“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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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)
The American Lady butterfly is found over the southern half as well as the eastern half of the US.
Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes)
Black Swallowtails are some of the easiest butterflies to attract to your garden not only because they are found throughout North America but also because they have so many host plants that are very easy to grow from seed.
Painted Lady (Vanessa Cardui)
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.
Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia)
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)
Southern White (ASCIA MONUSTE)
Cabbage White butterflies are found throughout North America. It is one of the first butterflies that appear in the spring.
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.
Pipevine Swallowtail (Battus philenor)
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)
Zebra Longwings (Heliconius charithonia) appears all year in Florida and Texas and appears in other northern states during warm months. The Gulf Fritillary appear from January-November in the north and throughout the year in southern Florida and Texas. Variegated Fritillary has four broods from February-December in the souther and three broods from April-October in the north.
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.
Most butterfly gardeners are aware that wasps can wreak havoc in the garden. Many are natural predators of butterflies and their young.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Click here to learn about the different kinds of wasps: https://www.pests.org/get-rid-of-wasps/
Click here for the ultimate guide to dealing with wasps: https://howigetridof.com/wasp-nest/