Five Ways to Help Monarch Butterflies

“With monarch butterflies now down 90 percent in the last 20 years, we simply must do more if we are going to be successful in reversing monarch butterfly decline. We must continue working together to help save the monarch butterfly and reverse the overall trend of declining wildlife populations in the United States.” Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation

You can do a lot to protect the vanishing monarch butterfly, from planting milkweed to collecting data on monarch breeding and migration.

1. Plant Milkweed

The absolute best way to help Monarch butterflies is to plant milkweed! Without a major effort to restore milkweed, the monarch population is certain to decline. Monarchs depend on milkweed for survival. Find native milkweed seeds here:

2. Plant a Garden

Recent research suggests that a lack of nectar plants may be playing a bigger part in the decline of Monarchs than previously realized. Find seeds here:

3. Don’t Use Pesticides

Many pesticides contain glyphosate, an herbicide that kills milkweed. Milkweed is the only plant monarch larvae eat, and the only plant the monarch will lay its eggs in. Without milkweed, the monarch butterfly would cease to exist.

4. Become a Citizen Scientist

Individuals can help solve some of the enduring mysteries about the monarch. To better understand monarch migration, science organizations rely on citizen scientists to collect data during the annual life cycle of monarch breeding, migration, and overwintering. Your actions can improve and inspire monarch conservation. Click here to find out more:

5. Spread the Word

Educate others about the monarch butterfly decline and encourage them to take the steps to protect this delicate species. (Four Things You Can Do To Help the Monarchs by Hannah Rosengren.)
Spread the message with this “Plant Milkweed T-shirt by Butterfly Lady:

How to Create a Monarch Waystation

Monarch butterflies need our help! To offset the loss of milkweeds and nectar sources we need to create, conserve, and protect habitats for these iconic butterflies.

One of the best ways to help Monarchs is by creating a Monarch Waystation in home gardens, at schools, businesses, parks, zoos, nature centers, along roadsides, and on other unused plots of land. Without a major effort to restore milkweeds to as many locations as possible, the Monarch population in North America is certain to decline to extremely low levels.

A Monarch Waystation is a well-managed garden that provides food and habitat for the struggling Monarch butterfly population.

Choose the site. A suitable Monarch Waystation habitat can be easily integrated with an existing garden. Monarch Watch does not have any minimum area requirement in order to certify your habitat; however, a truly effective Monarch Waystation will be at least 100 square feet. The total area may be split among several sites at your location and there is no upper limit for the size of a Monarch Waystation habitat. Choose a spot that gets plenty of sunshine every day. Butterflies and butterfly plants need lots of sun; therefore, Monarch Waystations need to be located in an area that receives at least six hours of sun a day.

Create shelter for the Monarchs. Plant bushes or trees near your garden to provide places for Monarch butterflies to roost at night. Monarch Watch suggests that to ensure that the maximum number of Monarchs survive in your habitat, the plants should be relatively close together. However, they should not be crowded – be sure to follow the planting guides specific to each plant.

Monarch caterpillars need plenty of milkweeds to become butterflies; one caterpillar alone will eat 20-30 large leaves!

Plant Milkweed. To maximize the utilization of your habitat by Monarchs, it is desirable to include a number of milkweed species. It is best to have at least 10 plants, made up of two or more species; however, a large number of plants (more than 10) of one species is sufficient. Milkweeds of different species mature and flower at different times during the season. By increasing the number of milkweed species in your habitat you will increase the likelihood that Monarchs will utilize your property for a longer period during the breeding season.

Monarchs cannot survive without milkweed; their caterpillars only eat milkweed plants (Asclepias spp.), and Monarch butterflies need milkweed to lay their eggs. Click here or on the photo to purchase milkweed seeds.

Plant nectar plants. Plant nectar plants that bloom sequentially or continuously during the season so your Monarch Waystation can provide resources for Monarchs throughout the breeding season and the migration in the fall. A Monarch Waystation should contain at least four annual, biennial, or perennial plants that provide nectar for butterflies.

Native perennials are slow to establish when first planted, but survive and thrive in subsequent seasons, are also important additions to a Monarch garden. Click here to find native seeds.
Annual plants, which bloom quickly but don’t return for a second season, can play a crucial role in a Monarch Waystation. Click here or on the photo to find seeds.

Plan to manage your site. You should have a plan to sustain a Monarch Waystation. Specific actions you take will depend on the features of your habitat; however, some general examples include mulching, thinning, fertilizing, amending the soil, removing dead stalks, watering, eliminating insecticide use, removing invasive plant species, and incorporating additional features.

Go here to register and certify your site:

Certify your waystation. If your monarch habitat meets or exceeds the general description of a Monarch Waystation set forth above, your habitat may be certified by Monarch Watch as a Monarch Waystation. Upon certification, your habitat will be included in the Monarch Waystation Registry, an online listing of Monarch Waystations worldwide, and you will be awarded a certificate bearing your name and your habitat’s unique Monarch Waystation ID number. You may also choose to purchase a weatherproof sign to display, identifying your habitat as an official Monarch Waystation. If you like you can certify your waystation through Monarch Watch. There is a small certification fee.

You will attract Monarchs as well as many other species of butterflies to your Monarch Waystation! (Photo by Mary Lynette Brooks Keene. Used with permission.)
The Monarch: Saving Our Most-Loved Butterfly by Kylee Baumle can be purchased here:
Spread the message with this “Plant Milkweed T-shirt by Butterfly Lady:

Want Butterflies? Plant Host Plants!

I’m often asked, “How do I start a butterfly garden?” and, “How can I get butterflies to come to my garden?” or, “I have lots of flowers but how come I never see any butterflies? Plant host plants! It takes more than nectar to entice butterflies to take up residence in your garden.

Larval host plants are the secret to successful butterfly gardening; they are plants required by a caterpillar for growth and development. By planting host plants in your garden, you offer a promise of food for the next generation and will attract more butterflies than you thought possible.

If you do not have host plants in your garden, butterflies may come to visit the flowers for nectar, but then they will leave. Butterflies are on a mission. Females are busy looking for places to lay their eggs. Males are also attracted to host plants, where they can find females for mating. So make it easy for them and plant those plants they need for their offspring.

Below are some common North American butterflies and their host plants. I have included some of the most common and easiest butterflies to attract. As you learn more about the different species of butterflies that are native to your area you can expand the different types of host plants to put in your garden.

Monarch (Danaus plexippus)
Queen (Danaus gilippus)

There are many species of Milkweeds you can plant which are suited to where you live. Click here to find seeds.

The eastern North American Monarch is known for its annual southward late-summer/autumn migration from the northern and central United States and southern Canada to Florida and Mexico. During the fall migration, monarchs cover thousands of miles, with a corresponding multigenerational return north. The western North American population of monarchs west of the Rocky Mountains often migrates to sites in southern California.

Queen butterflies can be found regularly in peninsular Florida and southern Georgia, as well as in the southern portions of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California. Occasionally, the subspecies of the queen can be found somewhat north, in Kansas, Colorado, and Utah. Periodically, a stray may be found in the Midwest, such as in Missouri.

American Lady (Vanessa virginiensis)

Click here to find seeds for host plants for the American Lady.

The American Lady butterfly  occurs from southern Canada throughout the U.S. and southward to northern South America and is seen occasionally in Europe, Hawaii, and the larger Caribbean islands. Occasionally individuals can be found as far as southwest Europe. It has been introduced to Hawaii.

Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes)

The beautiful Eastern Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes) and the Anise Swallowtail (Papilio zelicaon) butterflies and five of their host plants, including common herbs: Dill, Fennel and Parsley. Click here to find seeds.

Black Swallowtails are some of the easiest butterflies to attract to your garden not only because they have so many host plants that are very easy to grow from seed. They are found from southern Canada through to South America. In North America they are more common east of the Rocky Mountains.

Painted Lady (Vanessa Cardui)

Painted Lady butterflies are found in all 48 contiguous states. These butterflies use many different plants as hosts but these are some of the most common. Click here to find seeds for host plants for the Painted Lady.

The Painted Lady butterfly is another common butterfly that can easily be attracted to your garden because it has so many different flowering plants that are host plants for their caterpillars. It is the most widespread of all butterfly species and is found 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. (Click here to read more about the Painted Lady Migration:

Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia)

Click here to find seeds for host plant for the Common Buckeye.

The Common Buckeye is found in the United States east of the Rocky Mountains and in Mexico. Its habitat is open areas with low vegetation and some bare ground. The species Junonia grisea, the gray buckeye, is found west of the Rocky Mountains.

Cabbage White (Pieris rapae)
Checkered White (Pontia protodice)
Great Southern White (Ascia monuste)

Click here to find cleome seeds.

Cabbage White  butterflies are native to Eurasia. They have been introduced to southern Canada and most of the U.S. and are common in most open areas, like road sides and gardens.  It is one of the first butterflies that appear in the spring. It is a pest to crucifer crops such as cabbage, kale, bok choy and broccoli.

Great Southern White butterflies are found from the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the United States. It is migratory along the southeastern coast of the United States, with strays to Maryland, Kansas, and Colorado.

Checkered White butterflies are  most commonly found in the southern parts on the United States along with some of the northern areas of Mexico. Occasionally the species can be found in the northern parts of the U.S. and southern Canada

Cloudless Sulphur (Phoebis sennae)
Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus)
Ceranus Blue (Hemiargus ceraunus)
Sleepy Orange (Eurema nicippe)

Click here to purchase Partridge Pea seeds.

The Cloudless Sulphur is a large yellow butterfly found throughout most of the mainland United States. It is most common in the eastern United States and southern portions of the western United States, but it has been spotted as far north as Canada.

The Gray Hairstreak is one of the most common hairstreaks in North America, ranging over nearly the entire continent. It also occurs throughout Central America and in northern South America.

The Ceraunus Blue butterflies are small and easy to overlook. They are found in the Southwest, South Texas, Florida and the Keys south through the West Indies, Mexico, and Central America to South America. Strays sometimes to North Carolina, Missouri, Kansas, and Nevada.

Sleepy Orange butterflies are found year-round in southern and southwestern United States and in summer and fall can be found further north;  they are a rare stray to Ontario, Connecticut, South Dakota, and Colorado.

Red Admiral (Battus philenor)
Question Mark (Polygonia interrogationis)
Eastern Comma (Polygonia comma)

Click here to purchase Smallspike Nettle seeds.

Red Admirals are widely distributed across temperate regions of North Africa, the Americas, Europe, Asia, and the Caribbean. They reside in warmer areas, but migrate north in spring and sometimes again in autumn.

The Eastern Comma is found in the Eastern half of the United States east of the Rocky Mountains from southern Canada to central Texas and the Gulf Coast.

The Question Mark butterfly is found throughout most of the eastern U.S. and southern Canada, south to north central Florida and the northern Gulf states, and west to Arizona, eastern Wyoming and Colorado.

Southern Dogface (Zerene cesonia)

Click here to find seeds for host plants for the Southern Dogface butterflies.

The Southern Dogface butterfly lives year-round in Texas and Florida. It is a stray or temporary resident from central California northeast through the Great Lakes area and all the eastern states.

Pipevine Swallowtail (Battus philenor)

Please note that these plants go by the common name Dutchman’s Pipe, but some species of Dutchman’s Pipe are toxic to the larva. Only these two species, Aristolochia trilobata and Aristolochia fimbriata are not, toxic. The scientific name is so important when you go to purchase this vine.

The Pipevine Swallowtail has a wide distribution across the Northern Americas. In the United States, the butterfly is found in New England down to Florida west to Nebraska, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, and Oregon. There is also an isolated population in midland California.

Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae)
Zebra Longwing (Heliconius charithonia)
Variegated Fritillary (Euptoieta claudia)
Julia Heliconian (Dryas iulia )

Passion flower is a rapid-growing, trailing vine that climbs by axillary tendrils. It is woody in warm winter climates but dies to the ground in cold winter climates. It is native to the southeastern U.S.A. Click here to purchase Purple Passionflower seeds.

Zebra Longwings  appears all year in Florida and Texas and will travel to other northern states during warm months. (Click here to read more about these fascinating butterflies.)

Gulf Fritillaries are found primarily in the southern parts of the contiguous United States, from Florida to Texas and California. However, this butterfly’s range can extend from the Southern United States into parts of Mexico and Central America and sometimes as far as parts of South America. They are also found in Hawaii.

Variegated Fritillary can be found through Central America and Mexico to the southern United States; also Cuba and Jamaica. Regularly colonizes north through most of the United States except the Pacific Northwest.

The Julia Heliconian commonly called the Julia butterfly is native from Brazil to southern Texas and Florida, and in summer can sometimes be found as far north as eastern Nebraska.

Remember, you cannot have a butterfly without the caterpillar and you cannot have the caterpillar without that host plant. So plant lots of host plants. You can never have too many.

For a more comprehensive list of butterflies and their host plants, click here.

Spread the message with this “Plant Milkweed T-shirt by Butterfly Lady:

Are Wasps a Challenge in Your Garden?

Most butterfly gardeners are aware that wasps can wreak havoc in the garden. Many are natural predators of butterflies and their young.
Many people this summer have been complaining that wasps are killing off the butterfly caterpillars in their garden. Wasps can definitely be a challenge. Wasps will attack and consume eggs, caterpillars, and even the chrysalises.

Last summer I had a huge problem with wasps. I do not like to use wasp spray to kill the wasps because I feel that the pesticide can have a negative impact on butterflies and other insects, including bees. I usually just try to eliminate the nests by knocking them down, but I got stung in the process. And believe me, that is not a pleasant experience. So I have come up with some solutions to deal with those pesky wasps.

Wasps are on constant patrol for butterfly caterpillars.

Protect the caterpillars in your garden. One of the easiest ways to protect the young larvae is to cover the plant on which they are feeding with mesh netting.

Organza bags with drawstrings can be used to protect eggs and caterpillars. They are inexpensive and easy-to-use. Click Here or on this photo for more information and to purchase.
You can use a tomato cage or wooden dowels to support netting over the host plants to protect caterpillars from wasps. Thanks to Kristine Sgrignoli Davison for sharing these ideas and photos.

Shelter your butterfly livestock. Another way to protect eggs and caterpillars is to place them in a pop-up cage or large screened enclosure. A screened-in porch is a perfect place to raise caterpillars. I will place potted host plants outside and then once a female butterfly has deposited eggs on the plant, I will place the plant inside a pop-up cage inside or on a porch.

Placing caterpillars inside a pop-up cage is a very effective way to protect them from wasps. Click Here or on this photo to see a variety of cages and to purchase.

Keep the wasps away! Another less-invasive strategy is to hang up decoy wasps nests. Some wasps are territorial and so will not make new nests near other existing nests. You can make your own by using a small paper bag or you can purchase commercially-made decoys. Many people claim that this method works in keeping wasps away.

This wasp-deterrent nest repels wasps, is eco-friendly, and will function without harm to you and your family. Simply hang these for effective results! Click Here on this photo for more information and to purchase.

Click here to learn about the different kinds of wasps:

Click here for the ultimate guide to dealing with wasps: