Monday, May 19, 2014

Monarch Waystation Plant List

A Monarch Waystation needs at least one species of milkweed to sustain monarch caterpillars as well as nectar sources to sustain the adults as they migrate. Native plants are best as they're almost always drought tolerant and also provide habitat for other butterfly species to propagate. Most insects will only use certain native host plants on which to lay their eggs.

Why you won't see butterfly bush on this list: Nurseries love to push the non-native butterfly bush to clients wanting a "butterfly garden". While I do have one in my yard (it was here when we bought the house) I would not purchase another one. No insect can actually use butterfly bush to reproduce. They will attract butterflies to your yard, but there are many even more beautiful native options becoming readily available at nurseries.

The following is a short list of easy-to-grow native options for your monarch garden or certified monarch waystation. They are all available at most local nurseries. The milkweeds and New Jersey Tea can be trickier to find, contact me for help if you can't locate any.

THE NATIVE MILKWEEDS: Necessary for monarch reproduction. Milkweeds are the only plants monarch caterpillars can eat.
Swamp milkweed, Asclepias incarnata
24" to 48"
Moist to wet, even flooding, but tolerates drought once established.
Partial shade to sun.
Cultivars also available with a white flower. 
To prevent this from sprouting up all over your yard just remove seed pods before they open up (or save the seeds and make more!)

Butterfly weed, Asclepias tuberosa
12" to 36"
Thrives in dry, sandy, even gravelly soil. Great for planting along a road, doesn't mind bad soil.
Full sun, will tolerate a few hours of shade.

NATIVE NECTAR SOURCES: These flowers sustain the monarchs on both their spring and fall migrations. Plant a variety to ensure something is always flowering.

Joe-Pye Weed, Eupatorium maculatum
36" to 96" tall. Can be trimmed back to keep shorter and will still re-flower. Flowers all summer.
Moist to wet, but drought tolerant once established.
Sun to partial sun.
Spreads by rhizomes, can be easily divided and shared with others. Neighbors are always asking me for clumps.

White Chocolate Snakeroot, Eupatorium rugosum
24" to 36"
Striking dark foliage with clusters of small white flowers in late summer into autumn, providing nectar during the monarch's fall migration.
Moist, but tolerates drought when well established.
Sun to partial shade.

 Blanket flower, Gaillardia sp.
Up to 24"
Blooms July through fall.
Drought tolerant once established.
Full sun, will tolerate a few hours of shade.
Summer Phlox, Phlox paniculata
36" to 60" tall
Moist soil, drought tolerant once established.
Sun to partial sun.
Flowers mid summer.
This newly emerged monarch female spent an hour on my phlox this past summer before it took off north.
Tickseed, Coreopsis lanceolata
 18" to 30" tall.
Moist to dry, drought tolerant once established.
Sun to partial sun.
Flowers early to mid summer.
Will produce more blooms if deadheaded regularly.

 Ox-eye Sunflower, Heliopsis helianthoides
36" to 60" tall.
Moist to dry, drought tolerant once established.
Sun to partial sun.
Flowers mid-summer.

 Yarrow, Achillea millefolium
18" to 24"
Well drained soil, drought tolerant.
Full sun.
Blooms late spring to mid summer.
 New Jersey Tea, Ceanothus americanus
A dense shrub up to 3 feet high and wide.
Does well in poor, dry soil, good for planting along a road side.
Flowers in June and July
Blazing Star, Liatris spicata
24" to 48"
Moist to wet, drought tolerant once established.
Sun to partial sun.
Flowers mid summer.
Also attracts hummingbirds.

Sweet Pepper Bush (Summersweet), 
Clethra alnifolia
Up to 8 feet tall and wide. Dwarf cultivars are available called "Hummingbird Summersweet" and are up to 4 feet tall and wide.
Moist to wet acidic soil, tolerates flooding. Slightly drought tolerant once established. 
Partial shade to sun.
Flowers July and August.
Also attracts hummingbirds and is a great alternative to butterfly bush.

NATIVES FOR ATTRACTING HUMMINGBIRDS: add some of these and hummingbirds won't be able to resist your monarch waystation.

Cardinal flower, Lobelia cardinalis
24" to 48"
Moist to wet, even flooded, but drought tolerant once established.
Sun to partial shade.
Tall stalk of crimson flowers in mid to late summer. Irresistible to hummingbirds.
Self seeds, you will find tiny ones popping up all over the place. They are easy to dig up and relocate as the parent plants don't often last more than a year or two.

Beesbalm (Oswego Tea), Monarda didyma
16" to 30"
Moist to dry.
Full sun, will tolerate a few hours of shade.
Flowers in summer, irresistible to hummingbirds.
Spreads by rhizomes, easy to divide and use to fill in areas of your garden or share. I am always digging this up and giving it away!

Recommended Plants for New England Monarch Gardens:

Milkweeds - the only plant monarch caterpillars eat:
Swamp milkweed, Asclepias incarnata
Butterfly weed, Asclepias tuberosa
Whorled Milkweed, Asclepias verticillata
Tropical milkweed (annual), Asclepias curassavica
Common milkweed, Asclepias syriaca (not recommended for small gardens)

Native Perennial Nectar Sources:
Yarrow, Achillea millefolium
Bluestar, Amsonia tabernaemontana
Tickseed, Coreopsis lanceolata
Coneflower, Echinacea purpurea
Joe-Pye Weed, Eupatorium maculatum
White Chocolate Snakeroot, Eupatorium rugosum
Blanket flower, Gaillardia sp
Sneezeweed, Helenium autumnale
Ox-eye Sunflower, Heliopsis helianthoides
Blazing Star, Liatris spicata
Beesbalm (Oswego Tea), Monarda didyma
Summer Phlox, Phlox paniculata
Black-eyed Susan, Rudbeckia sp.
Eastern foamflower, Tiarella cordifolia

Native nectar shrubs and host shrubs for other butterflies:
New Jersey Tea, Ceanothus americanus
Buttonbush, Cephalanthus occidentalis
Sweet Pepper Bush (Summersweet), Clethra alnifolia
Redtwig Dogwood, Cornus sericea
Itea virginiana, Virginia sweetspire
Spicebush, Lindera benzoin
White meadowsweet, Spirea alba
Steeplebush, Spirea tomentosa
American cranberry bush, Viburnum trilobum

Annuals to attract butterflies and hummingbirds:
Mexican sunflower

(Ascelpias incarnata)
(Ascelpias incarnata)

Saturday, May 17, 2014

What's popping up in the Monarch Waystation?

Swamp milkweed
According to Journey North Monarch butterflies have been spotted as close to Massachusetts as New Jersey. Although my neighbor swears he saw one in a nearby field last weekend. Whether or not that's true I've been out daily checking my rapidly growing swamp milkweed for eggs. It's only about six inches tall, but tall enough for a monarch to find, if they really are here already.

While awaiting the monarchs I've been busy digging up little swamp milkweed seedlings sprouting up under their larger parent plants. I've potted them up and they'll be planted in new monarch gardens I'm building for friends and family. If you don't want your milkweed to sprout up in your garden where you don't want it just simply remove the seed pods before they open up.

Swamp milkweed seedlings "found" in the monarch waystation

Butterfly weed and New Jersey Tea seeds were also planted earlier in the spring and have been growing up in the greenhouse. They're getting big enough to plant. The butterfly weed is going up along the dry wall of my big rain garden.

Butterfly weed and New Jersey Tea seedlings

The Monarch Waystation last summer.
Everyday the Monarch Waystation is more and more green. Even though the only things flowering right now are violets I've let naturalize, before I know it it will be a riot of the pinks, oranges, whites and purples of swamp milkweed, butterfly weed, joe pye weed, echinacea, blanket flower, garden phlox, chocolate snakeroot, ox-eye sunflowers and yarrow. Last year I didn't see our first monarch until July, I sure hope this year they turn up sooner. My whole family is patiently awaiting eggs and caterpillars!

The Monarch Waystation

Originally published June 4, 2012 on

I hadn't planned on creating a monarch waystation. Last weekend I rescued a few daylilies from the backyard where our fence was going in and quickly stuck them in a sunny spot near our mailbox, and I hit more plastic. This is an area of the yard that I hadn't planned on landscaping this summer, it's a border of dense beach roses (Rosa rugosa) where the rest of the yard was just bare mulch. At least it had plants, so it could wait. And I assumed since it had plants there wasn't any plastic sheeting, I was wrong.

 Of course I couldn't leave the plastic in and in tearing it out I discovered all the plants in this area, including the four foot high beach roses, were growing on top of the plastic. In getting out the plastic I ended up taking out a lot of the beach roses and suddenly had a nice patch of empty, sunny dirt.

Monarch on butterflyweed
That night I read an article in the summer edition of Country Gardens entitled "Of Milkweeds and Monarchs" (if I could find it online I would include the link) and its message about declining monarchs really struck home. The article sites many facts from, and I instantly went online and poured over their website. Simply put, monarch butterflies are in crisis for the following reasons:
  • Roundup resistant crops now dominate the midwest, meaning about 100 million acres of corn and beans are now sprayed with the glyphosate, creating milkweed-free fields. Monarchs making their way from the north to overwinter in Mexico now navigate a 1000 mile near-nectarless, flowerless, waterless landscape from Kansas through Oklahoma, Texas and into northern Mexico. 
  • Development of subdivisions, shopping centers, etc. now tops 6,000 acres a day. That's 2.2 million acres a year where there was often milkweed and other butterfly supporting plants. 
  • Roadside management practices of mowing and herbicides now often creates monocultures of grass, not native wildflowers. 
  • Illegal logging in the monarch's wintering forest in Mexico has diminished their former 23 acre habitat to a mere 5. 
Monarch on blazing star (Liatris)
It was clear what I had to do.  That nice, newly-cleared and plastic-free sunny patch was destined to be a monarch waystation (places that provide resources necessary for monarchs to produce successive generations and sustain their migration). In fact, the whole yard could qualify. I already planted nectar plants like blanket flower, sedum, beesbalm, blazing star and black eyed susans. I started a milkweed strain called butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa) from seeds this winter and they're about 4 inches tall now and will be amazing in a few years. I just needed at least one more milkweed species to qualify as a certified "monarch waystation" with

A few days ago I went out and purchased swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) and tomorrow a friend with a farm in Rowley is letting me take a few common milkweed plants (A. syriaca) from his unmown fields and then I will have all three species of native milkweed. Where there was once a monoculture of introduced beach rose there will now be milkweed, blanket flower, blazing star, yarrow, echinacea, cardinalflower, and Joe-pye weed. My three-year-old is now eagerly awaiting the appearance of those stunning little yellow and black caterpillars. She's already learned all about monarchs in her preschool and told me one day last fall that she just couldn't eat lunch because she was a monarch and was busy migrating to Mexico. I thought for her sake I would certify our new monarch waystation with monarchwatch and she could proudly display this sign.

As far as I can tell from the International Monarch Waystation Registry our waystation is the first certified in Ipswich, MA. I sure hope it's not the last. Stay tuned for photos of the finished, and flowering, monarch waystation.