Monarch butterflies depend on milkweed plants.
They lay their eggs on them because they are the only food the monarch caterpillars eat. Monarch numbers are declining, partly due to the loss of open spaces where milkweeds grow. You can help give monarchs a boost by creating a milkweed garden. What’s the best way to encourage monarchs to turn your backyard into a nursery? Offer them food, drink, a place to stay and a milkweed patch where they can leave their eggs. Here is how to set up your own monarch stopover.
Plant native flowering plants. Many butterflies and native flowering plants have co-evolved over time and depend on each other for reproduction and survival.
Include host plants. Butterflies lay their eggs on specific plants called hosts. Monarchs only lay their eggs on milkweed so it is critical to include native milkweed plants in your butterfly garden. Monarchs will lay their eggs on the leaves and the young caterpillars feed on the plant. The milkweed contains toxins called cardiac glycosides that the caterpillars must ingest, which causes the monarch butterflies and caterpillars to be poisonous to most predators. Milkweed flowers make a colorful splash in gardens, meadows, and other habitats. There are over 100 different milkweed species and monarchs use about 30 species so visit plantmilkweed.org to learn what species to plant in your region.
If you can provide blooming flowers all summer long that will lure more butterflies. Monarchs need nectar from flowers all the time so choose plants that bloom in early, mid, and late summer.
Butterflies also need a place to rest. Flat stones offer them a place to bask in the sun and rest. Avoid insecticides because they kill insects. Include water. Butterflies can often be found puddling – drinking water and extracting minerals from damp areas of the ground. If you put coarse sand in a shallow pan and add it to your habitat butterflies will use it to drink and collect the minerals they need – make sure to keep it moist by adding water.