Create Habitat in Wisconsin

Creating habitat is the most important action you can take to support monarchs. No matter how much space you have, from a tiny balcony garden to hundreds of acres, you can create habitat for monarchs. Check out the list of the top 12 plants for monarchs in Wisconsin.
Creating Habitat in Urban Areas
Monarch photo
Photo Credit: Jay Watson, DNR
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Creating Habitat on Farms
Monarch photo
Photo Credit: Jay Watson, DNR
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Creating Habitat on Protected Lands
Monarch photo
Photo Credit: Jay Watson, DNR
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Creating Habitat in Rights-of-Way Areas
Monarch photo
Photo Credit: Eva Lewandowski, DNR
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The most important thing that you can provide for monarchs is food by planting both milkweed and nectar plants.

Milkweed

Monarchs are milkweed specialists; they only lay their eggs on milkweed, and it is the only plant the monarch caterpillars can eat. In Wisconsin, we have 12 native milkweed species, but some of them are very rare and not readily available for planting.

photo of monarch
Photo credit: Joshua Mayer

The best time to plant milkweed seeds is November and December. It’s best to scatter seeds when the ground isn’t covered with snow, so that the seeds can have good soil contact and lie under a moist blanket of snow all winter. This is because in Wisconsin, most native plant seeds require a prolonged period of cold before they will germinate and grow (think of how the seeds naturally drop to the soil in the fall and sit through the freezing temperatures of winter before germinating in spring). Milkweed plants prefer sunny areas, so choose a location that has at least 6 hours of full sun per day. For small areas, you can also plant seedlings (small plants) in the spring. Be sure to work them into the soil.

For information about where to find native milkweed seeds or seedlings in your area, check out the Xerces Society's Milkweed Seed Finder, or Monarch Watch's directory of milkweed vendors.

Nectar Plants

Nectar plants are flowering plants that produces nectar. Monarch butterflies rely on nectar for food, so all monarch habitat should have native wildflowers blooming the entire time that monarchs are in the state, usually from the end of April or early May through September. Because most plants don't stay in bloom for that whole time, good monarch habitat contains a variety of native nectar plants, which bloom at different times throughout the spring and summer.

For information about where to find native plant seeds or seedlings in your area, please refer to the Wisconsin Native Plant Nurseries publication. For recommendations on plants for monarch butterflies, see the "Top 12" at the bottom of this page, and the full list from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (includes growth habitat and blooming times).

You can also improve monarch habitat by reducing the use of pesticides, cutting back on mowing, and providing windbreaks.

Use of Pesticides

Monarch habitat should have little to no exposure to pesticides. Widespread herbicide use can eliminate the milkweed and nectar plants the monarchs need for food, and insecticides can kill or sicken the monarchs themselves. Be sure to ask your nursery about pesticide use before purchasing plants for your garden.

Cutting Back on Mowing

Cut back on mowing, especially from June through September when monarchs are breeding and laying eggs or when larva and young are present, because it reduces breeding habitat and causes direct mortality.

Windbreaks

Additionally, monarchs benefit from wind breaks and sheltered areas that they can use to pupate and turn from a caterpillar to an adult or use for roosting during migration. Note that not all monarchs pupate on windbreaks or sheltered areas.

Information above provided by the Urban & Greenspace Working Group


Top 12 Blooming Plants for Monarchs in Wisconsin Urban Areas

Plant list assembled by the Urban & Greenspace Working Group of the Wisconsin Monarch Collaborative

These species are native to the Midwest, easy to grow, versatile in their habitat preferences, attractive, and have a variety of colors and blooming times. Many of the showiest species on the list are "late blooming" species, which are especially important for monarchs. Late summer is when they are fueling up on nectar for their long migration to Mexico. These species will also attract a variety of other butterflies and pollinators.
photo of monarch habitat
Photo credit: Jay Watson, WDNR
  • Anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum)
  • Aromatic aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium)
  • Butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa)
  • Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)
  • Meadow blazing star (Liatris ligulistylis)
  • New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae)
  • Orange Coneflower (Rudbeckia fulgida)
  • Prairie phlox (Phlox pilosa)
  • Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)
  • Red milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)
  • Showy goldenrod (Solidago speciosa)
  • Sweet black-eyed susan (Rudbeckia subtomentosa)