Monarch Butterfly Flowers You Should Grow

A migration journey of a thousand miles (or more) starts with lots of monarch butterfly flowers. Grow these nectar plants for monarchs.

monarch butterfly on Mexican sunflowerCourtesy Hans Peskowits
A monarch butterfly sipping nectar from a Mexican sunflower

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. Now is the time to make sure your butterfly garden includes the best monarch butterfly flowers, with a mix of milkweed and other nectar plants. In order to make this journey successfully, they need lots of fall blooms to support them along the way.

Monarch Butterfly Habitat

Bnbbyc19 Raymond Lentz 1Courtesy Raymond Lentz
Monarchs flying near goldenrod plants

The ideal monarch habitat includes meadows, fields, marshes and pollinator gardens. These butterflies are seen across the U.S. and southern Canada, with eastern and western populations divided by the Rocky Mountains.

In 2022, the International Union of Conservation of Nature listed the monarch butterfly as endangered. Grow regional milkweeds and nectar plants to give these butterflies a boost.

Discover fascinating monarch butterfly facts.

Milkweed for Monarchs

14 Martin Espinola Bbxjul23Courtesy Martin Espinola
Monarch caterpillar feeding on milkweed

Any garden for monarchs needs to include milkweed. These caterpillars exclusively feed on milkweed, and the flowers provide nectar for the adult butterflies. Look for off-white or faintly yellow colored monarch eggs on milkweed leaves.

This caterpillar (above) was on its way to becoming a monarch butterfly, gorging itself on a milkweed meal. My sister raised it from an egg as part of the Monarch Watch project, and eventually tagged and released it,” says Martin Espinola of Northhampton, Massachusetts.

Raising monarch butterflies: here’s what you need to know.

Choose Native Monarch Butterfly Flowers

monarch butterfly on liatrisCourtesy Carol Shaffer
Monarch feeding on liatris flowers

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 and salvias are also excellent choices for monarch butterfly flowers.

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More Nectar Plants for Monarch Butterflies

As long as they’re not invasive in your area, non-native fall nectar plants may also be a good fit. Mix in some colorful annuals. 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, Mexican sunflower, cosmos and petunias. Keep deadheading these to ensure they’ll continue to bloom into the fall.

Don’t miss these pretty pictures of monarch butterflies.

14 Lisa Watkins Bbxjul23Courtesy Lisa Watkins
Monarch on marigolds

“I plant flowers every year in my backyard for pollinators and birds. I planted these marigolds (above) from seed and many butterflies enjoyed them. But one afternoon I was surprised to catch this monarch in the most perfect place, so I grabbed my Nikon camera and captured this shot,” says Lisa Watkins of Mechanicsville, Virginia.

308493795 1 Jane Gamble Bnb Pc 2022Courtesy Jane Gamble
Plant a patch of zinnias to support monarchs

“When I visited a zinnia flower patch one morning, I took more than 1,000 photos. I especially loved this one because monarchs have faced many challenges for their very survival. Seeing this butterfly (above) drinking sweet nectar gave me hope for the future of the species,” says Jane Gamble of Alexandria, Virginia.

Put Out Fresh Fruit for Butterflies

A final tip—the fruit and berries that fall from trees in late summer and fall can actually attract butterflies. The juice from the fruit 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.

Next, discover 3 butterflies that look like monarchs.

Jill Staake
Jill Staake's lifelong love of nature turned into a career during the years she spent working with native Florida butterflies, caterpillars, and other wildlife at the Museum of Science & Industry in Tampa, Florida. During this time, she helped to maintain 30+ acres of gardens and backwoods, all carefully cultivated to support the more than 20 species of butterflies displayed indoors and out. She now writes for a variety of publications and sites on topics like gardening and birding, among others.