Monarch butterflies aren’t just beautiful, and they are also some of the most important pollinators around. Unfortunately, due to habitat loss and the widespread use of pesticides, monarch populations are on the decline and have just been added to the endangered species list. But there are ways you can help, and one of the most important things you can do is to grow your
own monarch butterfly habitat.
It may sound complicated, but creating a butterfly garden is actually very simple. If you keep your garden organic and plant a few pollinator-friendly plants, your garden space will be irresistible to monarch butterflies and other pollinators. All you need to do is make sure that you provide any visiting monarchs with food, water and shelter and avoid spraying your garden with chemical pesticides and herbicides.
Milkweed is the most critical food source for monarch butterflies. This pretty, native plant is required for monarch reproduction as it is the only plant on which monarchs lay their eggs and the only food source for developing monarch caterpillars. For this reason, try planting a few different milkweed plants, such as Asclepias syriaca, Asclepias speciosa, and Asclepias incarnata.
Beyond planting milkweed, include other nectar-rich plants in your garden too. While monarch caterpillars only eat milkweed, adult monarchs feed on the nectar of different plants like bee balm, purple coneflower, Joe Pye weed, and Liatris. It is important to look for native plants to your specific area. This way, pollinators in your region will benefit most. A good source to research native plants in your state is the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. You can purchase from nurseries that don’t use pesticides or harsh chemicals. One can always try their hand at starting their own seeds as another option.
For extra credit points, you can add a small “butterfly feeder” to your back deck or patio by placing a few pieces of sliced ripe fruit, like apples or bananas, in a shallow dish. Monarchs and other pollinators will love the sweet treat. Replace fruit daily to prevent spoilage.
All you need is a small, shallow dish, fresh water, sand or small rock and a little compost. This helps keep the Monarchs hydrated, while taking in much needed minerals and nutrients from the rock and compost.
Monarchs need access to clean, fresh water like other animals, especially on hot summer days. But bird baths and garden hoses are complex and even dangerous for delicate butterflies to drink from. So, providing a shallow dish for butterflies and other pollinators is always a good idea.
Monarchs need shelter to sleep in and to protect them from harsh weather. Trees and shrubs with woody stems and branches thick with protective leaves are the best natural shelter for butterflies. If you don’t have any trees or bushes planted in your yard, consider planting a few trees like oaks, cherries, or elms.
Monarch butterflies are struggling today, and it’s our duty as stewards of the Earth to help them as much as possible. Creating a pollinator garden is one important step to helping monarch populations recover, but the most critical thing you can do is to choose to keep your garden as organic as possible. That means avoiding using chemical pesticides and herbicides in your space and finding all-natural, organic substitutes like row covers for pests and weed barrier cloths to limit weeds.
Once you’ve started your organic monarch garden, don’t forget to share it with friends too! Spreading the word about how to protect monarchs is vital for their recovery. And, when friends and family see how many monarchs visit your garden, they’ll want tips on how to grow their very own monarch butterfly habitat.
Photo credit Laine Wanquist