Backyard Habitat for Monarch Butterflies

monarch_butterfly_0303.jpg

Image of a monarch
Noppadol Paothong

Habitat Requirements

Size

Suitable Monarch habitat can be easily integrated with an existing flower garden. There is no minimum area requirement for your habitat; however, a truly effective Monarch habitat 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 habitat.

Exposure

Monarch plants need lots of sun; therefore, Monarch habitats need to be located in an area that receives at least six hours of sun a day. See the attached reference for shade tolerance of recommended plants.

Drainage and Soil Type

Milkweeds and nectar plants will do best in relatively light (low-clay) soils. Good drainage is needed to avoid root rot and provide good aeration of the roots. Areas with poor drainage may need more tolerant species such a swamp milkweed and New England aster.

Shelter

To assure 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 recommendations specific to each plant. All monarch life stages need shelter from predators and the elements. Planting milkweeds and nectar plants close together contributes to this shelter for monarchs and other wildlife.

Food

Milkweed Plants

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.

Nectar Plants

Monarchs, other butterflies, and numerous pollinators need nectar. By providing nectar sources that bloom sequentially your Monarch habitat can provide resources for monarchs throughout the breeding season and the migration in the fall. A Monarch habitat should contain at least 4 biennial or perennial native plants that provide nectar for butterflies.

Native Plant Species Recommended for Missouri

See the table below of recommended native wildflowers for monarchs usually available as plants or seeds. Plants are recommended in flower gardens to obtain the fastest results.

Perennial Plants for Monarch Butterflies
Scientific Name Common Name Light Preference Bloom Period Flower Color Height Moisture Space
Aster novae-angliae New England Aster sun - med shade Sept - Oct purple 40 - 60" avg - moist 24 - 36"
Aster laevis Smooth Aster sun - light shade Sept - Oct blue 20 - 30" dry - avg 16 - 20"
Aster azureus Sky Blue Aster sun - light shade Sept - Oct blue 18 - 36" dry - avg 12 - 18"
Asclepias syriaca Common Milkweed sun - light shade June - Aug lavender 48 - 60" average 36 - 60"
Asclepias incarnata Marsh or Swamp Milkweed sun - med shade Aug & Sept rose-purple 48 - 60" avg - moist 24 - 36"
Asclepias purpurascens Purple Milkweed sun - med shade May - June rose-purple 24 - 48" dry - avg 18 - 24"
Asclepias tuberosa Butterfly Weed sun - light shade June & July orange 24 - 36" average 18 - 30"
Coreopsis palmata Prairie Coreopsis sun - med shade June - July yellow 18 - 24" dry - avg 18 - 24"
Coreopsis tripteris Tall coreopsis sun - light shade July - Aug yellow 40 - 110" dry - avg 18 - 24"
Dalea candida White Prairie Clover sun June - July white 18 - 26" dry - avg 16 - 20"
Echinacea purpurea Purple Coneflower sun- med shade June - Aug pink/purple 30 - 40" avg - moist 18 - 24"
Eryngium yuccifolium Rattlesnake Master sun - light shade July - Aug white 30 - 48" average 16 - 24"
Eupatorium perfoliatum Boneset sun - light shade July - Sept white 36 - 48" avg - wet 24 - 36"
Heliopsis helianthoides Ox-eye Sunflower sun - light shade June - Sept yellow 24 - 48" dry - moist 18 - 30"
Liatris aspera Rough blazing star sun - light shade Sept purple 24 - 48" dry - avg 12 - 16"
Liatris pycnostachya Prairie blazing star sun July - Aug purple 30 - 48" dry - moist 12 - 20"
Lobelia siphilitica Blue Lobelia sun - light shade Sept - Oct blue 18 - 30" avg - moist 10 - 16"
Monarda fistulosa Wild bergamot sun - light shade June - July lavender 36 - 48" average 16 - 24"
Physostegia virginiana Obedient plant sun - light shade July - Sept pink/white 36 - 60" avg - moist 16 - 20"
Rudbeckia hirta Black-eyed Susan sun - light shade June yellow 24 - 36" average 16 - 24"
Silphium integrifolium Rosinweed sun - med shade July - Aug yellow 60 - 90" dry - avg 24-36"
Silphium laciniatum Compass Plant sun July - Aug yellow 48 - 96" average 18 - 30"
Silphium perfoliatum Cup plant sun - light shade July - Sept yellow 72 - 96" avg - moist 24 - 36"
Solidago nemoralis Gray Goldenrod sun - light shade Aug - Sept yellow 18 - 30" dry - avg 16 - 24"
Solidago rigida Rigid Goldenrod sun Sept yellow 30 - 48" average 16 - 24"
Solidago speciosa Showy Goldenrod sun - light shade Sept - Oct yellow 24 - 48" dry - avg 18 - 24"
Veronicastrum virginicum Culver's Root sun - light shade June - Aug white 36 - 48" avg - moist 16 - 20"

Local sources for seeds and plants of these native species can be found at grownative.org

Information on suitable non-native species can be found at www.monarchwatch.org

Planting Diagram Examples

Dry Soil Conditions (Well-drained Soils)
Dry condition planting example

Requirements

  • Minimum 100 square feet
  • Minimum 10 milkweeds of two or more species
  • Minimum 4 biennial or perennial native species for nectar

Dry Condition Planting Diagram

  • 100 square feet
  • 5 each of two different milkweeds
  • 19 plants of four different biennial/perennial native species
  • Total: 29 plants all spaced 18" apart

Legend

  • (5 - PM) Purple Milkweed 
  • (5 - BW) Butterfly Milkweed 
  • (5 - WPC) White Prairie Clover 
  • (5 - RBS) Rough Blazing Star 
  • (4 - WB) Wild Bergamot 
  • (5 - BES) Black-eyed Susan 
Wet Soil Condition (Poorly Drained Soils, i.e. Raingarden)
Wet condition planting example

Requirements

  • Minimum 100 square feet
  • Plant more than 10 plants if using only one species of milkweed
  • Minumum 4 biennial or perennial native species for nectar

Wet Conditions Planting Diagram

  • 250 square feet
  • 15 of one milkweed species
  • 49 plants of different biennial/perennial native species
  • Total: 64 plants, 24 spaced 24" apart across 150 square feet, 40 spaced 16" apart across 100 square feet

Plant Legend

  • (15 - MM) Marsh Milkweed
  • (3 - NEA) New England Aster 
  • (6 - CP) Cup Plant
  • (21- BL) Blue Lobelia
  • (19 - CR) Culver's Root

Note: Plants are arranged tallest to shortest, with shortest in front. These diagrams are just one of hundreds of plant combinations that can be used from the above table.

Management

You should have a plan to sustain a Monarch backyard habitat area. 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.

Information provide in part by Monarch Watch. Contact Monarch Watch to find out how to be certified as a Monarch Waystation.

Wildlife Reminders

Watch for the reddish orange blooms of the butterfly milkweed along roadsides and in diverse grasslands now through August.

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