Once abundant in fields and vacant lots, milkweed is becoming increasingly hard to find. There is less and less undeveloped land and fewer natural spaces in our cities, and the gradual disappearance of these habitats across North America 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 magnificent show for you.
Attract monarchs to your garden in five easy steps
Before you start to create your Monarch Oasis, consult the fact sheet Basic principles of organic gardening. Also make sure to comply with the bylaws of your municipality.
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 lay their eggs only on this plant, which constitutes the sole source of food for the caterpillars. There are some species of milkweed indigenous to Québec, such as common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) and swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata).
If you garden on the balcony, a better choice might be the bloodflower (Asclepias currassavica). Treat this tropical species like an annual or grow it like a winter indoor plant.
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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 plant suggestions that will help you attract monarchs and other pollinators. When choosing plants, keep in mind the characteristics of your garden.
- Common yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
- New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae, syn. Aster novae-angliae)*
- Common foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) – biennial
- Spotted Joe Pye weed (Eutrochium maculatum)*
- White turtlehead (Chelone glabra)*
- Meadow blazing-star (Liatris ligulistylis)
- Wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa)*
- Seaside goldenrod (Solidago sempervirens)*
*Species indigenous to Québec. You can find these species at specialized nurseries.
Annuals or non-hardy perennials
- Sweet alyssum (Lobularia maritima)
- Garden cosmos (Cosmos bipinnatus)
- Garden heliotrope (Heliotropium arborescens)
- Black-eyed-Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)
- Golden marigold (Tagetes tenuifolia)
As its name indicates, the butterfly bush (Buddleja davidii) is a favourite of lepidoptera. However, it is not very hardy, even in Montréal. It can nevertheless be grown as an annual.
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Step 3 – Tend the garden in an environmentally responsible way
First and foremost, it’s important to understand that pesticides, even low-impact ones, are harmful for butterflies. These products can kill caterpillars and adults, not to mention other beneficial insects.
To fight garden pests, better to attract caterpillars, lacewings, birds and other beneficial organisms.
Should a problem with insect pests, disease or weeds require that you take action, apply cultural, physical or mechanical methods. Use low-impact pesticides only as a last resort.
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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 oasis.
Be tolerant of birds
Even though monarch caterpillars and butterflies are not edible for birds, birds can go after other insects in your garden. They play a role in controlling insect populations that can be highly useful.
Step 5 – Enjoy summer with the monarchs
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 biodiversity
Creating an inviting garden for monarchs is something positive and concrete that you can do to help safeguard these magnificent butterflies and for the protection of biodiversity.
Step 6 – Join the My Space for Life Garden program
The My Space for Life Garden program will guide you in designing and certifying your green space based on established criteria. Read more.
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