Plants that Attract Monarch Butterflies

Monarch butterflies are superb pollinators, and if they are fed they enjoy, they will pollinate your entire garden.

Butterflies require two kinds of plants to survive: host plants and food plants. Plant a monarch butterfly garden because their populations have been progressively dropping in recent decades, mostly due to habitat loss and pesticide usage.

Complimentary information on planting gardens for other types of butterflies can be found here.

Pollinator Garden Elements

Exposed Dirt

Some bare soil in a garden provides nutrients and ground nesting places for worms, some species of bees, birds, and other pollinators.

Stems and Stalks

Insects can find cover and places to live in the dried stalks and hollow stems of plants from the previous year. These plants can also serve as habitat for pollinator larvae like leafcutter larvae.

Leaves and Grasses

Pollinators can attach eggs and hide from predators on the wide surfaces of leaves and grasses. They are also a source of food for hungry caterpillars.

Water Sources

Birds and bees require water in a pollinator garden to survive. It can include areas with shallow puddles and where dew and raindrops can accumulate.

Monarch Butterfly Host Plants

Butterflies lay their eggs on host plants. A butterfly host plant provides nourishment for the larval stage. Milkweed is the only plant where monarch butterflies deposit their eggs and monarch caterpillars get their nourishment. If milkweed were not there, the monarch caterpillar would not be able to grow into a butterfly.

Monarch butterflies consume a wide range of milkweeds. We feature three monarch butterfly hosts plants here.

Why are milkweeds the only monarch butterfly host plant?

Milkweed has chemicals that make monarch caterpillars poisonous to predators. Milkweeds contain a cardiac poison that affects the majority of vertebrates (animals with backbones), but not monarch caterpillars. These toxins are found in varying concentrations in various milkweed plants.

Butterfly Weed

Asclepias tuberosa is a host plant for monarch butterfly. It is be grown in full sun in well-drained, dry to medium soil. Drought tolerant, salt tolerant, and grows well in poor, dry soils, it is distinguished by its alternating leaves. Leave the pods on the plant and it will self-seed.

A single Asclepias tuberosa plant, or Butterfly weed, with orange flowers
Asclepias tuberosa
Credit: Homer D. House, New York State Botanist. Walter B. Starr of the Matthews-Northrup Company, Buffalo, and Harold H. Snyder of the Zeese-Wilkinson Company, New York, photographers., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Common Milkweed

Asclepias syriaca might be the more popular plant for monarch butterfly. It grows best on normal, well-drained soil in full sun, although it may also withstand poor or dry soil. Readily propagated by seed or root cuttings, it will naturalize in the garden, taking up a lot of space. It will bloom from early to late summer.

Common milkweed flower at its peak
Asclepias syriaca
Credit: Jean Carr

Swamp Milkweed

Asclepias incarnata is later blooming among plants for monarch butterflies. It prefers full sun and medium to moist soils, although it will grow in ordinary well-drained soil as well. This requires little care and is often pest and disease free. It normally flowers for a few weeks longer and later than common milkweed, from mid to late summer.

Swamp milkweed flowers with a monarch butterfly feeding on it
Swamp milkweed flowers with a monarch butterfly

Monarch Butterfly Nectar Plants – Summer Blooming

Monarch butterfly habitat requires milkweed and nectar plants. They can be found in any field, roadside area, open space, wetlands, or urban garden. Adult monarch butterflies dine on the nectar of numerous flowers, but they exclusively nest in milkweed habitats.

Here is a long list of plants for monarch butterflies. Choose your favourite plants from the list below to create a butterfly garden. They are all companion plants. Make sure to include some summer blooming nectar plants accompanied by fall blooming nectar plants.

Anise Hyssop

Hyssop foeniculum flowers at regular intervals, providing a long nectar season and making Anise Hyssop very enticing to butterflies. It also attracts a variety of pollinators, including bumblebees, mining bees, -cutting bees, sweat bees, masked bees, and hummingbirds. Goldfinches and other birds may consume the seeds.

Anise hyssop
Credit: Magnus Manske, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Bee Balm

Growing monarda bee balm and wild plants is simple provided the soil is kept properly moist. Bee balm is a full sun plant, but can withstand partial sun, but it will produce fewer blossoms. Plant monarda plants 18 to 24 inches apart in organically rich soil.

A small grove of Bee Balm Wild bergamot plants with purple flowers
Bee balm

Rudbeckia hirta thrives in full sun in average, dry to moist, well-drained soils. Drought tolerant but respond well to an occasional watering.

A clump of Rudbeckia Hirta Black Eyed Susans along a walkway
A small patch of Black eyed Susan

Blazingstar

Plant Liatris in full sun although it will tolerate some mild shade. Likewise, plant in well drained soil, it also tolerates low soils. They are fairly drought tolerant.

A patch of liatris spicata Blazingstar plant with their purple flowers in glorious full bloom
Blazingstar – Liatris Spicata
Credit: Krzysztof Ziarnek, Kenraiz, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Butterfly Bush

Buddleia Butterfly bush thrives in full sun and average, medium moisture, well-drained soil. It prefers full sun for 8 hours a day, if possible.

A butterfly bush with a few dozen flowers.

Catmint

Nepeta grows best in full sun, although the plants may also thrive in moderate shade. Soil with a high humus content and good drainage is desirable.

Catmint Nepeta Wilsonii
credit: Uleli, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Coreopsis

Plant coreopsis where they will receive at least 6 to 8 hours of direct sunshine every day. Coreopsis thrives well in well-drained, wet soil. These are not appropriate plants for a poorly drained, low-lying area of the yard.

A dozen colorful tick seed coreopsis
Coreopsis

Solidaga, like other wildflowers, are carefree, drought tolerant, and disease resistant.

Zig zag goldenrod plant with yellow blooms
Zig zag Goldenrod

Joe-Pye Weed

Eupatorium purpurea Joe Pye weed is a blooming perennial with pink to purple blossoms that may grow up to seven feet tall. It prefers full sun to partial shade, and to be wet in ordinary to rich soil.

Joe Pye Weed with a feeding butterfly
Joe Pye Weed with a feeding butterfly
Credit: TIFFANYLAUFER, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Purple Coneflower

Coneflowers, also known as Echinacea, are tough little native flowers that draw butterflies, bees, and birds to the garden! Trouble-free, coneflowers are drought-tolerant, once established. They can take the heat! 

A patch of red, white, purple and orange echinacea or coneflowers
Echinacea Coneflowers

Summer

Phlox grows best in a cold, sunny location that is well-watered and has nutrient-rich soil. They thrive in full sun, preferably receiving at least 6 hours of direct sunshine every day.

Pink phlox flowers

Yarrow

Achillea can tolerate moderate shade, but prefers full sun. Yarrow favours loamy rich, well-drained soil, although it may also be grown in clay soil as long as it is not consistently wet. It prefers hot, dry conditions.

Common Yarrow.
Credit: Allen Browne, CC BY 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Monarch Butterfly Nectar Plants – Fall Blooming

Your garden should include fall blooming nectar plants for monarch butterflies.

Baby Joe Pye Weed

Dwarf ‘Baby Joe’ Joe Pye Weed is an excellent choice for butterfly enthusiasts who lack garden space. This small cultivar grows to a reasonable 2-3′ height and spreads only a few feet. ‘Baby Joe’ has stunning purple flowers that give delightful fragrance to the late-season garden while providing critical nectar to butterflies, hummingbirds, and bees. Deer repellent.

Hydrangea

Hydrangea paniculata, Panicle Hydrangeas, grow in rich, medium moisture, well-drained soils and like full or partial sun. They don’t mind the soil type as long as it’s well-drained.

Hydrangea
Credit: Krzysztof Ziarnek, Kenraiz, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Ironweed

Vernonia, Ironweed, grows best in rich moist acidic soils, although it will also thrive in normal moist to wet soils in full sun. Plant in a rain garden, cottage garden, meadow, alongside streams or ponds, or towards the back of the border.

Ironweed plants with their abundant purple flowers
Ironweed and flowers ready for Monarchs!
Credit Marco de Boer, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Meadow Blazingstar

Liatris ligulistylis, often known as star or gayfeather, is a summer-blooming perennial. Liatris, a nectar source for butterflies, should be planted in full sun and well-drained soil. During the first growing season, water often. Once established, Liatris is drought resistant.

Purple Meadow Blazingstar with a monarch butterfly
Meadow Blazingstar with a monarch butterfly

New England Aster

Symphyotrichum novaeangliae is a magnet for butterflies. Easily grown in average, medium, well-drained soil in full sun. Prefers moist, rich soils. Pinching back stems several times before mid-July will help control plant height, promote bushiness and perhaps obviate the need for staking.

New England Aster with about fifty purple flowers in full bloom
New England Aster with about fifty purple flowers in full bloom

Sedum

Sedum spectabile grows on poor, sandy soils with good drainage. The majority of sedum plants thrive in full sun, which means at least six hours of direct sunshine on most days. Some types may withstand partial shade, but they won’t be as strong or blossom as abundantly as they would in full sun.

A sedum flower in its fall colours
Sedum

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