For years, I have had a healthy community of butterflies in my garden, but I haven’t seen many monarch butterflies before, and until this year, I have not had the pleasure of following the monarch breeding cycle.

I’ve learned that in order to attract many butterflies, we must be sure that we are growing plenty of the types of flowering plants that produce nectar. At the bottom of this post, you will find a free butterfly garden plan. Butterflies love to sip from butterfly bushes, and I always have a butterfly bush and a Chaste tree, which is like a large and prolific butterfly bush.

I have a cottage garden, and I plant my flowers tightly. I like the natural kind of color explosion that I get from that type f planting, and close planting is also the best way to assure pollination.

I plan my garden so that there is almost always something blooming in my yard. For many years, this approach to gardening has attracted a large number of butterflies to my yard, but this year, I went the extra mile, hoping to attract more monarchs and also hoping that  I would be able to encourage them to breed in my garden. I have never witnessed the monarch growth cycle first hand, and curiosity was part of my incentive, but I am also aware that the number of monarch breeding places has radically diminished. I have a large flower garden anyway, and I felt that I had an ecological duty to help the monarchs, if I could.

Early in the spring, I bought a tropical milkweed plant. The plant was about 3’tall, and it was already blooming, and I paid $30.00 for it.  The cost of the plant almost scared me away.

Image result for hummingbird tropical milkweed

For the first month or two, I only noticed hummingbirds and bees feeding from my tropical milkweed plant, but late in July, I began to notice that monarchs were hanging around, too. I never saw many monarchs assembled together, and they never hovered very long.  In fact, I was disappointed by my monarch community, and I simply gave up on the idea of butterfly gardening and quit watching my milkweed plant.

By the end of August, however, I noticed that my milkweed seemed to be dying. It had lost most of its leaves, and then I spotted my first monarch caterpillar.

On September 3, 2017, I noticed that one of the caterpillars had moved into the hanging position that I suspect will precede its cocoon stage.

I deliberately kept my tropical milkweed in a large planter, and I plan to move the plant into my sunroom next month.  If the plant survives, I’ll take cuttings in the winter and next year, I’ll have several plants to offer mama monarchs.  The beauty of that plan is that I’ll have several plants without spending another $30.00 for each one.  Now that I am convinced that monarchs wont breed in my yard without milkweed, however, I eagerly say that $30.00 wasn’t very much to spend for this opportunity to watch nature unfold. Young art students come to my house each week, and this year, we’ll take advantage of this priceless opportunity to draw the monarch growth cycle from natural and direct observation.

If you look carefully at the long, green leaves, you will see where the caterpillars have been munching.

Free Butterfly Garden Plan from bhg.com

You don’t have to follow this exact plan, but if you grow these plants in your garden and if you plant them closely, you will have butterflies.

Notice that the plan calls for a water source. I have several birdbaths and a pond in my garden. The butterflies frequent my birdbaths more than the birds.

This plan calls for Butterfly Weed, which is not the same thing as Tropical Milkweed. I suggest planting Butterfly Weed and buying a Tropical Milkweed, too. The Butterfly Weed is hardy, but the Tropical Milkweed will not withstand winters in most of the USA.

©Jacki Kellum September 3, 2017

Priceless