The journey of a migrating monarch is one of the most amazing stories on the planet. These fragile creatures travel thousands of miles from the eastern and central U.S. to the mountains of Mexico. Most butterflies live only a few weeks, but this “super-generation” of monarchs will survive up to 9 months before returning north in the spring. In order to make this journey successfully, they need lots of fall nectar flowers to support them along the way. Now is the time to make sure your butterfly garden will be able to support these migrating monarchs, along with other late-season butterflies.
Native flowers are best, when possible. Seek out goldenrod, ironweed, or aster species that are native to your area. Many of these can be grown from seed, and there may even still be time to start some this year. Liatris, also known as Blazing Star, has many varieties native to various areas around the country. Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium purpureum) is one of the best native fall nectar flowers, and can be grown throughout much of the migrating monarchs’ range. Native sedums, wild sunflowers, and salvias are also excellent choices.
As long as they’re not invasive in your area, non-native fall nectar plants may also be a good fit. Zinnias are excellent nectar flowers, and bloom so quickly from seed that you can probably throw in a late crop now to help this year’s butterflies. Lantana will continue to bloom into fall, as will pentas if they’re well-watered. Sunflowers of almost any variety draw butterflies (and the seeds are a great bonus for birds in the winter). And don’t forget marigolds, cosmos, and petunias – keep deadheading these to ensure they’ll continue to bloom into the fall.
A final tip – the fruit and berries that fall from trees in late summer and fall can actually attract butterflies. The juice from these is full of the sugars butterflies need to prepare for the winter ahead. Delay your fall cleanup until early spring when possible to provide butterflies an extra boost. Get more fall butterfly garden tips here.