Here are 10 tips for making your garden a happy place for monarch butterflies and countless birds, bees and other important critters.
- Start small. You can always enlarge the garden later on as you gain confidence or more people join in.
- Get help. Engaging the local community is the key to your success. Educate and involve them; plan for summer help.
- Locate the garden in a sunny area. Butterflies and most butterfly-attracting plants need bright sunshine.
- Nectar and host plants. Think two kinds of plants: nectar sources and host plants. Butterflies visit flowers in search of nectar to eat so you need to have nectar-producing flowers in your garden. But you also want to have host plants that provide food for caterpillars and that will lure female butterflies to lay eggs on them. Different kinds of butterflies require different host plants.
- Think water source. It will be very difficult to keep your garden alive during the summer or periods of drought unless you have an easy water source. Is there a faucet nearby, or can one be created? In the long-term, carrying buckets may not work. Soaker hoses buried in the ground are also a good idea. Mulching the garden will save water and suppress weeds; lawn clippings are good mulch.
- Include both annuals and perennials. Use native plants where possible. Both seeds and seedlings of native plants can be purchased locally and planted directly in the garden in either mid-June or late August/early September. Seeds can be started indoors in late winter and transplanted into the garden as seedlings in the spring. Using native plants provides butterflies, insects, birds and mammals of your area a food source they can use throughout the growing season.
- Consider having a damp area or shallow puddle in the garden. Some butterflies drink and extract minerals from moist soil. Sometimes large number of butterflies will gather for a drink, "puddling".
- Consider placing flat stones in the garden. Butterflies often perch on stones, bare soil or vegetation, spread their wings and bask in the sun to raise their body temperature.
- Plan for plants to bloom through the growing season. Butterflies are active from early spring to late fall. Plant a selection of flowers that provide nectar throughout the entire growing season. Remove spent blooms (deadheads) on a regular basis to encourage new flowers and continuous nectar.
- Do not use pesticides in or near the garden. Most traditional garden pesticides are toxic to butterflies. Use predatory insects or hand remove pests.
Adapted from Monarch Teacher Network's Monarch Habitat Guide.