Do you want to make your garden a waystation for Monarch butterflies migrating South for the winter? Planting these fall-bloomers will turn your garden into just that!
10. Sedum 'Autumn Joy' (Lobelia cardinalis)
Sedums are easy-keepers and produce beautiful star-shaped flowers from mid-summer to well into Fall! The pollinators love them and they add a beautiful splash of color in your garden or yard. One of the most popular varieties, Autumn Joy, says it all! They actually prefer poor, gravelly soil and full sun so they can be a great choice to line your driveway, sidewalk, or place on the South side of your house.
9. Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum)
The butterflies and other pollinators absolutely LOVE this care-free perennial. It doesn't attract pests, deer avoid it, and it makes a lovely tea. It's an attractive candidate for the back of the border, herb garden, meadow or mixed native planting.
7. Dense Blazing Star (Liatris spicata)
Commonly called Blazing Star or Gay Feather, Liatris is a native perennial that makes a wonderful pitstop for migrating Monarchs and just look at those beautiful, purple blooms!
6. Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis)
Cardinal flower is a great perennial for a butterfly garden with moist soil. Watch hummingbirds flock to this native plant’s sugary blooms. It blooms from May to October in most areas and provides a showy display! It can get up to 6 ft tall so it may not fit every garden or yard.
Zinnias are one of our favorite nectar flowers for many reasons! They have a beautiful, colorful bloom that will give your yard color until October! The butterflies and bees love to pollinate them. Even though they are perennials in most regions, it is easy to collect their seed heads and re-sow next year. They are easy to grow and care for and they make great cutting flowers as well (but leave some for the pollinators)!
4. Black-Eyed Susans (Rudbeckia)
Black-eyed Susans create a beautiful fall display and they wear two hats! They are not ONLY a nectar source but also a host source for butterflies! That's a double-win in our book.
Black-eyed Susan is a larval host for Silvery Checkerspot (Chlosyne nycteis) and Bordered Patch (Chlosyne lacinia) butterfly caterpillars and adult butterflies.
3. Marigolds (Tagetes spp.)
Marigolds are not only a wonderful fall-blooming plant but they are deeply steeped in Mexican tradition and folklore around the Monarchs and the Day of the Dead!
Monarchs have long been associated with the Day of the Dead, providing the means for departed souls to return to their families. Legend has it that the souls of the departed travel in the wings of the monarchs, and those wings shed their orange color onto the marigolds.
In Aztec folklore, marigolds, called cempasúchil, lead the returning souls both with their color, so bright it lights their way, and their unmistakable, pungent scent.
The marigold is a common summer bedding flower that not only provides nectar for monarchs, but also repels undesirable insects from the garden.
3. Coneflowers (Echinacea spp.)
This perennial is a must in every garden! In my garden in Nebraska, it blooms well into September and even into early October. The bees and butterflies love it and it's a beautiful, stately flower. It has many medicinal uses and it's easy to transplant!
2. Goldenrod (Solidago spp.)
We can't complete our list without the majestic Goldenrod that seems to exemplify autumn. The pollinators absolutely love this perennial and it will bloom well into October in the Midwest! Erect Goldenrod (Solidago rigida) may get up to 5 ft but Showy Goldenrod (Solidago speciosa) can top out at 3 ft so there is a Goldenrod for every garden! To boot, Goldenrod supports more than 100 species of moths and butterflies in their larval stage and is considered a keystone pollinator plant.
Goldenrod compliments purple flowers, like the New England Aster. It even inspired this exerpt in Robin Wall Kimmerer's book, Braiding Sweetgrass.
“Where the soil is damp enough, they stand side by side with their perfect counterpart, New England Asters. Not the pale domesticates of the perennial border, the weak sauce of lavender or sky blue, but full-on royal purple that would make a violet shrink. The daisylike fringe of purple petals surrounds a disc as bright as the sun at high noon, a golden-orange pool, just a tantalizing shade darker than the surrounding goldenrod. Alone, each is a botanical superlative. Together, the visual effect is stunning. Purple and gold, the heraldic colors of the king and queen of the meadow, a regal procession in complementary colors. I just wanted to know why.
In composing a palette, putting them together makes each more vivid; just a touch of one will bring out the other. In an 1890 treatise on color perception, Goethe, who was both a scientist and a poet, wrote that “the colors diametrically opposed to each other . . . are those which reciprocally evoke each other in the eye.” Purple and yellow are a reciprocal pair.
Growing together, both receive more pollinator visits than they would if they were growing alone. It’s a testable hypothesis; it’s a question of science, a question of art, and a question of beauty.
Why are they beautiful together? It is a phenomenon simultaneously material and spiritual, for which we need all wavelengths, for which we need depth perception. When I stare too long at the world with science eyes, I see an afterimage of traditional knowledge. Might science and traditional knowledge be purple and yellow to one another, might they be goldenrod and asters? We see the world more fully when we use both.
The question of goldenrod and asters was of course just emblematic of what I really wanted to know. It was an architecture of relationships, of connections that I yearned to understand. I wanted to see the shimmering threads that hold it all together. And I wanted to know why we love the world, why the most ordinary scrap of meadow can rock us back on our heels in awe.”
― Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass
1. Aromatic Aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium)
We chose Aromatic Aster as our number one pick because this dainty little flower is a native powerhouse!
Asters are a huge family of plants and there are many varieties, so you should be able to find ones to suit your yard.
Not only are Asters a great nectar source but they are also host plants to 112 species of Lepidoptera including pearl crescents, northern crescents, tawny crescents, field crescents, silvery checkerspots, brown-hooded owlets, camouflaged loopers, common pugs, and striped garden caterpillars. Additionally, they are another strong source of nectar and pollen for migrating butterflies and fall foraging insects.
Other great asters to consider are New England Aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae), Prairie Aster (Symphyotrichum turbinellum), Smooth Blue Aster (Symphyotrichum laeve), White Prairie Aster (Symphyotrichum falcatum), Big-leaved Aster (Eurybia macrophylla), and False Aster (Boltonia asteroides).
Aromatic Aster will bloom from September into late October. It is a popular plant for full to part sun in dry to average areas with a height of 2’ it would complement your landscape well.
MONARCHS BUTTERFLIES MIGRATE, MARIGOLDS BLOOM: MYTHS, LEGENDS, AND POLITICS OF THE DAY OF THE DEAD
Written by Ryan Castillo
Edited by Rebecca Chandler
Creating a butterfly garden is a rewarding and eco-friendly way to invite these delicate creatures into your outdoor space while supporting biodiversity and fostering a thriving ecosystem. With the right knowledge and thoughtful planning, you can transform your backyard into a haven crucial in conserving and protecting these vital insects. Whether you plan on renting an apartment in Valparaiso, IN, or purchasing a home in Prescott, AZ, read below to see essential tips to craft a butterfly oasis, complete with their favorite plants, shelter, water, and organic care.
1. Plant native host plants in your garden
Planting host plants in a butterfly garden is essential because they serve as the primary food source and breeding site for butterfly larvae, ensuring the continuation of their life cycle. By providing host plants, you create a nurturing environment that attracts and sustains various butterfly species, enhancing the beauty and biodiversity of your garden.
Grow Milkweed Plants shares, “Host plants are the type of plant that the butterfly can lay an egg on, and the caterpillar can eat to complete its life cycle. Most butterflies can use a variety of host plants in a plant family. For example, the Monarch Butterfly can host hundreds of plants in the Apocynaceae (dogbane family). The most familiar plants are in the genus Asclepias (milkweeds).”
“The most important thing in supporting backyard butterflies is providing them with the host and nectar plants they need to carry out their life cycle – butterfly, egg, caterpillar, chrysalis, butterfly. Host plants feed the caterpillars, and nectar plants feed the adult butterfly,” adds North Shore Butterfly Gardens.
Plant different host plants based on the season
There is a diverse array of native host plants available by season, each catering to the specific needs and preferences of various butterfly species in their natural habitats.
“Although there are plants that are attractive to butterflies throughout the year, many butterflies are at their peak in mid to late summer, and some of the best native plants to have in your garden that bloom at this time are ironweed, joe pye weed, swamp milkweed, and meadow blazing star. Don’t forget to add some native grasses such as June grass, little bluestem, and Indian grass to your butterfly garden as multiple butterfly species use grasses as host plants, and they also provide good cover,” recommends Blazing Star Butterfly Garden.
Place native plants in areas with ample sunlight
“There are a variety of native plants that will do well in sunny and shaded areas,” shares Monarch Joint Venture. “However, areas that are open and have ample sunlight are typically preferred as you will likely have more options for high-quality nectar plant species to choose from, especially when catering to the monarch butterfly.”
Pay attention to the height and shapes of the flowers
“When creating a butterfly habitat in your yard, replace patches of grass with various types and heights of native plants and flowers. Pay attention to the shapes of the flowers, too. This will attract different species of pollinators. It’s a low-cost way to be an environmental champion and improve curb appeal,” notes The Bug Chicks.
“To make butterflies in your garden happy, plant native flowers that provide blooms in spring, summer, and fall. Different flower colors, shapes, and scents will attract various butterflies. Also, be sure to include plants that provide nectar for adults and food sources for babies,” adds Wildhearts Academy.
Remember that butterflies are picky about their foo
Butterflies are known to be remarkably picky about their food choices, as they rely on specific host plants that cater to their unique nutritional requirements and chemical cues for oviposition. Their selectiveness ensures their survival and successful development, making it essential to provide the appropriate host plants in butterfly gardens.
“Creating a butterfly garden in your backyard should start with researching the common butterfly species in your area. Butterflies are picky about food plants for their eggs, so be sure to match the correct plants to what the butterflies you want to attract,” remarks Kevin Clarke of Bug Under Glass.
Consider butternut squash
Save Our Monarchs shares, “A friend who raises monarchs was absolutely adamant that, besides Milkweed Leaves, that Monarch Caterpillars can eat butternut squash when they are in their 5th instar. So, in an emergency where your run out of milkweed, you can feed them butternut squash.”
2. Create a shelter for butterflies
When creating a backyard butterfly garden, it is important to include shelters for butterflies. Butterflies seek shelter during adverse weather conditions, such as strong winds or rain, and require safe spaces to roost overnight. One effective way to provide shelter is by incorporating dense vegetation or shrubs where butterflies can take refuge. Additionally, planting tall grasses or leaving patches of unmown areas in the garden can create a protective cover for them. These shelters will help safeguard butterflies and encourage them to stay in the area.
3. Provide a water source
Butterflies require water not only for drinking but also for important activities like puddling. Puddling is a behavior where butterflies congregate around damp or muddy areas to extract essential minerals and nutrients from the soil. To cater to their needs, you can incorporate water features such as shallow dishes filled with water, wet sand, or mud. Adding a few stones or pebbles to the water dishes can also provide perches for butterflies while they drink.
4. Use organic fertilizer
Unlike chemical fertilizers, which may contain harmful toxins, organic fertilizers are derived from natural sources and may not pose a risk to butterflies. Butterflies are highly sensitive to their environment, and chemical exposure can harm their survival and reproductive success. Organic fertilizers, such as compost, well-rotted manure, or organic plant-based products, enrich the soil with essential nutrients while promoting a healthy ecosystem for butterflies and their host plants.
“Never use pesticides on your plants in or near your butterfly garden. They will harm not only the pesky insects but also the beneficial ones,” shares Save Our Monarchs Foundation, a non-profit based out of Minneapolis, MN.
Do you have a butterfly garden that you would like to showcase?
"Common milkweed is Nature's mega food market for insects. Over 450 insects are known to feed on some portion of the plant."
Each Milkweed seed packet contains 25-30 Asclepias syriaca milkweed seeds with instructions for planting.
As the name implies, Common Milkweed is a widespread species known from most of the eastern United States and the eastern prairie states as well as southern Canada from New Brunswick to Saskatchewan.
According to the US Forest Service, "Common milkweed is Nature's mega food market for insects. Over 450 insects are known to feed on some portion of the plant." (Taylor)
If you live in one of the western states that Common Milkweed isn't found, we recommend looking up your state in this very handy site to find what milkweed you should plant!
Pollinator Seed Packet
This perennial mix includes several varieties of host and nectar sources.
In the first year, the annuals will bloom with a beautiful display of colors and nectar for our pollinators while the perennial plants will begin to establish their root systems.
In the second year, the perennials will begin to put on leaves and most will begin blooming.
By the third year, the perennials will be fully established and be in their full glory as the photo from my garden displays!
Common Milkweed (Qty. 100)
Butterfly Milkweed (Qty. 25)
Partridge Pea (Qty. 15)
Lance Leaved Coreopsis (Qty. 20)
Plains Coreopsis (Qty. 12)
Cosmos Sensation Mix (Qty. 10)
Purple Coneflower (Qty. 20)
California Poppy (Qty. 12)
Blanket Flower (Qty. 10)
Dwarf Sunspot Sunflower (Qty. 7)
Meadow Foam (Qty. 7)
Dwarf Lupine (Qty. 12)
Perennial Lupine (Qty. 5)
Arroyo Lupine (Qty. 5)
Bee Balm/Wild Bergamont (Qty. 5)
Lacy Phacella (Qty. 5)
Mexican Hat (Qty. 5)
Grow Milkweed Plants. Discover Native Milkweed by State.
Butterfly Milkweed Plant Profile, USDA- Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Garden Educator, Naturalist and Ethnobotanist