Iconic is the most appropriate word to describe the Monarch butterfly. Most of us have fond childhood
memories of the unmistakable orange and black beauty flitting around the blue sky on sunny summer
days. They were everywhere — and their presence was so magnificent. Their name, in Greek, means
“sleepy transformation” in recognition of their ability to hibernate and metamorphize — and if you’ve ever
watched it happen through a glass jar, you understand why.
If you’ve been feeling like you don’t see as many Monarch butterflies as you remember seeing 5, 10, or
20 years ago, you’re not imagining things. Loss of habitat, along with pesticides and the eradication of the
Monarch butterfly’s host plant (Milkweed), has resulted in Monarch butterflies becoming endangered.
When we hear about an endangered species, it’s hard not to feel helpless and insignificant. But, unlike
with many endangered species, you — yes, you! — hold real power to make a positive difference in
protecting the Monarch butterfly and helping their populations thrive right in your own backyard. Here are
some easy ideas to get you started. Let's make a positive difference together!
How to attract and keep Monarchs in your butterfly garden
Helping Monarch butterflies to thrive in your garden requires some basic knowledge of their life cycle and
migration paths, so that you know how to support them through these two journeys they take in their
lifetime. You will also need some ideas for garden layouts and plants they love.
The Monarch butterfly life cycle
● The Monarch life cycle begins when the female Monarch butterfly lays her eggs individually on
separate milkweed leaves.
● A few days later, the eggs hatch into the larva stage, which gives us the Monarch caterpillar.
● The Monarch caterpillar needs to grow as much as possible in the next two weeks, so it feasts on
the only thing it eats — milkweed.
● Fully fed for the next phase of its life, the caterpillar enters the pupa stage by hanging upside
down from a plant stem and spinning a protective chrysalis around itself.
● A couple of weeks later, the caterpillar emerges from the cocoon as a fully-formed, adult Monarch
● If it isn’t time to migrate, adult butterflies immediately begin the Monarch life cycle again — that is,
after they find a meal of nectar from pollinator plants nearby.
This is where you come in. So, let’s get our hands dirty and learn how to create a butterfly-friendly
Grow milkweed for the Monarch butterflies and Monarch caterpillars to eat, and they will come. Plant
milkweed in full sun, in groups of at least six plants, or those hungry, hungry caterpillars will run out of
food. Water your plants sufficiently so they stay healthy. That is how they will produce sufficient nectar, for
all those amazing butterflies that will start to visit your garden. Also:
● Provide landing pads near water sources so the butterflies can drink safely (mud puddles are
ideal, since they allow the butterflies to get necessary minerals from the soil, too.)
● Create safe spaces for the butterflies to roost at night, like trees and shrubs
● Position large, flat rocks in the sun so that the butterflies can warm themselves in order to be able
to fly again
● Trim plants carefully — there might be a life cycle in progress under a leaf!
● Go the extra mile, and register your garden as a Monarch Waystation.
Types of milkweed to plant — and other plants Monarchs love
Here is just a handful of the many plants that will attract butterflies and other pollinators to your garden.
● The types of milkweed Monarch butterflies love best include swamp milkweed, showy milkweed,
tropical milkweed, and butterfly milkweed.
● Nectar plants they enjoy include joe pye weed, Mexican sunflower ‘torch’, butterfly bushes, and
● Pollinator plants they feed on include native wildflowers that will do well in the soil and sunlight
conditions in your garden.
● For the Western U.S., check out these planting resources for more ideas about what to plant.
Blueprint for a Butterfly Garden
When considering the physical space and layout of a butterfly garden, there are some essential ideas and
necessary steps one need to take to help the butterflies thrive successfully:
● Consider the physical space that you have at your disposal, and plan a design that works for your
● Designate space for wild disarray. Dead foliage on the ground and tall, wild grasses are a favorite
hibernating spot for some caterpillars and pupae.
● Plan for sunny areas and partially shaded areas so that the butterflies can be warm enough to fly
without overheating and becoming dehydrated.
● Research what kind of conditions and planting practices will promote optimal growth for
nectar/pollinator plants in your region.
● Create spaces for every phase of butterfly life: trees to roost in, plants to feed on, water to drink,
and densely planted areas where a caterpillar could hang a chrysalis largely undetected by
Mighty Tiny Migrators
One of nature’s most curious phenomena is the Monarch butterfly migration. Each fall, a very special
group of Monarchs is born with the ability and purpose to live for up to six months so they can complete
the migration south. Why is that so special? Well, the adult Monarch butterfly’s life span is typically only