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How to plant your own Butterfly Garden

Monarch butterflies are some of the most beautiful and interesting creatures on Earth. For people interested in helping Monarchs, a butterfly garden is an easy way to see more Monarchs and to participate in conservation. By planting a butterfly garden with all of the right kinds of plants and flowers where Monarchs love to lay eggs and feed, you’ll be able to enjoy watching them throughout the growing season. The best part is that butterfly gardens can be any size – a window box, part of your landscaped yard, or even a wild, untended area on your property.

It’s especially important to plant the right kind of Milkweed.
Learn which kind is right for your area here >

STEP 1: Where to Plant

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  1. Choose your planting site. Important considerations include available sunlight, level of foot traffic and vulnerability.
  2. Determine if you are going to plant from seeds or start with potted plants. If planting from seeds, keep in mind it takes 4-6 weeks for seeds to germinate and for seedlings to be ready for transplanting.

STEP 2: What to put in your Garden

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  1. Choose the plants that you will use. It’s best to plant native species. Look in seed catalogs, gardening magazines and books about butterfly gardening for tips on what will work best in your area.
  2. Include plants the butterfly will need at all four stages of its life cycle. The egg and larvae stage are restricted to species of milkweed, while adults feed on flowers that are fragrant, rich in nectar, and large enough for the butterfly to land on. Favourite flowers are mainly from the sunflower and daisy family of plants. But any yellow, pink, orange or purple nectar-producing flower will do.

STEP 3: Starting with Milkweed Seeds

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  1. Buy seeds (or plan where you will buy potted plants). Gardening catalogs, hardware stores and nurseries all sell seeds or you can buy them online. You may want to plan to use a combination of seeds and purchased plants. Plants should not be purchased until it is time to plant the garden.
  2. Plant seeds. Punch a small hole in the bottom of your container (yogurt containers, foam egg cartons or other containers), fill with soil, bury seeds and place containers on trays to catch extra water.
  3. Keep seedlings in a sunny window or under grow lights.
  4. After 4 to 6 weeks, seedlings will be ready to transplant.

STEP 4: Get Planting

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  1. Prepare the soil. Turn it over and add some fertilizer.
  2. Plant seedlings outdoors. Make sure danger of frost is past.
  3. Apply mulch to prevent soil erosion, maintain soil moisture and slow weed growth.
  4. Maintain garden: watering, weeding and replacing mulch.

STEP 5: Enjoy watching the Monarchs  thrive in your garden

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Visit Monarch Watch to purchase a seed kit >

Become a Citizen Scientist

Take part in one of the many citizen projects that will provide data to help scientists understand how Monarch populations are doing, and how we can help them. Tracking & recording Monarch Butterflies are key initiatives for finding our more about these remarkable creatures.

To learn more about the impact of Monarch Watch, check out this interview with Dr. Chip Taylor:

Why do we tag Monarchs?

Tagging allows scientists to connect the dots: from where a Monarch was tagged to the place it was recovered. The data from these tagging activities help determine the migrating path of the monarchs, as well as other factors that influence their progress.

Learn more about tagging from our Partner Monarch Watch >

How to Start Tagging:

  1. Order a tagging kit – Buy a tagging kit from Monarch Watch
  2. Record tagging data – Take your net, tags and datasheets and tag as many monarchs as you can, recording the date, location and other information onto your datasheet.
  3. Return the datasheets – This is a critical step! If you don’t return your datasheets, your tagged Monarch can’t be tracked in the database.
  4. Recovered Monarchs – If you find a Monarch with a tag, contact the organization using the information on the tag so that information can be added to their database.

If you don’t want to tag but still want to participate, you can report your Monarch sightings online at Journey North.

Why Record Monarch Sightings?

  1. Simplicity – People can report monarch sightings as a simple entry point to citizen science.
  2. Seasonality – People can report sightings almost year round.
  3. Tracking – A ‘real-time’ activity: Journey North’s monarch migration tracking tool

How to Report your Monarch Sightings?

Report monarch butterfly sightings from your backyard or schoolyard. Follow the migration on live maps that help scientists learn when and where monarchs migrate. Each observation adds clarity to the picture of monarch migration like pieces in a puzzle. Explore how your part of the world is connected to monarchs and their epic migration.

When to Report Monarch Sighting:

  • Fall migration begins in August in the northern US and Canada.
  • The monarchs reach the overwintering sites in Mexico in November.
  • Spring migration begins in Mexico in March. The monarch spread northward from March to June.

Weekly news updates are posted during migration and from the monarch’s winter home in Mexico!

Learn more about spotting & recording from our Partner Journey North >


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