Why Gardening to Attract Everything means Less Monarch Butterflies

If you focus on attracting one butterfly species to your garden, your butterfly garden is more likely to be a high-flying success!

While it’s not hard to find info on butterfly gardening, it can be difficult to decode which plants are best for over 725 species that have been sighted across the  continental U.S. If you cross the border into Mexico, that number swells to 2k!

All these butterflies use different host plants, nectar flowers, and show up at different times of the season. Can you imagine the time and space you would need to appease all 725 of them?!

Are you creating a garden to attract any and all butterflies? Discover how focus can be the key to attracting more monarch butterflies...
Feed Me! No, Feed Me!…What About Me?

That’s one reason this blog focuses on monarch butterflies. I want to give you the best chance of achieving butterfly garden success through the power of focus!

I’ve received a few emails and facebook comments about the seemingly small scope of creating a monarch butterfly garden.

I’m here to share why creating one is much more all-encompassing and  ultimately satisfying than the mass butterfly alternative.

Why Monarchs?

1. This species covers a wide area including the United States, Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, Australia, New Zealand, Mediterranean countries, Indonesia, Hawaii, and other islands across the Pacific.

2. Monarch butterflies are one of the most populous butterflies across North America so it’s not an impossible dream to host them in your garden . (You can’t attract butterflies species that aren’t in your area!)

3. Monarchs frequent gardens much of spring, summer, fall, and even winter (for those in the southern US and Mexico). This is not true of many other species.

4. Your garden can help prepare them for a challenging fall migration thousands of miles away…they will need your garden to refuel along the way!

Why gardening to attract everything means less monarch butterflies in your garden
Monarch Butterflies © by Dave and Rose

5. Monarchs can also provide education and excitement to kids of all ages who take on the challenge of raising them.

6. While the monarch population is larger than most other butterfly species, their numbers are dwindling compared to the past two decades. Your butterfly garden will help to insure these miracles of nature will be around to amaze and inspire future generations, as they have you…

Do you like other butterflies too? Don’t despair! Your monarch garden will attract lots of bonus butterflies including fritillaries, swallowtails, painted ladies, red admirals,…even hummingbirds!

fritillary butterfly wing piece missing Monarch Butterflies
Fritillary Butterfly on Common Milkweed

Gardening to attract all, is gardening to attract none. Like many things in life, achieving focus will be the key to your success.

For more info on starting your own monarch butterfly garden click here

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  1. I have been gardening for monarchs for many years. My yard is a certified Monarch Butterfly Waystation. When I first started, I could raise around 30 monarchs each summer. Last year, not one! And, they seem to arrive later each year, this year not until late July (live in Michigan.). I have become more and more discouraged because I have been struggling with some milkweed pests as well as some powdery mildew and yellowing and falling leaves. I have “milkweed weevil”, yellow and red aphids at the end of the season, milkweed beetle etc. I grow native and other nectar plants to attract butterflies, such as butterfly bush (which they love). I am discouraged and at a loss as to what to do next to eliminate these problems.

    1. Hi Bee, don’t be discouraged! Last year was a tough one as we lost much of the eastern population to a March snowstorm in Mexico…I think we recovered slightly because of the extended warm fall, but hopefully the weather will be kinder to them this season.

      As for pests, they’re part of a healthy ecosystem and I find it’s easier to increase milkweed supply, and plant several species so that there’s likely to be some milkweed without pests. here’s more info about dealing with pests:

      Milkweed pests

      As for powdery mildew, try pretreating the soil (in early spring) with hydrogen peroxide. It kills many types of fungus and it’s also good for plant roots. here’s more info:

      Using hydrogen peroxide in the garden

  2. Tony, what’s that about “the power of focus”? Are you an Abraham-Hicks guy?. I am.

    1. Hi Hector, perhaps I’ve been working with a business mentor that follows Abraham Hicks. I’ve found it to be invaluable advice for living a more abundant life in many areas, butterfly gardening included…

  3. I am a teacher in Hampton, VA. My school has a small butterfly garden and a large habitat area (100×110 foot). We attract several varieties of butterflies including monarchs. What can my garden club do now to prepare for the spring? We have a grant we need to spend. Thank you so much for any advice!

  4. I’ve planted Dutchman’s pipe vine for several years and it draws many pipe-vine swallowtail butterflies. I cut it to the ground each winter and it grows each spring and covers my large pergola. These also feed on my milk weed flowers. Zone 8/9

  5. This article is incorrect. You can garden for more than one butterfly species and you should. Monarchs have only one Host plant, but many nectar plants. Many species use Milkweek to help with required enzymes for reproduction and energy, which means it is a popular nectar plant for other butterflies. Find out which species are in your area and add host and nectar plants for them to your garden. Monarchs fly by our area, others live here so gardening for several species of butterflies helps them all. Don’t garden for butterflies that don’t live in your area. You don’t have to plant for every species of butterfly, they don’t all live where you do. Read some good garden books on Butterfly Gardening and look at the Xerces Society website and have fun enjoying butterflies from early Spring to late Autumn..

    1. Hi Leta, the point of the article is to focus at the beginning to avoid overwhelm, and then expand as you start having success. good luck with your garden

  6. Just checked three kinds of seeds that have been in the freezer since 11-15-16….no germination. Bummer!

  7. Hi Tony I have had great success with monarch butterflies. Right now I have 15 in the chrysalis stage. Released 2 today. I have tons of milkweed seed so I’m planting every day. I do have host plants for swallowtails ,had good luck with them in the summer months. Lucky me I live in Florida. I usually post pictures on my Facebook page. Take care and thank you for all your helpful advice. Kathi

  8. 2016 was my first year of beginning a butterfly garden with only one sighting of a Monarch. I purchased a few swamp milkweed plants and Butterfly weed. I also grew Butterfly weed from seed in containers and even had blooms on some of the plants. I transplanted the plants into the ground in October. Keeping my fingers crossed they will come back in 2017. I planted (experimenting) with fall planting seeds in containers – Joe Pye, Stiff Goldenrod, Meadow Blazing Star and I am hoping these seeds will bloom in the spring. I am hoping 2017 will be better for butterfly’s in my yard. 🙂

    1. Shanon, I would strongly suggest you to try Asclepias curassavica as an annual, providing it’s started early enough that it gets to flower by August or so. In your area, which I assume is quite cold, you could also speed it up by keeping the plants in a greenhouse (or sort of) for a couple of months in early spring. You could even overwinter them that way treating it as a perennial in controlled environment.
      Of all asclepias, MB loves curassavica the most. This species is the only Asclepias plant that raised monarchs when they were babies (in an evolutionary sense) here in Mexico. And they’re still in love with each other. Isn’t it miraculous?

  9. We started our Monarch project 2 years ago in Northern NJ. We had many butterfly bushes before the project and we planted many milk weeds. For the first year we hatched 16 butterflies but only 3 last year although we added more variety of milkweeds and flowers (as mentioned in previous posting) attracting monarch. I appreciate if you could give us an advise what we did do not right?

    1. Hi Yuko, there was a big storm in the Monarchs’ overwintering grounds last March that killed many, and put a damper on what was supposed to be a very promising season. Keep doing what you’re doing, and hopefully Mother Nature will be kind to them this winter…

  10. Tony, I am not a blogger .Brian’s comments were uplifting to me. Thanks for sharing it.
    I live in Arvada CO. pop.115,000 + I started a Monarch garden last season with an emphasis on Asclepias genus + nectar producing perennials and Annuals. Altitude here
    is 5,500+ feet. Monarchs do not show up here until mid to late July. I am of the opinion
    that the females are in diapause? They would certainly be approaching that there in the

    I have a registered MLMP at the site which is located in a community Garden. The City is extremely supportive of the community garden. I am working on screening off an area tightly that has several Asclepia preplanted there. My goal is to exclude parasites and parasitoids. I wish to purchase larva from the midwest and inoculate some on the asclepias plants. can you recommend a reputable vendor of monarch Larva? There will be adequate sunlight and a screen door on each end of the 5’x20′ area.
    Jim (rel. new here from central Iowa )

    1. Hi James,

      I’m not sure when the first monarchs typically appear in your region but as you get established, don’t be surprised if they start showing up earlier. Monarchs that you see in July would not be in diapause as this is high season. In Minnesota, I see mating butterflies through the end of August.

      Your project sounds exciting. There are several vendors you can order from if that’s how you want to get started:

      Monarchs Egg/Caterpillar Vendors and Raising Resources good luck!

  11. I have been studying your list of milkweed species, with the comments, zones, etc. Fortunately it appears that Texas has plenty of natives (although we live near Houston, which is not typical climate for the state). We keep horses, and I understand that some, but not all, varieties of milkweed can be toxic to them. Is there any source that would tell which ones are safe?

    1. Hi Hugh,

      milkweed can be toxic if eaten in large amounts, but it’s my understanding that most animals won’t touch it unless there is nothing else to eat. We grow 15 varieties of milkweed in our yard and our dogs have never even nibbled a leaf. Here’s some more info:

      Milkweed Toxicity

  12. We live in south Florida and started planting milkweed in our front yard garden a little over a year ago. We’ve had so many monarchs year round as well as swallowtails, fritillaries, Julias, queens, viceroys, zebra and more. Now just in the past several months we have also had hummingbirds come to our yard – the first time ever in the 30 years we’ve been here. It’s so peaceful to to sit on the front porch every morning with a cup of coffee and enjoy this beautiful array nature.

  13. Hi Tony,

    I just wanted to say that this article is so true. We don’t have the blessing of size in our backyard. So when we started out, we planted just one of every plant (one milkweed, one butterfly bush, one container of purple coneflowers). We had a wonderful flower garden, but all we ever noticed was the occasional butterfly.

    In just a matter of three years, mother nature and a little bit of research on our part helped correct the error of our ways. Now instead of just one swamp milkweed plant, we have four with many little volunteers popping up every year that we use for food for the monarch caterpillars. We now have three or four groupings of purple coneflowers, we added some joe-pye-weed, some perennial ageratum or blue mistflowers, and then gave away the plants that didn’t quite work for us to make room for a Mexican sunflower, some verbena bonariensis, some liatris ligulistylis, and a few other annuals.

    That did the trick. In August, there was an article on the front page of the Detroit Free Press that asked, where are all the monarchs? I had to laugh because they must have all been in my backyard. I can honestly say that everyday that I was outside in the summer, there was at least one monarch in the yard.

    Not only were there monarchs, but black swallowtails, american ladies, and red admirals were not far behind. We planted a fennel plant on the side of the house next to a butterfly bush, and within three weeks there were eggs on it. Then just for fun, we planted some pearly everlasting and it didn’t take long for the American ladies to find that either.

    Just a side note for anyone that wants to raise American ladies. We found that once they find a suitable plant, mama butterfly has no problem dropping off 10 or 20 of her children (eggs) on the same plant which means you need to be prepared with more food because the caterpillars will devour the plant to the ground. Not to fear because pearly everlasting is one tough plant that comes back just fine within a month or so. Black swallowtails also drop off quite a few kids on fennel, but fennel grows quickly and can usually support lots of caterpillars (unless you have just planted the plant).

    Next year we are going to plant some false nettle in containers for the red admirals to see if we can raise them as well. It may sound like we live on 1/2 an acre or more, but we do not. We have the smallest backyard in a cookie cutter three bedroom brick ranch subdivision, so if we can attract and raise butterflies, anyone can.

    The reason I wrote this is because I can’t tell you how close we were from giving up and ripping out all the plants that we had planted to try to attract butterflies. Yes it’s true that we only have 25 or 30 different types of plants in our backyard now instead of 50, but I can’t tell you how much fun we had raising butterflies and knowing that every time we stepped out into our backyard, we were going to see a butterfly. Keep the faith and keep planting, they will come.

    1. Thanks for an inspiring post Brian! Your garden is starting to evolve into a true butterfly garden. So many people give up when they don’t get “instant” results but you are proof of what can happen when you keep trying to improve what’s not working.

      I look forward to hearing more about your garden next season…

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