The Monarch Butterfly is on a rapid decline as a species. The US populations have plummeted 90% over the last 20 years! This is huge.
This Guardian Article outlines the U.S.’s plan to help repopulate and encourage monarch growth. $2 million is being spent to increase milkweed and native species that the Monarchs breed and thrive on.
Photo courtesy of Andria Edwards
Several factors could be at cause- decline of natural habitat, climate change, toxins in their environment (pesticides, insecticide and herbicide use has increased since the introduction of genetically modified crops in the 1980’s). Click here to learn more about why GMO’s are bad for our health and environment. www.nongmoproject.org
A 10 state endeavor is underway as of November of 2015 to regrow the Monarch population. The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the National Wildlife Federation are spearheading the movement, along with the Obama Administration (public and private funds- donations are being matched and the efforts are underway!)
Migratory pattern of the Monarch
November 12, 2015 – The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced a new conservation effort to help agricultural producers provide food and habitat for monarch butterflies in the Midwest and southern Great Plains.
This targeted 10-state effort by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) will invest $4 million in 2016 to help combat the iconic species’ decline. 
Interview with a Monarch Mom
Andria Edwards, a local monarch advocate is quickly becoming an expert in attracting monarchs and helping them thrive. Andria offered us these AMAZING pictures that she took from her experience cultivating monarch butterflies last year. She is ramping up her efforts this year by planting more milkweed and native plants.
She has done her research and is involving her two children and husband. Her efforts are building a lasting legacy for our planet and teaching the next generation about the beauty of nature and what we can do to help ensure the Monarch population rebounds.
She raised 8 monarch caterpillars last year and will increase that number this year. She did report her statistics as well, which is important.
There is a website called Journey North and it tracks migration of Monarchs and hummingbirds to name a few. It allows you to see what else is being reported in your area. Locally, in Indiana, McCloud Nature Park does a Monarch tagging event in late summer. These tags can be tracked all the way down into Mexico and are reported back up here when they are found! Monarchwatch is a great site for that as well!
” The kids learned a ton!! First the life cycle of a butterfly: start to finish. It also taught them responsibility…you have to feed the cats daily, sometimes multiple times of day and clean up their poop multiple times of day. They learned how to recreate their habitats inside. They learned that sometimes we (humans) have to step in to help nature or correct a problem that humans have created. “
To protect her caterpillars or “cats” she did move them inside to protect from predators, such as birds. Once hatched into butterflies they released them outside so they can live and migrate to Mexico as natural.
“The Monarch decline is manmade so it has to be man corrected. Watching the entire process then having Monarchs walk all over you during their release is nothing short of miraculous. Its awe-inspiring and worth making changes so that future generations can see the same thing.”
How to Plant for Monarch Butterflies:
I did a Q & A with Andria Edwards so she could share her experiences and advice for maintaining a proper Monarch habitat.
Do they need to be protected?
Full sun and little wind is ideal. They love to be warm but don’t like to blow around.
Why a host plant?
Each butterfly species has a specific host plant, basically where they will lay their eggs and the caterpillars like to eat. Monarchs host plants are Milkweed, so if you want caterpillars you need to plant it also and incorporate nectar plants for the full life cycle.
How much do you plant?
I normally plant 3 of each plant. I do this for everything I plant that way they have a pollination buddy nearby. I also think it’s more visually appealing.
Another important thing to consider is that you want flowers that will bloom in late spring, summer and into early fall. This provides a continuous nectar source for the adult butterfly.
When do you plant your flowers and plants? /What do you plant?
Fall or spring is a great time to plant perennials, annuals have to wait till after the last frost to be planted. Normally I plan during the winter but really gardening is a continually evolving work in progress. I am constantly adding to it and constantly learning new things so I change things often!
Some types of milkweed seeds need to be cold stratified so I will sprinkle those seeds in the late fall. Other types of milkweed, along with Mexican sunflowers, I will start 6-8 weeks before the last frost alongside my veggies. Zinnias and Cosmos will be sown in mid May.
Annuals: Lantana, Tropical Milkweed, Zinnias, Cosmos, Mexican Sunflower
Perennials: Milkweed (swamp or native)*, Bee Balm, Shasta Daisies, New England Aster*, Goldrod, Coneflowers*, Sedium, Russian Sage, Joe Pye Weed* *denotes native to Indiana
Per Landscapingabout.com: Common milkweed plants grow best in full sun and in a well-drained soil, but, as tough as they are, they tend to tolerate clay soil, as well. Many find butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa), with its bright orange flowers, a more attractive type of milkweed than the common milkweed.
I agree 100% when Andria says to find plants that have not been treated chemically. Your best bet is to visit a local nursery and ask questions or visit a native plant sale in your area. Some other species that butterflies are attracted to: English Lavender, Black Eyed Susans, Wild Violets, Passionflower vine, Hollyhock and Snapdragon.
Even the herb dill will attract butterflies, like Anise Swallowtails.  So you may find your dill, parsley, or carrots being used as caterpillar host plants.
“Be leery of plants from Lowes or other big box stores because a lot of times they are pretreated with pesticides and are genetically modified to be insect resistant…this is not good for butterflies.”- A.E.
How far apart do you plant?
I plant 1-2 ft apart. You can intermix various species of plants all around your yard. Monarch watch.org says that you want 2-10 plant mix per square yard. Keep in mind how big a plant might get.
You want to make sure you give everything enough room to grow. A butterfly bush could get 3ft across so I would plant a milkweed several feet away from it, whereas a Mexican Sunflower will grow straight up so I could plant milkweed closer to it.
When will the monarchs return to our area (Indiana) to start breeding?
Monarchs will start to arrive up here in June, I spotted my first last year the beginning of July, and they will stay till the end of September-mid October. So it’s important to have plants ready for them by then!
The caterpillars will travel up to 20-30 ft. away to cocoon! They prefer a hard surface, for example trees, bushes, underneath side of pots or patio furniture, or sometimes even plants with broad leaves. They will look for a quiet area that is well protected.
The butterfly life cycle is 6-8 weeks start to finish, with the butterfly portion lasting 2-4 weeks. Except the last round of butterflies that are born end of September/October- that round will migrate to Mexico so they will live 6-8 months.