Sign in to comment!

REAL ESTATE

6 Prairie Plants That Fuel the Monarch Migration

  • Monarch1.jpg

     (Joshua Mayer/Houzz)

  • Monarch3.jpg

     (Benjamin Vogt / Monarch Gardens / Houzz)

  • Monarch2.jpg

     (DIY Landscape Designs, original photo on Houzz)

Come late August, the new generation of monarch butterflies in southern Canada and New England is starting to gather for migration south to central Mexico, which lasts into mid-October for the southern U.S. Along the way, the monarchs will make countless pit stops to recharge on a tiring journey.

The plants below have ranges that focus on the main monarch summer breeding area — the northern Midwest — but many have ranges that also stretch farther east and south. Consider planting them to help monarchs and other migrating pollinators each fall. They all grow well in clay soil.

Fifty percent of the eastern monarch butterfly population reproduces in the northern Great Plains and Midwest — primarily Nebraska, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois and Iowa. From here, monarchs then spread east throughout the summer, bolstering the smaller populations that moved north along the Atlantic coast during the spring migration.

Browse Thousands of Landscape Designs

Rough Blazing Star

(Liatris aspera)

Native from the eastern Dakotas and Wisconsin south to eastern Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas

Rough blazing star looks a lot like its cousin, meadow blazing star, but it tends to bloom later, from late summer to early fall. It isn’t quite as attractive to monarchs as meadow blazing star, but they certainly use it — as do many other butterflies.

Where it will grow: Hardy to minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 40 degrees Celsius (zones 3 to 8)

Water requirement: Dry to medium soil

Light requirement: Full sun to some shade

Mature size: 2 to 4 feet tall and 1 foot to 2 feet wide

Meadow Blazing Star

(Liatris ligulistylis)

Native in the Rockies from northern New Mexico to Montana, as well as Illinois, Missouri and Nebraska, north into the Dakotas, Minnesota and Wisconsin

This is the only blazing star that reproduces the sex pheromones of the monarch — which is probably why you’ll see a higher percentage of males than females gathering nectar from it.

This perennial blooms from from mid to late summer, at maturity having around four to six stalks about 3 to 4 feet tall. It takes about two to three years to mature and will persist in the garden for only three to five years, so keep planting more.

Where it will grow: Hardy to minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 40 degrees Celsius (USDA zones 3 to 7)

Water requirement: Slightly dry to slightly moist soil

Light requirement: Full to partial sun

Mature size: 3 to 4 feet tall and 1 foot wide

Japanese Maple - Another Great Design Plant

Smooth Aster

(Symphyotrichum laeve)

Native to the Mountain West, northern Plains and Midwest, and scattered throughout the eastern U.S.

Smooth aster is a true magnet for a massive diversity of pollinators, from the tiniest bees to moths, wasps and butterflies. It will bloom from late summer into midfall, and true to its name, it has smooth leaves. Smooth aster reaches about 2 feet tall and about 2 to 3 feet wide. It blooms best in full sun but can do fine with just morning sun.

Where it will grow: Hardy to minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 34.4 degrees Celsius (zones 4 to 8)

Water requirement: Slightly moist to slightly dry soil

Light requirement: Full to partial sun

Mature size: 2 feet tall and about 2 to 3 feet wide

New England Aster

(Symphyotrichum novae-angliae)

Native to all of North America except Alaska, Idaho, Nevada, Arizona, Texas, Louisiana and Florida in the U.S.; in Canada it does not occur in Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island, Alberta, Saskatchewan or the Canadian territories

New England aster is a standby for taller gardens with medium to moist soil. You’ll certainly see a plethora of butterflies stopping by the flowers from late summer to mid-fall. The puffy fall seed heads are also neat. Try ‘Purple Dome’ for a more compact and shorter shape.

New England aster tends to get leggy, as its lower leaves fall off in the summer heat. In my experience, the main culprit is the chrysanthemum lace bug, which attacks plants in the aster family. New England aster prefers a soil with consistent moisture in full to partial sun, but it can take brief periods of dry conditions once established.

Where it will grow: Hardy to minus 45 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 42.8 degrees Celsius (zones 2 to 8)

Water requirement: Mesic to moist, sandy-loam to clay-loam soil

Light requirement: Full to partial sun

Mature size: 2 to 5 feet tall and 2 to 3 feet wide

Stiff Goldenrod

(Oligoneuron rigidum)

Native from New Mexico north to Montana and east to Indiana and Louisiana, with scattered pockets throughout the eastern U.S.

Stiff goldenrod doesn’t cause hay fever — ragweed does — because the pollen is far too sticky to be carried by wind. It is, however, a monarch favorite during the migration south to Mexico. In the wild, this drought-tolerant perennial is 2 to 3 feet tall, but in a watered garden it can reach 4 to 5 feet and may need staking — or plant it among taller plants like switchgrass (Panicum virgatum). It blooms in early autumn and has fantastic clusters of white puffy seeds by late fall.

Where it will grow: Hardy to minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 40 degrees Celsius (zones 3 to 8)

Water requirement: Slightly moist to dry soil

Light requirement: Full sun to partial shade

Mature size: 3 to 5 feet tall and 1 foot to 2 feet wide

Zigzag Goldenrod

(Solidago flexicaulis)

Native to eastern North America

A workhorse in dry shade or partial sun, zigzag goldenrod draws a charismatic group of pollinators. It blooms in late summer or early fall atop masses of yellow spires that slowly spread out.

Where it will grow: Hardy to minus 45 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 43 degrees Celsius (zones 2 to 8)

Water requirement: Dry to moist, sandy-loam to clay-loam soil

Light requirement: Shade to full sun

Mature size: 2 to 4 feet tall and about 2 feet wide