How to Attract Monarch Butterflies to Your Yard

With the addition of the Monarch butterfly to the Red List of Threatened Species and categorized as Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), many people have asked us how they can help this beloved creature. While they face many threats, all is not lost and there are things that we can all do to create a supportive habitat not only for monarchs but other equally important pollinators.

Monarchs eat a lot. A lot. Consider that in only two weeks, one caterpillar can eat many hundred times its weight, growing 2,000 percent of its size! That said, monarch caterpillars can only eat select plants, namely Milkweed. Fortunately, there are several species native to Wisconsin that fit the menu.

Plant Wisconsin Native Milkweed

Butterfly Milkweed

Asclepias tuberosa

Host and nectar plant that thrives in full to part sun in medium to dry soil.

Red Milkweed

Asclepias incarnata

Host and nectar plant that prefers full sun and wet to moist soil. Stays contained in gardens.

Whorled Milkweed

Asclepias verticillata

Host and nectar plant that enjoys full to part sun in dry soils. Spread quickly by rhizomes.

Poke Milkweed

Asclepias exaltata

Host and nectar plant that prefers partial sun to shade and moist, well-drained soil.

Common Milkweed

Asclepias syriaca

Host and nectar plant that prefers full sun and will tolerate most soil types.

Sullivant’s Milkweed

Asclepias sullivantii

Host and nectar plant that prefers full sun and average, moist to dry soil types.

Depending on the milkweed and the leaf size, one caterpillar may eat up to 20 leaves throughout its development phases. That’s just one caterpillar! The first thing you can do to help our friends is to plant more milkweed and different species at that.

Milkweed is a must-have to support the youngsters, but as adults, monarchs need nectar to power their breeding, migration, and overwintering. Nectar is a source of carbohydrates (primarily from sugar), H2O, amino acids, lipids, proteins, vitamins, and minerals. The key to attracting and supporting monarchs is planting flowers full of sugary goodness. The quality of nectar is important, as is the timing of flowering. High sugar content in nectar = good eating!

With Wisconsin’s fluctuating spring temperatures, monarchs arrive a bit later than other parts of the country, sometime in mid-to-late June, typically in the southern parts of the state first. The availability of nectar by season coincides with the monarchs’ developmental needs. Spring flowers sustain new arrivals, summer blooming flowers support breeding, and fall bloomers fuel the 3,000-mile journey to Mexico and California for overwintering. Peak migration season in Wisconsin begins (approximately) in the first two to three weeks of September so, it’s important to have nectar sources readily available to fuel this incredibly long flight. The good news is that there are many great choices of Wisconsin native plants that fit the need!

By planting a diversity of high-nectar native plants with different bloom times, attracting and supporting monarchs and other butterflies is easy! Consider using the following Wisconsin native plants to build a well-rounded habitat.

Late Spring-Summer Blooming Plants

For their arrival.

Late Summer-Fall Blooming Plants

For their departure.

With the addition of the Monarch butterfly to the Red List of Threatened Species and categorized as Endangered by the International Union for Conserva…

Read more about fall blooming plants for pollinators.

Plants Monarchs Will Love

Prairie Blazing Star

Liatris pycnostachya

Summer-blooming nectar plant that loves sun to part shade, attracting monarchs in droves.

Ironweed

Vernonia fasciculata

Provides nectar in late summer to fall. Prefers sun to part shade and medium to wet soils.

Buttonbush

Cephalanthus occidentalis

A wonderful source of nectar and terrific in part to full shade in wet to moist areas.

Sky Blue Aster

Symphyotrichum oolentangiense

Fall-blooming nectar plant that does well in sun to part shade in medium to wet soils.

Great Blue Lobelia

Lobelia siphilitica

A valuable nectar plant that does well in sun to part shade in moist to wet soil.

Pale Purple Coneflower

Echinacea pallida

Long-bloomer provides nectar into late summer. Prefers full sun.

Johnson’s Nursery is proud to grow and offer these plants for everyone to enjoy. We believe that incorporating native plants into our landscapes is essential to preserving our ecosystems. Not only are they beautiful, but they are a necessary component of creating thriving natural and human communities. Whether you design a small butterfly garden or turn your entire yard into a pollinator oasis, by using native plants you are helping support, protect, and preserve our monarch friends and many more! Together, we can make a difference.