Spring is an extremely important time for monarch butterflies. The overwintering populations will soon head north to lay the first monarch eggs of the season. These butterflies need new milkweed to feed monarch caterpillars, and nectar flowers to inspire weary females to lay the groundwork (eggs) for future generations.
Many butterfly gardeners prefer summer plants that are in their prime during the height of monarch season. But to ensure there is a “height” to the season, it’s important to provide the returning ‘migration generation’ the breakfast it needs for a productive season.
Here are 5 spring butterfly plants to consider for your garden if you want to help returning monarch butterflies get off to a flying start:
1. Spider Milkweed (Asclepias viridis)- This early milkweed variety is a shorter species that would make a great garden border for either taller milkweeds plants or nectar flowers.
- Perennial most common in USDA plant hardiness zones 5-9
- Essential milkweed for monarch butterflies returning north from Mexico
- Height 1 to 2.5 feet
- Bloom time May- July
- Purple and green blooms also attract other pollinators like the Hairstreak above
- Plant in full sun – drought tolerant
2. Chives (Allium schoenoprasum)- A low maintenance plant with fragrant purple flowers that can also be used to impart a more ‘subtle’ onion flavor into your culinary creations.
- Perennial recommended in USDA plant hardiness zones 4-9
- Colder zones can grow annually
- Height 1 to 2 feet
- Container garden option
- allium plants have been shown to repel aphids
- Bloom time April-June
- Showy purple blooms on green stalks
- Plant in full sun
3. Siberian Wallflower (Erysimum x marshallii)- A winning combination of brilliant orange flowers with an intoxicating aroma that attracts monarchs, other butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds. Click the play button to watch a feeding monarch butterfly:https://www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/lTZ94MCeH_U?rel=0
- Biennial most common in USDA plant hardiness zones 3-9
- Colder zones might try starting seeds indoors or plant annually
- Height 1.5 to 2 feet
- Good option for container gardening
- Bloom time March-May
- Vibrant orange flowers
- Full sun to partial shade
4. May Night Salvia (Salvia x superba ‘Mainacht’)- Striking blue and purple spikes make this hybrid of S.nemorosa and S. sylvestris a winner with butterflies and gardeners alike. The parent varieties are also excellent butterfly attractors!
- Perennial most common in USDA plant hardiness zones 3-9
- Perennial plant of the year in 1997
- Height 1.5 to 3 foot spikes
- Excellent container garden idea
- Bloom time March-May (reblooms w/deadheading)
- Deep blue and purple blooms
- Plant in full sun
5. Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)- One of the earliest sprouting milkweed varieties, this is a preferred spring milkweed because of its large, thick leaves that can sustain many monarch caterpillars.
- Perennial most common in USDA plant hardiness zones 4-9
- Many other butterflies and bees use this as a nectar source
- Height 4-6 feet – we have some that eclipse 7!
- Bloom time June-August
- Fragrant pink and white flowers
- Plant in full sun – drought resistant
- Can be invasive with underground rhizomes – tips to control common
- Find Reliable Asclepias Syriaca for spring monarchs
These, of course, aren’t the only options that can sustain early monarch generations, but they are some of the most reliable plants in my experience. They are also commonly reported to be ‘spring monarch magnets’ by other butterfly gardeners.