Have you been reading the alarming accounts of the decline in the Monarch butterfly population? Based on studies, fully 90% of the numbers from just two decades ago have vanished. Many gardeners are taking up the challenge to create a Monarch-welcome spot in their landscape. It’s easier (and more beautiful!) than you might imagine!
This American native isn’t called a Monarch (or King Billy, as the old folks say) for nothing! Majestic and bright, with stunning orange and black coloring, he inhabits all 48 contiguous United States and then flies south to Mexico for winter. You will probably see him winging past in late spring, summer, or early autumn, unless you live in a very hot southern or southwestern climate, where he may be present year-round.
The Monarch depends on one native plant for his survival: Asclepias, otherwise known as milkweed or butterfly weed. Monarch eggs are laid on the underside of Asclepias leaves, and the young caterpillars eat this plant throughout their growth. You can find their cocoons on Asclepias too; this plant is their home. A single Asclepias can play host to dozens of Monarchs!
So to attract Monarchs to your garden, the first thing you are going to want is some Asclepias plants. We offer the species A. tuberosa, the classic orange butterfly weed, in seed form. It grows easily and spreads like crazy, so many gardeners restrict it to small enclosed spaces or let it go in open meadow settings. You can begin the seed right now, in summer, either by direct-sowing it into the soil or by starting it indoors in your Bio Dome and transplanting in late summer or fall, when temperatures are a bit cooler. If you live in a cold region, it will vanish under the snow, but return next spring.
Vary your Asclepias plantings by considering the brilliant multicolored Gay Butterflies variety. Also A. tuberosa, it sets eye-catching blooms of yellow and red as well as orange. So pretty, and just as easy to grow as the species!
Now, what are you going to plant among the Asclepias?
You want to vary the planting, because a big drift of butterfly weed will attract pests (read: aphids) in large numbers. We recommend alternating your Asclepias with onions. Chives are easy to grow and very quick; their scent repels aphids.
Of course, Monarchs aren’t the only butterfly you will attract, so cater to other species with bright, beautiful, heat-loving Salvia. We have found the S x superba variety Blue Queen to be particularly attractive to butterflies, as well as bright red Lighthouse, one of our own Park’s Whoppers. Salvia is easy, low maintenance, and long-lived. Again, June is not too late to sow your Salvia seeds! Begin them indoors in your Bio Dome and transplant them into the late summer or early fall garden up to two months before the first fall frost. They will root and return next spring!
No butterfly garden is complete without Buddleia, and
you can grow this ultra-fast woody perennial from seed. Miss Butterfly, a gorgeous pink-flowered variety, is sweetly fragrant and eager to grow. You can cut your butterfly bush down to 6 inches from the ground every late winter, and it will regrow even bushier and more beautiful next year.
To complete the butterfly habit, consider adding a water feature. Butterflies need very shallow, clean water. If you have a birdbath, consider filling part of it with stones and pebbles so that the water barely covers them, with some exposed to the air above the bath. These are perfect landing pads for butterflies!
Make your garden a welcome place for Monarchs and other butterflies to rest, sip water, and possibly even lay their eggs. You’ll be helping the environment as well as improving the color show in your own landscape!