Of all the visitors to The Big Little Garden, few are anticipated more than Monarchs. When they grace the garden with their presence, time stands still. It’s no surprise that their populations have plummeted in recent decades due to habitat loss. For years, agricultural practices along butterfly migration routes have intentionally eradicated Asclepias from corn and soy fields. These milkweed plants serve as their one and only host plant for egg-laying. Excessive residential use of Roundup and other toxic chemicals exacerbates the problem. Luckily, farmers are helping to restore habitat, and even home gardeners can join the battle to practice sustainable gardening and work toward restoring Monarch populations.

I challenge all friends and clients to reduce or completely eliminate pesticide use in the garden and to plant a buffet of Monarchs’ favorite foods. The Big Little Garden is chock full of nectar producing plants, including three favorites grown from seed: Asclepias (3 milkweed varieties), Tithonia and Verbena bonariensis. Asclepias is the only plant upon which Monarchs will lay their eggs, so it’s the most important of the three. Tithonia and Verbena supply nectar to summer and fall generations of Monarchs, blooming long after other food sources are depleted.

If you would like seeds from these plants to start in your own garden, please contact me. Meanwhile, enjoy these videos of Monarchs in my garden:

Monarch butterfly sipping nectar from Tithonia (Mexican Torch flower). September 21, 2018, Nashua, NH.
I started this Tithonia from a tiny seed indoors this April and transplanted the seedling outside in mid May. The now giant plant serves multiple generations of Monarchs throughout the summer and fall. The small dark dots in the lower middle of each back wing reveal this to be a male Monarch.
Verbena bonariensis provides essential food for Monarch butterflies. As other perennials have stopped blooming, Verbena will offer habitat until frost here in southern New Hampshire. The lack of small dart dots on the back wings tells us this is a female Monarch.

There are three varieties of milkweed that are perennial to Zone5b: orange flowered tuberosa, white flowered incarnata, and purple flowered incarnata. All are easy to grow and reseed prolifically, making it easy to share with friends! Tuberosa reaches about 15” and will rebloom if deadheaded (or accidentally weed-whacked by the spouse). Incarnata can reach 40” or taller, so keep those toward the back of the bed.