A wonderful question on Facebook inspired us to talk to our horticulturalist about how to attract Monarch butterflies to your garden. Here is what she has to say:
Creating a space for butterflies is both a beautiful and incredibly rewarding hobby!
Plant specific species in full sun for nectar, include a variety of host plants such as milkweed for monarchs, and create enough ecological diversity through the addition of a few umbeliferous species to diminish certain pests without the use of harmful chemicals. I recommend including flowering Bee Balm or Bergamont, Native Purple Coneflower (Echinacea), Liatris Purple Rocket Flower, Black-eyed Susan, Butterfly Bush, Daisies, Asters, Dianthus, Tickseed, umbeliferous species such as Fennel, Dill, Yarrow, or Tansy. Salvias, Sweet Alyssum, and Lantana are also beneficial. You can also include annuals such as Zinnias, Marigolds, and Cosmos.
Right now, many milkweed species such as Common Milkweed Asclepias syriaca, and the Butterflyweed Ascpepias tubrosa, have flowered and are successfully producing their pods, which will dry and burst to release several seeds to the wind. You can place a protective netting over the pods in your garden to save some of these seeds. Other milkweed species include Whorled Milkweed Asclepias verticillata and Swamp Milkweed Asclepias incarnata. Sowing your perennial flower seeds in the fall will provide them with the cold stratification they need to germinate well in the spring just as it occurs in nature. It is important to allow all wild-growing milkweed seeds outside of your garden to spread naturally where they will succeed and grow. You can purchase seeds from local native garden nurseries such as NC Botanical Gardens and others you can find listed here http://ncbg.unc.edu/recommended-sources-of-native-plants/.
Include an area with flat stones in the sun and an area for water puddling with a few “perching pebbles” where butterflies might take in water and minerals they need.
For more information about creating beautiful native gardens and habitat in North Carolina, visit: http://www.ncsu.edu/goingnative/ag636_03.pdf. To learn more about how to help Monarch butterflies visit Monarch Watch. Every plant makes a difference!