Although many of us are spending more time at home due to the health crisis, there are still many ways you can support the monarchs without leaving your backyard. Now is the perfect time to start brainstorming your beautiful butterfly garden, planting milkweed and collecting data to help with citizen science projects!
1. Plant Pollinator Habitat Wherever You Can
2. Teach Children About Monarch Conservation
3. Rear Monarchs from Home
4. Start Your Milkweed Indoors
5. Participate in a Citizen Science Projects
Becoming a citizen scientist is fun and allows you to virtually connect with other nature enthusiasts, naturalists and conservationists. Citizen scientists from around the country log data and observations which is vital to understanding the monarch migration, biological cycles and why they are disappearing.
6. Support Organizations Working to Sustain Monarchs
Make a donation to your favorite monarch or pollinator conservation program. Many programs are donation-based and are fighting to save our monarchs.
7. Conduct Your Own Research
The monarchs have begun to leave their overwintering grounds in Mexico and are heading North! Starting milkweed seeds indoors is a great way to ensure you will have milkweed plants ready for them when they arrive.
The Monarchs are already starting to migrate North, will you be ready for them? Unsure when the Monarchs will be coming through your area or state? Check Journey North's Migrations Map to find out!
I started cold stratifying my Butterfly Milkweed seeds at the beginning of March. 30 days have passed and they are ready to be planted!
It is worth noting that cold stratifying your seeds increases germination rates but is not absolutely necessary. The most important thing is that you get them planted. Most milkweed is a perennial in the lower 48 states so even if you are getting off to a late start, have no fear, they will come back next year and feed the next generations!
Step 1: Gather your materials
You will need:
A clean seed tray (a baking pan works well too)
Sterilized seed starting mix
It is best to use a designated seed starting mix because it is lighter and less dense than regular potting soil, which allows the roots to establish more easily. Milkweed is slender and doesn't need much room to grow so go ahead and plant many seeds!
Step 2: Add soil
I like to pour a heaping amount of soil mix onto the center of my seed insert and then spread it evenly with the edge of my seed packet or anything with a straight edge. I then gently tap the bottom of the seed tray on a flat surface to let the soil mix settle just a bit.
Step 3: Make holes
I like to use the eraser-end of a pencil to get ¼ in holes in my soil. It’s a convenient and consistent way to get uniform sized holes. I have also sprinkled the seeds on top of the soil and then sprinkled a layer of soil over them with success.
Step 4: Plant your seeds
Place 1-3 Milkweed seeds in each hole. Placing multiple seeds in each hole will increase your chances of getting a seedling in each cell. Then, gently push the soil mix back over your seeds.
Step 5: Water
Watering from the bottom up is the recommended method because it won’t disturb the seedlings and will also prevent over-watering. Simply pour about ½ inch of water into the tray then place the seed inserts on top. I like to use a water mister to also spray the top layer of my seed tray and then cover with a plastic lid or plastic wrap to keep the seeds moist. Remove the lid after a few days so that the seeds get air-flow and mold does not develop.
For 3-5 days, your seeds won't need light but a seed heating mat will help them to germinate. Once they sprout, immediately put them in a sunny window or under a grow light. If you wait too long they may get "leggy" from lack of sunlight or become moldy.
If they start to look leggy, you know that they need more light. You can plant your Milkweed outside after the danger of frost has passed. Check here to find out when the last frost date is for your region.
Plant the Milkweed and the Monarchs will come!
Looking for ways to pass the time until Spring is here? This list of must-reads will help you to better understand Monarch behavior and habitat!
Milkweed, Monarchs and More, was created to be a field guide and provide basic background information for volunteers in the citizen science Monarch Larva Monitoring Project, as well as monarch enthusiasts and classrooms involved in monarch studies. It covers the diverse natural community thrives in the milkweed growing along our highways and woodland edges; in our open fields, fragmented prairies and vacant lots; and in our lovingly tended gardens. The Enlarged and Updated Edition is in response to requests for a larger format-more classroom friendly for student reports and easier on older eyes.
9. Flight Behavior
Okay, so this is not a book entirely about Monarch butterflies and it is certainly not a how-to book. However, much of the plot-line centers around the mysterious appearance of Monarch butterflies in rural town in Tennessee. Flight Behavior follows a young wife and mother on a failing farm who experiences something she cannot explain, and how her discovery energizes various competing factions—religious leaders, climate scientists, environmentalists, politicians—trapping her in the center of the conflict and ultimately opening up her world.
8. Kaufman Field Guide to Butterflies of North America
Jim P. Brock and Kenn Kaufman
Every gardener should have a great butterfly field guide in their library! There are several great butterfly field guides out there including :National Audubon Field Guide to Insects & Spiders, Golden Guide to Butterflies & Moths and Peterson First Guide to Butterflies & Moths. Any of these will work but I recommend Kaufman Field Guide to Butterflies of North America because it is well-written, easy to use and has a great range of illustrations. It also includes a shadowed silhouette of each butterfly to show the size. The guide breaks down how to identify butterflies correctly by size, shape, posture, flight style, and behavior.
7. How to Raise Monarch Butterflies: A Step-by-Step Guide for Kids (How It Works)
This is a great how-to on raising Monarch butterflies for adults and children alike! How to Raise Monarch Butterflies explains what threats Monarchs face today and how readers can help conserve the Monarch's feeding grounds from encroachment. It also includes vivid photos, secrets to finding monarch eggs and information on propagating milkweed.
6. Attracting Native Pollinators: The Xerces Society Guide, Protecting North America's Bees and Butterflies
The Xerxes Society
In Attracting Native Pollinators, you’ll find ideas for building nesting structures and creating a welcoming habitat for an array of diverse pollinators that includes not only bees, but butterflies, moths, and more. Take action and protect North America’s food supply for the future, while at the same time enjoying a happily bustling landscape.
5. The Monarch: Saving Our Most-Loved Butterfly
The Monarch showcases this Monarch butterfly with eye-popping photos, fun facts about a monarch’s life cycle, and things to know about the vital role that pollinators play in our ecosystem. Monarch enthusiast and nature blogger Kylee Baumle provides “action” projects for all ages, from planting milkweed and wildflowers to making butterfly watering stations and to volunteer activism.
4. Monarchs and Milkweed: A Migrating Butterfly, a Poisonous Plant, and Their Remarkable Story of Coevolution
This is a must-read for Monarch enthusiasts! In Monarchs and Milkweed, Anurag Agrawal presents a vivid investigation into how the monarch butterfly has evolved closely alongside the milkweed and how this inextricable and intimate relationship has been like an arms race over the millennia, a battle of exploitation and defense between two fascinating species. It is scientifically rich without sacrificing it's readability. Author, Anurag Agrawal, is a professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and the Department of Entomology at Cornell University.
3. Nature's Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation that Starts in Your Yard
Douglas W. Tallamy
Douglas W. Tallamy’s first book, Bringing Nature Home, awakened thousands of readers to an urgent situation: wildlife populations are in decline because the native plants they depend on are fast disappearing. In this new book, Tallamy takes the next step and outlines his vision for a grassroots approach to conservation. Nature’s Best Hope shows how homeowners everywhere can turn their yards into conservation corridors that provide wildlife habitats. Even more important, it’s practical, effective, and easy—you will walk away with specific suggestions you can incorporate into your own yard.
2. A New Garden Ethic: Cultivating Defiant Compassion for an Uncertain Future
This is a small, yet mighty, book that is a call-to-action for gardeners to start looking at our gardens with a new perspective. In A New Garden Ethic, Vogt prompts us to ask why urban gardens are so important right now and what we can do to help species on the verge of extinction.
"Our landscapes push aside wildlife and in turn diminish our genetically-programmed love for wildness. How can we get ourselves back into balance through gardens, to speak life's language and learn from other species?"
Get a first edition, signed copy here!
1. Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants
Douglas W. Tallamy
Bringing Nature Home is a absolute must-read for the passionate gardener. Douglas W. Tallamy reveals the unbreakable link between native plant species and native wildlife—native insects cannot, or will not, eat alien plants. When native plants disappear, the insects disappear, impoverishing the food source for birds and other animals.
But there is an important and simple step we can all take to help reverse this alarming trend: everyone with access to a patch of earth can make a significant contribution toward sustaining biodiversity by simply choosing native plants. By acting on Douglas Tallamy's practical and achievable recommendations, we can all make a difference.
Milkweed, or Asclepias, is the sole food plant for monarch caterpillars and due to its increasing scarcity, one of the biggest factors contributing to the decline of the monarch butterfly.
Milkweed is in one of the largest genera of plants with over 200 species. It may seem daunting on how to choose the right one but we are here to help!
Consider these 3 things when buying your milkweed.
1. Is the milkweed native to your region?
Grow Milkweed Plants recently released a great tool for finding out which species of milkweed is native to your country and state. Simply click on your region for a list native milkweeds. For more information on species of milkweeds visit the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.
2. Has it been treated with pesticides?
3. Could I harvest the seeds myself?
If you live in North America, you can't go wrong with these widespread species of Milkweed plants. Most are commercially available.
Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)
Native Range: AL, AR, CT, DC, DE, GA, IA, IL, IN, KS, KY, LA, MA, MD, ME, MI, MN, MO, MS, MT, NC, ND, NE, NH, NJ, NY, OH, OK, OR, PA, RI, SC, SD, TN, TX, VA, VT, WI, WV
Description: This tall perennial has large balls of pink or purplish flowers that have an attractive odor. The flowers bloom from June to August.
Growing Conditions: Shade intolerant, needs lots of sunlight, moist soil
Plant Size: Usually 3-5 feet (90-150 cm), sometimes reaching 8 feet (240 cm) in ditches and gardens
Buy from our store HERE!
Butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa)
Native Range: AL, AR, AZ, CA, CO, CT, DC, DE, FL, GA, IA, IL, IN, KS, KY, LA, MA, MD, ME, MI, MN, MO, MS, NC, NE, NH, NJ, NM, NY, OH, OK, PA, RI, SC, SD, TN, TX, UT, VA, VT, WI, WV
Description: Sometimes called Orange Milkweed, this perennial has large, flat-topped clusters of yellow-orange or bright-orange flowers and blooms May to September.
Growing Conditions: Needs sunlight, drought tolerant, dry or moist soil
Plant Size: 1-2 ft (30-60 cm)
Available in our Pollinator Garden Mix!
Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)
Native Range: AL, AR, CO, CT, DC, DE, FL, GA, IA, ID, IL, IN, KS, KY, LA, MA, MD, ME, MI, MN, MO, MT, NC, ND, NE, NH, NJ, NM, NV, NY, OH, OK, PA, RI, SC, SD, TN, TX, UT, VA, VT, WI, WV, WY
Description: Also known as Pink Milkweed, this perennial has large blossoms composed of small, rose-purple flowers. The deep pink flowers are clustered at the top of a tall, branching stem and bloom June to October.
Growing Conditions: Needs lots of water, shade tolerant, moist to wet soil
Plant Size: 2-5 ft (60-152 cm)
Antelope Milkweed (Asclepias asperula)
Native Range: AZ, CA, CO, ID, KS, NE, NM, NV, OK, TX, UT
Description: Also known as Spider Milkweed, this perennial is clump-forming with stems that are densely covered with minute hairs. As the green seed pods grow, they curve to resemble antelope horns. It has pale, greenish-yellow flowers, tinged maroon that bloom March to October.
Growing Conditions: Needs sunlight, dry or moist soil, medium water use
Plant Size: 1-2 ft (30-60 cm) tall
Showy Milkweed (Asclepias speciosa)
Native Range: AZ, CA, CO, IA, ID, IL, KS, MI, MN, MT, ND, NE, NM, NV, OK, OR, SD, TX, UT, WA, WI, WY
Description: This perennial has large, oval, blue-green leaves and spherical clusters of rose-colored flowers. The flowers occur at the top of the stem and on stalks from leaf axils and bloom May to September.
Growing Conditions: Shade intolerant, needs sunlight, medium water use, moist soil
Plant Size: Generally 1 ½ – 3 ft (46 – 91 cm) but can reach 6 ft (183 cm) under favorable conditions
White Milkweed (Asclepias variegata)
Native Range: AL, AR, CT, DC, DE, FL, GA, IL, IN, KY, LA, MD, MO, MS, NC, NJ, NY, OH, OK, PA, SC, TN, TX, VA, WV
Description: This perennial has small white flowers with purplish centers crowded into round, terminal clusters that resemble snowballs and blooms May to September.
Growing Conditions: Low water use, dry soil, moderately shade tolerant
Plant Size: 1-3 ft (30- 91 cm)
Whorled Milkweed (Asclepias verticillata)
Native Range: AL, AR, AZ, CT, DC, DE, FL, GA, IA, IL, IN, KS, KY, LA, MA, MD, MI, MN, MO, MS, MT, NC, ND, NE, NJ, NM, NY, OH, OK, PA, RI, SC, SD, TN, TX, VA, VT, WI, WV, WY
Description: This single-stemmed perennial has narrow, linear leaves whorled along the stem. Small, greenish-white flowers occur in flat-topped clusters on the upper part of the stem and bloom May to September.
Growing Conditions: Low water use, moderately shade tolerant, dry soil
Plant Size: 1-3 ft (30- 91 cm)
Green Milkweed (Asclepias viridis)
Native Range: AL, AR, FL, GA, IL, IN, KS, KY, LA, MO, MS, NE, OH, OK, SC, TN, TX, WV
Description: Also known as Green Antelopehorn Milkweed, this perennial has white flowers – mostly one per plant and lacks the “horns” seen on Antelopehorn Milkwed. These milkweeds bloom from May to August.
Growing Conditions: Needs sunlight, cold and heat tolerant, moist soil, low water use
Plant Size: Matures to 4 ft (122 cm) in height
Purple Milkweed (Asclepias purpurascens)
Native Range: AR, CT, DC, DE, GA, IA, IL, IN, KS, KY, LA, MA, MD, MI, MN, MO, MS, NC, NE, NH, NJ, NY, OH, OK, PA, RI, SD, TN, TX, VA, WI, WV
Description: The milky juice from this perennial is known to remove warts. The flowers are deep magenta red and bloom May to July.
Growing Conditions: Needs sunlight and dry soil
Plant Size: 2-4 ft (61 to 122 cm)
Although we are in the depths of winter, it is a great time to start planning your butterfly garden!
Reasons to start now:
- Seeds may take weeks to arrive if ordering online or from a catalog.
- Thinking about summer may just put you in a better mood.
- Native plants like Common Milkweed often need a cold stratification period of 30-60 days.
- Starting the seeds indoors will ensure they are ready when spring arrives.
Here are a list of common butterflies as well as their host plants, preferred nectar sources and native range.
Remember, pollinators have evolved with their host plants and they will only lay their eggs on these specific plants. They also need nectar-sources once they reach adulthood so having a combination of both will guarantee a successful butterfly garden!
Lastly, please source your seeds from certified organic companies and avoid the use of pesticides which are harmful to butterflies and other pollinators.
Purchase our Garden Pollinator Mix which includes 17 wildflowers here!
(Eastern) Black Swallowtail
Host Plants: Dill, parsley, fennel, carrot
Preferred nectar sources: Golden alexanders (Zizia aptera and Z. aurea), Common Milkweed. Joe-Pye Weed, Late-flowering Boneset, Oregano, Privet, Purple Coneflower, Wild Bergamot, Zinnia
Native range: Most of the eastern U.S., north into Quebec, west into S. Saskatchewan, Colorado and SE. California; south to South America.
Host plants: Plantains, gerardias, toadflax, snapdragons, false loosestrifes
Preferred nectar sources: Mist Flower, White Clover, Sunflower
Native range: Resident in the southern United States and north along the coasts to central California and North Carolina; south to Bermuda, Cuba, Isle of Pines, and southern Mexico. Adults from the south's first brood migrate north in late spring and summer to temporarily colonize most of the United States and parts of southern Canada.
Host plants: Milkweed species
Preferred nectar sources: Blue Cardinal Flower, Swamp Milkweed, Butterfly Milkweed, Common Milkweed,Heath Aster, Heliotrope, Joe-Pye Weed, Lantana, Late-flowering Boneset, Marigold, Mist Flower, Mustard Greens, New England Aster, New York Ironweed, Showy Coneflower, Smooth Aster, Wingstem, Zinnia
Range: Southern Canada south through all of the United States, Central America, and most of South America. Also present in Australia, Hawaii, and other Pacific Islands.
Conservation status: Overwintering sites in California and Mexico should be protected and conserved.
Host Plants: Willow, aspen, cottonwood, elm
Preferred nectar sources: Oak tree sap
Native range: All of North America south of the tundra to central Mexico; rarely in the Gulf States and peninsular Florida. Also native to temperate Eurasia.
Note: Adults live 10-11 months and may be our longest lived butterfly!
Host plants: Thistle, hollyhock, sunflower
Preferred nectar sources: Native thistles; also aster, cosmos, blazing star, ironweed, and joe-pye weed, red clover, buttonbush, privet, and milkweeds.
Native range: On all continents except Australia and Antarctica. From the deserts of northern Mexico, the Painted Lady migrates and temporarily colonizes the United States and Canada south of the Arctic. Occasionally, population explosions in Mexico will cause massive northward migrations.
Note: The Painted Lady makes a 9,000 mile roundtrip migration (almost twice as far as the Monarch)
Red Spotted Purple
Host plants: Wild cherry, oak, poplar, hawthorn, willow
Preferred nectar sources: Spiraea, privet, and viburnum
Native range: Alaska and subarctic Canada southeast of the Rocky Mountains to central Texas; east to New England and central Florida. Isolated populations in Arizona, New Mexico, and west Texas south into Mexico.
Note: The Red-spotted Purple is a mimic of the poisonous Pipevine Swallowtail (Battus philenor).
Host plants: Violets
Preferred nectar sources: Milkweeds, thistles, red clover, and mountain mint.
Native range: Tall-grass prairie remnants in Montana and North Dakota south to Colorado, Nebraska, and Oklahoma; rare or absent from former range east of the Appalachians.
Conservation status: Rapidly vanishing or declining in much of its range. A species of concern for the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. All populations should be conserved.
Host plants: Smooth-leaved true asters including Aster pilosus, A. texanus, and A. laevis.
Preferred nectar sources: Black-Eyed Susan, Common Dandelion, Daisy Fleabane, Garlic Chives, Heath Aster, Late-flowering Boneset, Marigold, Mist Flower, New England Aster, Sedum (Autumn Joy), Showy Coneflower, Small White Aster, Stiff Goldenrod, Coreopsis
Native range: Northwest Territories south along the eastern edges of the Cascade and Sierra Nevada mountains to central Mexico, east through all the eastern United States.
Host plants: Willow, cottonwood, chokecherry
Preferred nectar sources: Blue Cardinal Flower, Bloodflower, Garlic Chives, Butterfly Milkweed, Common Milkweed, Daisy Fleabane, Dames Rocket, Dogbane
Native area: Eastern North America from Ontario south to Gulf coast, west to Colorado plains and central Texas.
Host plants: Willow, poplar, apple, cottonwood
Preferred nectar sources: Aster, goldenrod, joe-pye weed, shepherd's needle, and Canada thistle.
Native range: Northwest Territories south along the eastern edges of the Cascade and Sierra Nevada mountains to central Mexico, east through all the eastern United States.
Conservation status: The Obsolete Viceroy has lost much of its habitat due to development and the exotic aggressive salt cedar. Restore riparian habitats in the Southwest (Moths and Butterflies of North America)
Host plants: Nettle family including: stinging nettle (Urtica dioica), tall wild nettle (U. gracilis), wood nettle (Laportea canadensis), false nettle (Boehmeria cylindrica), pellitory (Parietoria pennsylvanica), mamaki (Pipturus albidus), and possibly hops (Humulus).
Nectar sources: Dogbane, Lantana, Marigold, Mist Flower, Privet
Native range: Guatemala north through Mexico and the United States to northern Canada; Hawaii, some Caribbean Islands, New Zealand, Europe, Northern Africa, Asia.
Organic Seed Companies
Butterfly nectar plants. 'https://www.thebutterflysite.com/butterfly-food.shtml'
Butterfly host plants. 'https://www.thebutterflysite.com/create-butterfly-garden.shtml'
Monarch butterflies are an iconic species known for their incredible mass migration across North America each winter — a journey of up to 3,000 miles. However, numbers of monarch butterflies have unfortunately fallen precipitously over the past two decades. Using cutting-edge technology to monitor monarch butterflies may be able to help us learn more about this wonderful species and, ultimately, help us better protect them.
Technology is continually evolving to help us understand monarch butterflies better. Drones, electronic tags, and apps all play an essential role in helping us discover more about and, ultimately, conserve the species.
The Save Our Monarchs Foundation is devoted to saving the monarch butterfly from extinction by promoting the planting of milkweed and native flowers across the US.
In five years, Save Our Monarchs has distributed over 100 MILLION milkweed seeds, which may have contributed to the recent increase in the monarch population.
Also, Save Our Monarchs has sponsored over 6,200 Monarch School Wildflower Gardens across the US and Canada, offering all the necessary seeds to create a 10’ x 10’ Wildflower garden in each schools at no-cost to the schools. In 2020, our goal is to create 20,000 Wildflower garden schools.
Even the smallest donation will help the cause. If you would like to donate to our School Pollinator Program you can donate as little as $2.
The good news is that in 2018-2019 the migration from Mexico to the US was up 140% over the previous year, the first time since 1992 that there has been an increase.
We would like to offer our sincere gratitude to everyone across North America who has rallied to this cause, planting their own pollinator gardens and especially the thousands of participants in Save Our Monarchs who had a direct hand in the repopulating of the monarch
Much more info is available at the SaveOurMonarchs.org website, and also at Facebook.com/SaveOurMonarchs.
So, Happy New Year to you and yours!
And we thank you and the monarchs thank you.
The beauty and grace of butterflies has been recognized for millenia. Recent studies have found that butterflies have been around for up to 200 million years. As such, there’s little surprise that the winged creatures have an abundance of cultural significance attached to them in cultures across the world.
Native American Culture
Symbolism in Christianity
Día de Muertos
The Monarch butterfly is not only a creature of wonderment in modern times. It is an ancient creature that has been lauded by cultures across history. Protecting them is an absolute must to ensure that generations to come are able to enjoy their beauty as well.
"Are our yards becoming a source or a sink for butterflies?"
-Carolyn Summers, author of Designing Gardens with Flora of the American East
Monarchs migrate to warmer climates in the winter but have you ever wondered what other species of butterflies do?
According to a study by NASA, "turf grasses, occupying about 2% of the surface of the continental U.S., are the single largest irrigated crop in the country." This study concludes that lawns can act as a carbon sequestering system. However, the hidden cost of using Nitrogen fertilizers, water and lawn mowers offsets any positive environmental benefits of maintaining a lawn.
On the positive side, this insight provides gardeners and homeowners a huge opportunity to support wildlife in their own backyard!
List of Butterflies that Overwinter in Fall Leaves
Listed by life cycle stage in which they overwinter
As an egg
And many more!
You can have your lawn and insect habitat too!
In addition, you don't have to leave your entire yard messy in order to provide a lovely insect habitat. Leaving a pile of sticks or plant material here and there can make a world of difference! These piles can also act as mulch around your trees, shrubs, and perennial plants. The best part about it? Leaves act as free mulch and compost!
Reduce your perennial pruning by a few inches
Build a bug sanctuary that supports wildlife
For plenty of inspiration for bee and butterfly housing click here.
Check your firewood for chrysalides and cocoons before burning
Plant perennials that bloom in the spring and fall
Spread the word to your neighbors and fellow gardners!
The Xerces society has come up with a wonderful campaign called #LeavetheLeaves in which you can share with your friends on social media.
Sources and Additional Reading
Leaves the Leaves. https://xerces.org/blog/leave-the-leaves
Milesi, C., Elvidge, C. D., Dietz, J. B., Tuttle, B. T., Nemani, R. R., & Running, S. W. (2005). A strategy for mapping and modeling the ecological effects of US lawns. J. Turfgrass Manage, 1(1), 83-97.
Summers, Carolyn. Designing Gardens with Flora of the American. East Paperback. March 4, 2010.
90+ Free Bee and Insect Housing Images. https://pixabay.com/images/search/bee%20house/
Garden Educator, Naturalist and Ethnobotanist