What to plant for monarchs; learn more at GROW Jamestown Garden Fair

monarch butterfly with children in background
The Children’s School at the Chautauqua Institution got to see the release of monarchs that had been hand-raised. Find out how you can raise monarchs in a workshop at GROW Jamestown Garden Fair and Home Show on Saturday, March 24 in Jamestown. Photo courtesy Jamie Jamison

by Connie Oswald Stofko

If you’re over 40, you probably remember seeing lots of monarch butterflies when you were a kid. Maybe you even saw the caterpillar form its amazing chrysalis, then emerge as a butterfly.

But if you’re younger, you may not have had that experience, said Betsy Burgeson, supervisor of Gardens and Landscapes at the Chautauqua Institution.

The number of monarchs has been declining for years, but Burgeson will tell you how you can help increase their numbers by hand-raising monarchs. She will present a workshop called “Monarchs and Munchkins: Butterfly Gardening for Kids of all Ages” at 11:30 a.m. Saturday, March 24 the GROW Jamestown Garden Fair and Home Show at the Northwest Arena, 319 W Third St., Jamestown.

The garden fair will run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The entire schedule of gardening workshops should be posted later this week on the Grow Jamestown Garden Fair page. 

Other features of the event include landscape designers, craft vendors, home improvement experts, kids’ activities and food vendors.

Admission is free.

Burgeson emphasized that her talk is for adults as well as children.

“Everybody can connect with monarchs. We need that bit of hope,” Burgeson said, “and planting one plant can make a big difference.”

In her talk, Burgeson will cover the how-to’s of hand-raising monarchs: how to identify monarch eggs, nurture caterpillars, feed adults and release a healthy new generation. She will talk about what to plant, and she shares some tips here on what to plant for butterflies.

Tips for a butterfly garden

orange butterfly plant and anise hyssop
The orange plant at bottom left is butterfly plant or Asclepias tuberosa. It’s a kind of milkweed, and monarch caterpillars need milkweed. The purple flower at right is anise hyssop or Agastache foeniculum, which also attracts hummingbirds and butterflies. Photo courtesy Betsy Burgeson.

When you’re planning your garden, choose plants that not only look pretty, but will help monarchs and other pollinators, Burgeson said.

Monarchs start to emerge from their chrysalises in July, a time when many of our gardens are at their peak. There are plenty of flowers brimming with nectar, which the butterflies need to build up their strength for the long trip to Mexico.

But many monarchs emerge a bit later, in August and September. What do you have in your garden for those later generations of butterflies?

The Chautauqua Institution, where Burgeson is in charge of the landscape, used to concentrate on the gardens during summer because its season of lectures and performances runs from late June to late August. But to make sure the ecosystem is healthy and to help pollinators who visit the gardens in spring and autumn, some of the space that had been occupied by summer annuals is now planted with perennials that bloom in spring or in autumn.

“September is actually a good month to visit the grounds,” Burgeson said. “It’s full of glorious blooms.”

Even though the institution’s season will have ended by then, the gates are open and you can tour the grounds and see the butterflies. You can contact Burgeson for a tour, too.

swamp milkweed at Chautauqua
Swamp milkweed likes wetter areas. Photo courtesy Betsy Burgeson

In your own garden, plant a large patch of flowers if you can. The bigger the patch, the easier it is for the butterflies to see, Burgeson said.

But if all you have is a porch or balcony, plant a flower in a pot.

“Start small,” Burgeson said. “It can be just a planter with annuals. Putting something there that wasn’t there before helps, and you get the benefit of beauty and colors.”

Schools can also choose plants that attract butterflies, then incorporate raising monarch caterpillars into a science lesson, she said. The caterpillars grow from the size of a grain of rice to full size in 10 days. The entire span from egg to butterfly takes only three or four weeks, and it happens near the beginning of school.

“The changes are so significant, the kids can really notice them,” she said.

Students and home gardeners can create a monarch waystation that has the habitat a monarch needs. You can register your waystation with MonarchWatch.org and see a map of who has created a monarch waystation near you.

Plants for a butterfly garden

Here are just a few plants that will help butterflies.

Asclepias or milkweed

Monarch caterpillars eat any kind of milkweed or plant in the Asclepias genus, Burgeson said. These are perennials.

There are three kinds you might encounter.

The first that Burgeson recommends is Asclepias tuberosa. The common name had been butterfly weed, but is now more often called butterfly plant or butterfly flower.

The flower “is the most beautiful orange,” Burgeson said. “It’s a color only Mother Nature can make.”

The second is swamp milkweed or Asclepias incarnata, which does well in wetter areas. It gets pink or white flowers.

The third is common milkweed or Asclepias syriaca, but she doesn’t usually recommend it for home gardeners because it is so aggressive.

However, if you have a big area, you might consider common milkweed. 

Or, to keep it contained, you might try it in a pot. If you do this, she suggested placing the pot near your door or somewhere where you will be in contact with it.

“It smells incredible!” Burgeson said.

Other perennials

Mexican sunflower is great because one plant takes up a good amount of space, she said. It gets lots of flowers.

Tithonia rotundifolia 'Torch' or Mexican sunflower
Tithonia rotundifolia ‘Torch’ or Mexican sunflower may not be familiar to you, but it was named an All-American Selection in 1951. Photo courtesy AAs


Ageratum houstonianum or floss flower is easy to grow and you don’t have to deadhead it (Deadheading is removing the spent flowers to get the plant to bloom more.)

Zinnias like areas that are hot and dry. You do have to deadhead them to keep them blooming.

Trees and shrubs

button bush in Chautauqua
Kids like the cute pom-pom flowers on the button bush. Butterflies like it, too. Photo courtesy Betsy Burgeson

When we think of plants that attract butterflies, we don’t often think of trees or shrubs. But when it comes to plants that support butterflies and moths, the oak is number one, Burgeson said.

A shrub you might want for your butterfly garden is Itea virginica Sprich ‘Little Henry’. As its common name Sweetspire implies, it smells sweet. It blooms in mid-to-late summer with blossoms that are in an almost weeping form. In the fall it gets bright red leaves– She suggested using it instead of the invasive burning bush.

Another interesting shrub is the button bush or Cephalanthus occidentalis. Kids like it because of the white pom-pom flowers, it’s a favorite of butterflies and birds like the seed pods. It’s hardy and deer resistant.

“It’s a good all-around plant,” Burgeson said.

3 Comments on “What to plant for monarchs; learn more at GROW Jamestown Garden Fair

  1. It’s true! the common milkweed is extremely invasive and, with its deep tap roots, very hard to extricate from my garden. So this year I’ll let it grow and bloom and hope for monarch chrysalises. Wish me luck!

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