split will the seeds still mature and be good?
Hello Dick, the seeds need to be mature when the pods are removed. If you tie these around each pod, you don’t have to be there when they burst open:
What do you use for fertilizer, through the year? The area i’m going to plant has been fertilized in the past with poultry litter & has grown a great garden. Deer have found my garden 3 yrs ago & the ground has not been planted. Thanks Russ.
Hi Russ, there’s fertilizer info on this page:
Butterfly Garden Resources
I have common milkweed and was finding many hatchlings (and some 2nd instars), but I have lots of aphids that I think destroyed the hatchlings.
Hi Kay, sorry to hear this, but it’s more likely a predator found them:
13 Monarch Predators
I live in Skagit County, WA. I used to see 100’s of swallowtail and monarks, but now only the occasional swallowtail. Milk pod has disappeared. My butterfly bush died. What is causing this? Climate change? No pesticides in area. Why is WA not on the list to purchase plants and pupa?
Hi Patricia, USDA regulations prohibit many vendors from selling plants and monarchs to western states. I’m not aware of any vendors that ship monarchs to Washington. As far as why you’re not seeing garden monarchs:
8 Possible Reasons You’re Not seeing Monarchs
hi tony –
recently a tree came out creating a wonderful sunny place in my yard. can i split an existing buddleja without losing it? it’s white and one of my best attractant for butterflies. it would put it right near an orange asclepias. if not, can you tell me the difference between a regular buddleja and a buzz?
also, would tropical milkweed overwinter here? it’s also known here as mexican milkweed and i’m not even sure it’s a milkweed.
Hi Barbara, check out this article:
Dividing Butterfly Bushes
In colder zones, I would try overwintering tropical milkweed and taking spring cuttings to start new plants. Otherwise, tropical can be slow growing, especially if spring is cold.
Hi Tony, This is my first year of having planted asclepias-curassavica milkweed and my first time trying to raise monarch butterflies. You were talking about nectar plants that attract monarchs and wonder why Callistemon bushes/trees aka “Bottlebrush” aren’t on the list as I have one planted in my back yard and see monarchs feeding off of the red blooms all the time.
Hi, thanks for the reminder…I just added it to my butterfly plants and hummingbird pages:
Monarch & Hummingbird Plants
We live in southern Arizona and planted some milkweed plants. According to the pictures, they may be tropical milkweed. We saw that our hummingbirds seem to enjoy the milkweed. Unfortunately, within about a month, we have found two dead hummingbirds and are very concerned. Could this milkweed be poisonous to hummingbirds.
Hi Margie, tropical milkweed is not harmful to hummingbirds. It’s really hard to say what happened though…and the problem may not even have been in your garden. I hope this was just a fluke!
We are trying to plant a native butterfly garden. Often it is suggested that dill and parsley be included as food plants for the caterpillars. Yet dill and parsley are not native plants. What would be good native plants to put in the garden for caterpillars?
Hi Patricia, we found caterpillars on our Zizia aurea (golden Alexander) this spring. However, I’m not sure if this is a preferred host. It is however, native, if that’s a prerequisite:
Zizia Aurea for Eastern Black Swallowtails
I purchased a Golden Alexander from the same nursery where Brenda Dzeidzic has her butterfly habitat and it had a caterpillar on it. The best 6 bucks I ever spent! So I think it is a preferred nectar Plant.
Hi Tim, I’m not sure which butterflies prefers it as a nectar plant, but the long stems made it very easy to raise a few black swallowtail caterpillars.
After years of having milkweed for the Monarchs in my yard in central Florida, some small red-orange and black bugs have eaten all the leaves off. What can I do?
Also, my purple passion vine on a huge trellis that I intended for Zebra Longwings and Gulf Flitteries, this year has attracted wasps and moths. What shall I do?
I already have Lantana and butterfly bushes and Pentas and shrimp plant in my yard.
Hi Sara, please check out these two resource pages for more info:
Yesterday I checked the milkweed plants, as usual, but met a bumble bee on steroids. Stung me twice before I dispatched him. The good news is I found another cat.
Today I checked again and found another cat for a total of four. ( No bumble bee)
This afternoon I saw the first Monarch Butterfly. I am hooked!
Hi Dick, maybe you have a nest close by? Bumble bees are typically very mild mannered…congrats on your successful monarch season!
I am a little confused about “looking for eggs”. Last year there were no milkweed plants on our property. This year we have 98. I check the milkweed plants every morning for eggs and cats. No eggs. But 3 cats have appeared. One cat is 2″ log and the other 2 are 3/4″ long. Were did they come from?
Hi Dick, they must have been hiding…maybe toward the bottom of the plants. Also, monarchs often lay eggs in milkweed buds, where they are very hard to see. congrats!
Last year we collected 44 milkweed pods, kept them in the freezer until April this year. I spread them out over four acres and we have now 98 milkweed plants. I saw two cats this morning on two plants.
We have a problem with deer tearing the tops off the plants. The cats are at the very top and I’m afraid they will become a meal for a deer.
What should I do now?
Hi Dick, you could try putting netting over the plants or try raising a few indoors for release:
21 Tips for Raising Monarchs
I want to plant the milkweed seedlings I bought. There are a lot of deer going through my yard. I know they don’t like mature milkweed, but will they try to eat the young seedlings? I am debating whether or not to put deer cloth over the seedlings until they get bigger.
Hi Mary, depending on what else you have available, they may eat both. Both deer and rabbits have munched down milkweed in many gardens. Fencing works to keep out rabbits. I’m not sure the best way to deter deer.
I am trying to start a butterfly garden for my mom for Mother’s Day. I researched a lot, but am getting confused. She had a perfect spot in full sun with a tree line barrier not far with dried brush and twigs. But other than butterfly weed and milkweed I can’t find what else I can plant that is not just late summer. I read you are supposed to stagger so there is something all year, but can’t find anything for late spring/early summer. Or where I can get them here in Michigan. Thank you for any help as we are both very excited about helping not just monarchs (although those are favorites) but also all other butterflies survive.
Hi Jennifer, please checkout all the links that are in the post which will answer most of your questions…remember northern regions see the most monarchs in summer/late summer so that’s why you’ll have more success by focusing on late bloomers, although there are earlier ideas on my milkweed and butterfly plant pages:
I’m working on my butterfly garden and adding more milkweed this year by planting seeds. I have sometimes had to cover my existing milkweed so butterflies don’t lay eggs because I can’t afford to keep buying more and more plants. What happens if the monarch mamas can’t find milkweed to lay their eggs? Do they die or do they place their eggs on plants that are not milkweed?
Hi Amy, they will fly north until they can find a viable source of milkweed. In continuous growing regions, your plants need time to grow, so covering them is a good idea if you don’t get natural breaks. They will find milkweed elsewhere, and when they come back your milkweed will be ready…
Let me start off by aaying I am so happy to have found this site and all the help and resources it provides.
This is now my second year raising monarchs. This year my main milkweed plant, which I collect my eggs off of, has had a problem with littlw red spiders i believe are Mites. My leafs are now wraping in on one side. Is this normal, from the mites or is it something else? It has also been very rainy and my smallee plants are getting black spots over most leaves. I have been pulling them off and disposing them far away. Please help!
Hi Melly, it sounds like you are dealing with spider mites and fungus. Check out these posts for more info:
Spider Mite Info
Milkweed Disease and Fungus
Thank you for being a resource. You have no idea how welcomed your expertise is.
I’ve been raising caterpillars for about two years. It started slowly with two cats and one cage. In short…I read your article on butterfly addicts and have to admit, I am one.
I used all sorts of cages – plastic with the cover, mesh of various sizes – basically anything I could get my hands on. All was going well, altogether I released about 100.
Slowly the butterflies started falling while coming out of chrysalis and irreparably damaging their wings. There would be about five chrysalis and only one would make it. This happened in the plastic cage, in the mesh cages of all sizes. I tried putting shredded tissue/newspaper, twigs, branches so they would have something to grasp onto. I live in Hawaii if that makes a difference. Any advice or insight would be most welcomed.
It was so devastating that I had to stop caging them and instead started letting them feed outdoors, which also has not worked out well…I had about 40 almost ready to go into chrysalis and the next day they were all gone.
Hi Linda, it sounds like you are dealing with OE parasites. This can be avoided by raising from eggs, cleaning milkweed, and disinfecting your cage. In some continuous growing regions raisers will even bleach milkweed and monarch eggs with a weak bleach solution to kill disease spores. There’s more info about OE here:
Monarch OE and other Diseases
I’m finding many flower garden plans that are for both butterflies and birds. Would this be okay? Are birds predators for butterflies?
Also, I would like to include flowers/plants that bees (in paticular rusty patched bumblebees) will be attracted too; would this be okay?
My plan is to plant along the South side of my house (I’m in Illinois) aprox. 25ftx3ft space.
Hi Annie, while we focus on monarchs, we also welcome (and plant for!) many different wildlife species to promote a healthy ecosystem. We have a bird feeder that we keep filled all year to keep the birds fat, happy, and way from the caterpillars. Bees and butterflies coexist peacefully in the garden. While wasps are more of an issue in some regions, by not allowing any nests on our property, we’ve been able to cut down predation. Our goal is not to stop predation 100%, but to keep things in balance. Good luck with your garden!
We live near the Texas Gulf Coast, zone 8. Because the spring migration seems to be quite early (mid-March through April), can you suggest some plants that will bloom then for nectar purposes, as well as provide foliage for caterpillars?
Hi Hugh, check out this post for a few ideas:
5 Spring Butterfly Plants for Monarchs
While I would agree with you that herbicides, habitat loss and extreme weather do take a toll on butterfly populations, I feel there is another factor which is doing far more damage to butterfly numbers then all three of the above factors combined. And, ironically it comes as a result of the organic growing or integrated pest management movement! I’m referring to parasitic wasps of all sorts which are now used wide-scale throughout agriculture. Twenty or more years ago when I would travel to northern California, I could find a pipevine plant off the side of the highway completely stripped of its leaves with 50 or so last instar larvae walking on it. In recent years though I see a lot of hostplants without any caterpillars. Instead, I see all manner of devilish looking wasps patrolling the fresh young shoots where the caterpillar eggs should be. Also in southern Arizona where there is also a lot of agriculture, I don’t see huge numbers of butterflies like I did 20 years ago.
If a farmer uses herbicides or pesticides then he will not have butterflies on his farm. However, if a farmer uses parasitic wasps then the farmer will not have butterflies and neither will any of his neighbors. That’s a big difference.
In Mexico where there are no regulations, over the last 30 years, I’ve seen hostplants disappear ( and subsequently butterflys) and I suppose that might be due to the spraying of herbicides.
Hi Steve, biological pest control is always a wildcard and there are often consequences that aren’t immediately obvious. I’m sorry to hear this is a serious issue with western butterfly populations.
I’ve got a question- What is the purpose of the “dots” on the sides of the chrysalis?
I’m sure you have been asked this question before, but I haven’t run across an answer-
Hi Mixon, the most current theory is that the serve as ports for oxygen to enter the chrysalis:
Scientists unravel Chrysalis Mysteries
Thanks so much for sharing all of this advice on planting the best garden possible! I really like your second tip on being bee friendly. Although a lot of people might consider them a nuisance, bees are a really important part of your plants’ health. That is why I think going the extra mile and choosing only pollinator friendly flowers is such a good idea. Plus, you don’t have to make your whole garden pollinator friendly; you can just dedicate a part of your garden to pollinators, like you said!
well,, after I dug up the yard and ordered all kinds of plants for the little Devils, checked the Map and it looks like they dont care for my area,,lol..I live in North East ,Arkansas a lot of farming so that is probably why,
If I raised a few will they return to the area next year? That would be great.
Hi Cliff, if you create a butterfly garden, you should be able to attract them. One factor that could negatively impact your efforts, is pesticide use on surrounding crops. Hopefully you can plant in an area that will not be affected…good luck!
Thanks for your reply, I will try and educate myself this Winter in hopes to become more aware of how to become more Monarch friendly ,
Just received 2 Spice Bush plants need to get them in the ground, at this time I have 20 Milk Weed plants out, plus all of the seed that I got from you I will start them in December 30 days to germinate and 3 months under grow lights
Maybe I can attract a Swallow Tail if not a Monarch they need our help too.
Thanks for your site and information
Is there any way or tips to cut down on wind in the area you want to start your butterfield garden?
Hi Cindy, here’s a few ideas to consider:
Landscape Wind Breaks
Thanks for your answer.
I just received several packets of swamp milkweed seeds and am a little confused on when to plant them. I’m in northeastern Ohio in zone 5. Can I plant them right now or should I wait until cold weather ? Thanks.
Hi James, check out this post for more info:
Fall Planting Milkweed Seeds
Hi. I live in Florida. I am having problems with snails in the garden and ants all over my plants. I have been searching for ways to get rid of them without it affecting butterflies. I am getting nowhere, can you help?
Hi Jennifer, here are some ideas to consider for getting rid of:
I just found my first butterfly eggs! I’m new to this….and so excited! Thanks Tony for all your good tips and information.
Congratulations, I got my first cats this July as well. I have released 22 so far with 14 in chrysalid.
I took some caterpillars and chrysalids to my daughters 7th grade science teacher. The children were so excited to see them.
I saw one here in Maine on vacation
I’ve wanted to grow milkweed for ten years so I finally did it! I planted seeds for back-up and bought 14 large Tropical milkweed plants. My husband amended our heavy clay soil down to 3 ft. and my garden is 10’x8′. This has all been very expensive here in San Diego but I thought it would be worth it.
A monarch laid eggs immediately and I watched 30 caterpillars every day, enjoying the leaves. Then one morning I woke to find that I had none. They weren’t old enough to leave and I don’t know what predator I’m dealing with. We haven’t seen any wasps, lizards or ants. My husband thinks it’s birds.
How can I successfully raise Monarchs outside?
Hi Kim, it’s difficult to stop the growing list of predators, but you’ll find a few ideas here:
Monarch Predators and how to stop them
that’s what happened to me this summer too – 2.25″ long and disappeared!
I’m a beginner and am learning a lot from your newsletters. I’m sure I’m going to be asking you a lot of questions as I go. Thank you so much for your willingness to help us.
Thank you for your kind words Claudia. I look forward to your questions and hearing about your success!
We live in southern Ontario and planted a swamp milkweed last year which grew to about 2 feet. However the plant died during the winter although it was one of the mildest winters we have had. The roots of the plant want to come to the surface. Could this be the reason that the plant died?
Hi Bill, it’s too early to have declare swamp milkweed dead in southern Ontario. Ours is just starting to come back in Minnesota where we’ve had a warmer spring than your region…if you dug them up, I would replant. good luck!
One thing to note, is to make sure to find plants that haven’t been pre-treated with a pesticide. Believe it or not, many plants are being treated before they ship to big box stores in particular. Laws vary state to state, but many have laws that state a notice must be posted anywhere there is pesticide. I’m in CT, and this includes a notice on plants. you have to look around the plant, and in tiny print somewhere I’ll find that notice, especially on plants from Home Depot or Lowe’s. I seem to remember one of them have agreed to ‘phase out’ the selling of pesticide treated plants, but I’m not positive if and when this will take place. Just something to be aware of!
Hi Brie, it’s sad that some milkweed plants are still being treated with pesticides when growers are aware of the issues. I know one of the big box stores is phasing out, but I think the date for pesticide-free was not until 2019?! I have recommended milkweed seed/plant vendors on my milkweed resources page so hopefully most people can avoid this issue:
Suggested Milkweed Stores Thanks for your comment!
Live in Washington state, zone 8a, just received my packet of Northern milkweed seeds. Will be down south til early spring, could I start the seeds in flats there and transplant them here say in mid March? Will that be soon enough to get eggs laid on them? How fast do these seedlings grow? Thanks for the info on your site.
Hi Kay, I’m not sure what you mean by “northern” milkweed. Before you make any decisions on propagation, I suggest figuring out whhich species you have first. Here are 25 different milkweed species with links to further info on propagation techniques:
25+ Milkweed Species for North American Butterfly Gardens
I have lived in Wyoming for over 7 years now. I have yet to see a Monarch. After looking at the maps, it appears to me that planting a Monarch butterfly garden, I would have very little luck attracting Monarchs specifically. Am I looking at the maps right? I live in Cody, WY. Thanks for your help!
Hi Shiree, I was recently reading how monarch activity increased in colorado this season, so I would think it’s possible for you to attract them. You could also check journey north to see how many sightings have been reported in your area:
Journey North Monarchs
I lost most all my milkweed to severe rain this summer, except for the one and only plant that flowered. I now have tons of seeds and am planning a fall seeding. I am so excited. I’m following your comments regularly and am most interested in improving my success rate of egg to butterfly ratio. Wish me luck. Thanks so much for the information you provide.
Hi Lindoo, sorry to hear about your extreme rain, but that’s great you were able to still get some seeds from your remaining milkweed. Good luck with your fall planting and I hope your garden takes off next season…
Well, here we go found 3 cats, one small and 2 large. all 3 are now in chrysalis. figure they may start to enclose tue or wed. I started and didn’t have any cages so had to hurry up and make some. No flowers to speak of except wild flowers but I have watched the butterfly’s and they use them all so think I’ll be ok on release if they make it, so far they look good. What an experience and thank heavens for your site. It has been a lifesaver for 3 cats (so far anyway). Next spring I will be a lot better prepared. more milkweed and more flowers and several cages to keep them in. Going to try to get going on the egg collection also.
Thank you again for all the information. Dale
We have a real problem with rabbits around here. Is there any way to keep them from eating our plants down to the ground without having to put up fences?
Hi Sue, rabbit fencing was a little bit of a pain to put up, but haven’t seen a rabbit in our yard since. Nothing else we tried has worked…
i have read conflicting things about tropical milkweed. It may be toxic to monarch caterpillars. Can you clarify?
Hi Judy, tropical milkweed is a potential problem for those in continuous growing regions like Florida and Southern California. Here’s more info:
Is Tropical Milkweed Killing Monarch Butterflies?
Hi Gail, congrats on all your new seedlings! As long as the seedlings look healthy, you can probably keep them as is until planting.
Hi Tony. I planted Tropical milkweed seeds about 10 days ago. Almost all my seeds germinated I was wondering if I should put them in a bigger pot or leave them alone till I can plant them outside. I live south of Chicago so it will be awhile yet before I can plant outside.
Hello from wintery missouri , we courtly have 4 inches of snow here and it’s still coming down. All I can think about is my garden and yard for this up coming S/S/F. I have never attempted to attract butterflies of any type but have always had a bunch even without milkweed. Thinking back I don’t remember seeing any monarch specifically. Hummingbirds and butterflies just go to the mix of flowers seeds I’ve collected from around the state. Some I have no idea what they are because I literally just stalk flowers I like and wait for them to go to seed. So… question is, are there any flowers that can be harmful to the monarch if I TRY to attract them this year and plant milkweed? Thank, Rachel
Hi Rachel, the only flowers you want to avoid are any that have been treated with systemic pesticides. Good luck creating your new butterfly garden!
PS. I hope you start seeing some signs of spring soon…
Pardon my ignorance, but if I plant annuals, will they produce seeds to generate new annuals next year?
Hi Paul, there are a lot of variables to that question including the particular plant and what region you’re growing them in. There are also some annuals that are sterile and won’t produce seeds.
Thanks so much for this site! You explain things so well. I live in Alabama zone 8A (thanks for the zone link), and I just ordered the swamp milkweed and poke milkweed seeds. They say to mix them with sand and put in fridge for 30 days before direct planting “in spring.” Should I put them in the fridge and then plant in February, or should I wait so they can go in the ground later? What month should they go in the ground?
hi Christine, I think February should be fine in your region for planting seeds. I don’t stratify with sand. I just keep the seeds in a container inside the refrigerator, and have had great results.
I’m trying an experiment this season. I always soak “non-native” milkweed seeds in warm water 24 hours before planting and the seeds germinate within a week. After cold stratifying in the refrigerator, I’m going to try the same thing with native seeds to see if it speeds up germination…I’ll be reporting on this in early April.
Good luck with your seeds!
Thank you so much! I’m glad to have found such a helpful site. I’ll let you know how it goes, with some pictures hopefully.
Hey Tony, I live in Phoenix AZ area which is zone 9B. I’m setting up 4 or 5 butterfly gardens around the edges of my yard, each about 6 to 8 feet long by about 3 feet wide. How many varieties can I plant and how many/close togther can I plant them? Can I just ‘throw out seeds’ and water with a sprinkler? Seriously though, my whole yard is on drip which means each plant or group of plants has its own water. I’m also planting several Passion Vines for nectar.
Any help/advice is appreciated!
Hi Joe, congratulations on starting your new gardens! Here in Minnesota, we are now growing 15 varieties, so the answer to your question is, you can grow as many as you can get to grow in your garden. I would suggest going over my milkweed resource page which has links to pages with more specific info about each variety and how to propagate them. There are also links to buy seeds/plants if you are interested. Hope this helps:
Milkweed Resources and Info
I have a chrysalis that should hatch on thanksgiving. I also have three cats that are at different stages. I will have to move them from their protection of the pot on the front porch to a plant with more leaves on it in the back yard. I’m in League City, Tx and it hasn’t froze here yet.
Hi Sue, enjoy your late season monarchs and Happy Thanksgiving!
Hi tony, my New Orleans milkweed has hosted many generations of cats and monarchs this summer, there are still some caterpillars on the plants, but it’s getting too cold for them this week. My question: a few blocks away in City Park there is a gorgeous milkweed garden, loaded with blossoms and pods…. But no evidence of caterpillars having eaten a single leaf! Small holes where they might have hatched, but for some reason they are not eating it. Looks to be the same variety that ‘my’ caterpillars devour. I did see one tiny cat on a stalk yesterday (Nov.15). Could it be the soil, or that they are using pesticides? Should I not harvest the seeds that I see on those many plants?
Hi Tracy, unfortunately there is no way to tell. There’s a long list of monarch predators from wasps, to birds, to spiders or it could be pesticides too. I don’t think you would have any issues with new plants if you planted seeds…pesticide issues arise when the actual plants are treated before serving them up. If you are worried, there are many good seed sources on my milkweed resources page. You might want to raise your monarchs inside if it’s getting too cold…good luck!
Milkweed Seeds and Plants
Say what butterfly flowers will bloom late into the fall besides Zinnias?
Also what butterfly plants will take partial shade?
You may have covered this already and could just hook me up the best link.
I hadn’t thought of them as butterfly flowers, but marigolds in my garden are still blooming and have been attracting at least one monarch this week (late October in Minneapolis). The tropical milkweed also keeps blooming into the fall. Lantana, too.
Hi Mary, marigolds typically aren’t popular with monarchs, BUT they’re prolific all season bloomers and a welcome site to the last minute migrators coming through. We don’t typically plant them, but I will continue planting a few each season for late monarchs just in case:
Monarch on Marigolds October 2014
I hope the email started earlier didn’t go through, it disappeared into cyberspace as I was typing. I love getting your helpful tips & advice as a new monarch gardener. Hoping they will come to my area in western NC if I provide the recommended host & nectar plants. I’ve raised about 35 butterflies this season, 14 are still with me going into chrysalis stage. A few from the last group couldn’t part from my butterfly bush & stuck around for several days. I’m in the process of fall plantings trying to figure out good locations for best results & your emails are always relevant to where I’m at & trying to go so thanks for being here.
Hi Sharen, I’m so happy to hear you’ve joined our community and also that you’re taking advantage of fall planting. Sometimes, if I’m not sure where something will grow best, I’ll try planting it in more than one spot and monitor the differences. You will be so happy you fall planted when next spring comes around…good luck with your garden and your final monarch butterflies!
I’m having a hard time trying to germanate my tropical milkweed, and couldn’t purchase any plant s but I was able to get common milkweed plant and swamp milkweed seeds so hopefully I will have something for them to feast on this summer. I only see the black swallow tale and the eastern tiger swallow tale in my garden , never a monarch . Hopefully that will change next summer.
Hi Helen, there are some tips for start tropical milkweed seeds. If you’re planting them directly outdoors, I would also soak them first:
Starting Tropical Milkweed Seeds
From year to year, butterfly activity in your area will change. We typically don’t see many swallowtails, but had a banner year for them this summer. Once you have more milkweed established, you should start seeing more monarchs…good luck!
I am planning to hand-rear Monarchs next year and I’ve been reading everything I can find on the internet to learn how to do this. Your site is the most informative one I’ve visited so far so I’ll post my question here. I’ve obtained seeds for 2 varieties of milkweed, Asclepias speciosa and Asclepias incarnata ‘Ice Ballet’ which I plan to stratify by placing in a ziplock bag with moist potting soil and storing in the fridge for 2 months. In January, I’ll plant the seeds in flats and place under grow lights. I’d like to have some plants up and growing when the Monarchs begin their journey north in the spring. I’m in Missouri, zone 6b and I believe they usually pass through this area in April. I’m sure my plants won’t be in bloom that early but will the Monarchs still find my milkweed and possibly lay a few eggs? If the milkweed needs to be in bloom to attract them, is there another variety I could start indoors over winter that would flower earlier?
Tropical milkweed maybe?
Hi Lynne, we get the bulk of our early-season eggs on common milkweed. I don’t grow it in our main garden, but on the south side of the house where it gets more protection from inclement weather. Even in the past two seasons, where spring has started SLOW, the common milkweed has still been large enough to support early monarchs. I would recommend finding a spot for a patch if possible:
common milkweed info
The milkweed doesn’t need to be in bloom to attract monarchs…in fact the monarchs prefer to deposit eggs on plant that aren’t blooming because there are less predators buzzing around. They also like laying eggs on tiny seedlings.
Tropical milkweed does bloom it’s first season, if you start it in doors 1-2 months before your final first frost. It would possibly be a perennial in your region if you leaf mulch in fall.
If you are interested in learning the process I use to raise monarchs with a 95% survival rate, check out my raising guide. Hope this helps!
Monarch Raising Guide
I have so enjoyed following this great site. I live in surrey british columbia close to the us border. I was at a monarch release charity event in may and became interested in them. Unfortuately where they were released at a large berry farm there was no milkweed. I spoke to the owners and suggested that releasing 250 monarchs was futile with no milkweed around. I have sent them articles from your site and hopefully they will get the message… Plant milkweed. This is an annual fund raiser so hope they follow up.
I have never seen a monarch in our area and although i have a garden that has many nectar plants, zinnias, butterfly bush, dahlias etc i have no milkweed. Tony are monarchs common to the lower mainland of bc, just outside vancouver. Would it be futile for me to plant milkweed,….. plant and they will come! Again love this site and I pass it along often on facebook. Best susan
Hi Susan, monarchs are rare for your region but I agree with you! Before you can hope for more monarchs, there have to be areas where milkweed is established. Your climate is more temperate than the rest of Canada, so it wouldn’t surprise me if monarchs expanded their habitat north. In Minnesota we now see giant swallowtails on a yearly basis…they’ve even ventured north of the border.
If I were you, I would try planting some. Weather patterns will be a determining factor of your success, but as weather becomes more extreme, you never know what’s possible. Don’t forget milkweed flowers also attract other butterflies, hummingbirds, and bees so your milkweed will not go to waste.
Thank you for your kind words and for sharing this site with others to help support the monarch population!
Have you found the noninvasive Buddelia to be as attractive to the butterflies? I don’t want to plant Buddelia davidii, So I put in one of the Flutterby varieties late in the summer. It’s very pretty but short and it didn’t seem to be attracting much. Maybe it was the season, though. Butterfly numbers were already starting to go down around here.
Liz, I had a couple of flutterby bushes too…didn’t see ONE butterfly on them. Usually, I wait a couple seasons before removing plants but these are getting yanked this fall or next spring.
The Buddleja buzz variety attracts lots of butterflies…monarchs and swallowtails love it. I have the magenta variety, and will be purchasing more next spring. This is not a ‘sterile’ variety but is said to be non-invasive.
There’s a link to it on my butterfly plants page: http://www.monarchbutterflygarden.net/butterfly-plants/
Hi Sandy, most regions across the east are reporting low monarch butterfly numbers but I’m starting to hear about more sightings. We’re getting lots of eggs in eastern Minnesota. I hope you start seeing some soon…
I have not seen any Monarchs and I usually tag at least 25-I have found no eggs or cats-I live near Appleton Wisconsin-I know this has been a problem in other areas.
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