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Creating your monarch oasis

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Joe-Pye weed, a perennial, attracts butterflies and pollinators
Credit: Jardin botanique de Montréal (Michel Tremblay)

Monarch butterflies are great migrators. Every June, waves of females descend on our region in search of milkweed, the only plant where they lay their eggs.

Once abundant in fields and vacant lots, milkweed is becoming increasingly hard to find. With fewer vacant lots in our cities and the gradual disappearance of this habitat across North America, this poses a real threat to the monarch butterfly.

You can help ensure the monarchs’ survival by creating an oasis for them at home – a flower garden where they can feed and reproduce while putting on a delightful show for you.

Attract monarchs to your garden in five easy steps

Before you start to create your monarch oasis, we recommend reading the following fact sheet about organic gardening Basic principles of organic gardening.

Step 1 – Choose the right spot

An inviting place

Butterflies like peace and quiet. Set up your garden in a sunny, peaceful area sheltered from the wind. Choose features that retain the sun’s heat, such as paving stones, low walls and natural stones. The monarchs will warm up here on chilly days.

You don’t need a big yard – just a small corner or a few pots on a balcony will do.

Step 2 – Choose the right plants

Number one choice: milkweed

Milkweed is essential to monarch reproduction. Females only lay their eggs on this plant, which constitutes the sole source of food for caterpillars. There are several indigenous species of milkweed, such as common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) and swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata).

Plant diversity

Adult monarchs feed off the nectar of flowers. A good variety of nectar-producing plants is a valuable asset for your garden. If space permits, add more diversity by planting annuals and perennials as well as trees and shrubs.

Favour native plants that are hardy, well adapted to our climate and require little maintenance.

Here are a few suggestions of plants that will help you attract monarchs and other pollinators to your garden.

  • common yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
  • common cosmos (Cosmos bipinnatus)
  • common foxglove (Digitalis purpurea)
  • lance-leaved goldenrod (Euthamia graminifolia or Solidago graminifolia)
  • sweet alyssum (Lobularia maritima)
  • wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa)
  • New England aster (Symphiotrichum novae-angliae also known as Aster novae-angliae)
  • meadow blazing star (Liatris ligulistylis)

If you have room, you may round out your haven with a few trees and shrubs, such as:

  • common lilac (Syringa vulgaris)
  • crabapple (Malus cv.)
  • pin cherry tree (Prunus pensylvanica)

Although it may be very tempting to plant tropical species such as buddleia, they are unlikely to survive our harsh winters.

You can find these plants at specialized nurseries, and some native species are available for purchase in the Montréal Botanical Garden’s gift shop.

Step 3 – Tend the garden

Preserve life

First and foremost, it is very important not to use pesticides. These products can kill caterpillars and butterflies, along with other beneficial insects.

Also keep insecticides well away from the garden, as they could drift towards the butterflies’ habitat. Should you have problems with disease, pests or weeds, deal with them using cultural, physical, mechanical and/or biological means. Use low-impact pesticides as a last resort.

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Use natural fertilizers on your plants as needed.

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Consider having a wide variety of plants to ensure your garden is more ecologically balanced.

Step 4 – Keep predators away

Beware of cats and dogs!

Butterflies do not enjoy being chased by cats and dogs. If possible, keep pets out of your monarch garden.

Be tolerant of birds

Monarch caterpillars and butterflies are not edible for birds. However, birds can feed on other insects in your garden, and play a useful role in controlling insect populations.

Step 5 – Enjoy summer with the monarchs

Observation site

A monarch oasis is a constant source of discovery for a curious observer. Visit often to see how the plants grow and change and get to know its various inhabitants.

A positive action for the environment

Creating an inviting garden for monarchs is something positive and concrete that you can do for the environment. By opting for lush vegetation, you also reduce the need to use a lawn mower and the noise pollution and harmful gas emissions that come with it.

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