How to Build a Monarch Garden

How to build a Monarch garden

It's as easy as 1, 2, 3...

Here's a garden design that will attract Monarch butterflies and it only uses three perennial groupings. It's pretty, too!

Restricting your plant palette to just three plant varieties makes designing and planting much easier. You can plant a big or small area by adjusting the number of perennials in each grouping. Also, you can add more butterfly-friendly annuals such as zinnias, cosmos or nasturtium. Here's a plan that really works!


Bring on the butterflies...

It's sad to think that the Monarch butterfly population has declined by over 90% during the last 20 years. If every gardener could contribute one butterfly garden, I think we would see a way to bring them back in larger numbers. Any type of butterfly will bring life to your landscape but it’s especially interesting to see the entire Monarch butterfly lifecycle happen in front of your eyes.

Light: Lots of sun... Garden faces west with partial morning sun, afternoon sun 



Coneflowers (Echinacea): Choose from any of your favorite coneflower varieties. However, the  classic coneflowers are super hardy... such as the native Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) or coneflower cultivar Echinacea purpurea ‘Magnus’ with its horizontal flower petals (a perfect landing spot for butterflies) and deep orange center cones... blooming all summer.

Size: 28-40” tall, 18-24” wide tall
Light: Full sun, part sun.
Tips: Easy to grow. Attracts butterflies. Deer resistant.

Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa): A perennial in the milkweed family with large, flat-topped, bright orange flowers that bloom from early to late summer. Attracts Monarch and Swallowtail butterflies with its nectar.

Size: 24-36” tall, 12-24” wide 
Light: Full sun, part sun
Tips: It’s an important nectar source for Monarch butterflies and its leaves provide essential food for developing Monarch caterpillars.


Common Milkweed* (Asclepias syriaca): Tall perennial with large globes of pink-purple flowers with an attractive fragrance. Host plant for Monarch butterfly. Butterfly lays eggs on underside of leaves, caterpillar eats leaves and grows. Caterpillar builds a chrysalis, turns into a butterfly and flies away. This whole process happens quickly, so keep a daily watch. 

Size: 3-5 ft. tall
Light: Likes lots of sunlight and moist soil. 
Tips: Plant in the back of garden or in a natural area. Common milkweed an be invasive! Before you plant this one, be aware that it spreads aggressively with underground runners. Choose another milkweed such as swamp milkweed (Incarnata) or Whorled milkweed (Verticillata), if you are worried about spread.


Photos (clockwise from top left): 
1. Monarch butterfly finds the garden. Lays eggs on milkweed leaves.
2. A striped Monarch caterpillar is spotted. It eats milkweed leaves voraciously and grows quickly.
3. Caterpillar builds a chrysalis. Green chrysalis hangs very delicately from a stem on the milkweed plant. As caterpillar transforms into butterfly, I could see the patterned wings inside the chrysalis. The next time I looked at it, I saw a see-through, papery shell and the butterfly was gone. You have to check the plants daily to see each stage and even then...
4. The butterfly garden in full bloom in mid-summer. The pink circle points out the 'Common milkweed' pink flowers in back.

*You can include many different varieties of milkweed and  butterfly-friendly flowers that will attract even more butterflies.