Monarch Mania – Attracting Butterfly Royalty to Your Garden

  • Difficulty Rating: Beginner
Monarch Mania – Attracting Butterfly Royalty to Your Garden

Monarch butterflies are probably one of the most commonly recognized types of butterflies.

Their striking orange wings with black veins and white polka dots are thrilling to see in the flesh. Their migratory behavior also means that pretty much anyone in the United States--and almost anywhere else on the planet--can lure dozens of these graphic beauties to their garden.

The trick to bringing Monarchs fluttering past your windows is to grow the right plants. Monarchs love milkweed (Asclepias syriaca). Milkweed is the host plant for caterpillars (the only plant on which females will lay their eggs, and the only plant Monarch caterpillars will eat) as well as a favorite nectar source for adults. Other members of the milkweed family also will attract Monarchs, such as swamp milkweed (A. incarnata), and showy milkweed (A. speciosa). Adults will also visit lilacs, lantana, and thistles in spring and goldenrods, liatris, eucalyptus, and bidens in fall.


It’s also important to know when to have your Monarch-friendly plants ready and waiting for their arrival. Monarchs behave differently depending on whether they wintered in California or Central Mexico. Mexican Monarchs begin heading toward the eastern half of the country in spring. In early March, they will start to approach the southern border of the U.S. A month later, they’ll have been spotted all throughout the southeast. By the beginning of May they’ll have made their way through the Midwest and all the way up the eastern seaboard to New York. By mid-May they’ll be entering the northern prairie states, and by the first week in June they’ll be flying in Canadian airspace.

Western Monarchs overwinter in one of hundreds of coastal California roosting sites, along the Central Coast and in San Diego. Their spring and fall migrations have been studied less than eastern migrations, but they appear to head inland in spring (starting in February), and northward towards British Columbia. They return to their winter roosting sites in November.


With that information in mind, it’s important to have your milkweed plants out and ready to go starting slightly before Monarchs are expected to visit your neighborhood, and throughout the summer until their fall migration begins. This way, as Monarchs fly north, they will have milkweed plants to lay their eggs on, and their caterpillars will have the food they need to grow into adults. After Monarch migration begins in fall, be sure to provide a bit of nutrition for their long flight south/west by growing plants such as goldenrod, liatris, and bidens in addition to milkweed.


The Monarch Butterfly is often imitated but never duplicated. Not that anyone would complain about non-Monarchs visiting their garden, but there are several butterflies commonly mistaken for Monarchs. For example, the Viceroy Butterfly looks like a Monarch but can be easily distinguished by the black line running across the veins on their lower wings. The Queen Butterfly is another look-a-like and is closely related to the Monarch, but can be differentiated when the butterfly’s wings are open, Queens have no black veining on the top parts of the wings. Also, sometimes people mistake Painted Lady Butterflies as “baby Monarchs,” but this isn’t really possible, as all butterflies emerge from chrysalis full-sized.