Unlike other royalty, Monarchs arrive in the spring without much fanfare. One day you’ll look up to see a tattered traveler flitting about the garden looking for a quick meal. Then, a few more show up, and by the time May arrives, the Monarchs are generally doing a full court press in all of our flower beds.
Because you should take hospitality seriously, prepare for the butterflies well before they arrive. Start by making a list of the plants they love to feast on. Buddleia (butterfly bush) is generally the first plant we think of, but we have noticed that some varieties may be more appealing to the insects than others. In our unofficial survey, Monarchs seem to prefer the buddleia varieties that produce light blue or lavender flowers better than white or pink flowering forms. Purple-flowered varieties like ‘Black Knight’ have also fared well.
Our survey, however, has been a casual one, and just when we think the butterflies don’t like white and pink buddleias, then we see them massing on these shrubs for a meal. So, we usually end up planting one of each to create a complete buddleia banquet. Annual flowers should also be on the menu if you want to entertain Monarchs. Two top choices are tithonia and zinnia. Tithonia, also called Mexican sunflower, is a magnificent plant that can grow to 6 feet tall (although there are shorter varieties available) and produce endless crops of orange, daisy-like flowers that Monarchs find hard to resist. In fact, if you only have room in your garden for one butterfly plant, we recommend tithonia. This sun-lover can be a bit rangy and may require some staking, but it’s definitely worth the effort. Start the seeds directly outdoors after frost danger has passed. It loves hot weather and will grow quickly. All you need to do is keep it weeded, watered, and then stand back and watch the fun as butterflies of all types zoom in for a meal.