UCF Guide to Starting a Monarch Butterfly Garden

Monarch Butterflies have always been a staple in North America. For generations, classroom children have watched in wonder as tiny stripped caterpillars transformed before their eyes into magnificent winged giants. Draped in orange, veined in black, and speckled with white, these Monarch Butterflies are stewards of nature and symbols of summertime

Yet these butterflies, once a familiar sight in gardens, are now experiencing widespread population decline. In the past 20 years, their numbers have plummeted 90%. Pesticides, habitat destruction, and climate change have created a wicked trifecta proven to be disastrous for these iconic insects. Nevertheless, helping Monarch's is easy. By following this guide you too can make a difference, even with just a few plants.

Determine Your Situation

Before starting, it’s important to do some research. The legendary 3,000 mile migration of Monarch Butterflies extends from Canada/The Northeastern United States all the way to Mexico and South America. Although they are most common in this region, Monarchs also inhabit other parts of the world.

  • Use this monarch distribution map to determine if you live in a place where Monarchs are.
  • Plan your layout. Will you be planting in a backyard or using a patio or balcony space? How many plants will you have? These are important questions to consider before starting your garden.
  • Ensure good growing conditions. Most butterfly plants thrive in full sunlight and damp soil.

UCF Student Tip:Plant your milkweed in pots instead of in the ground! This allows you to grow your plants on a balcony or patio instead of a yard. It also allows you to better control the soil content, and are much easier to move-- ideal for college students constantly on the go.

Bring in the Milkweed!

Milkweed is the only plant that Monarch Butterflies will lay their eggs on. It’s also the only plant that monarch caterpillars will eat. The loss of milkweed in landscapes is the leading cause of Monarch population declines.

  • Choose your Milkweed. Tropical Milkweed (Asclepias curassavica) is good for attracting egg laying monarch butterflies. This milkweed has orange and yellow flowers and is easy to grow and easy to find.
  • Buy a lot. Milkweed should be planted in groups of at least three to six plants. Monarch caterpillars are voracious eating machines, and there is a good chance they might run out if there is not enough.

UCF Student Tip Purchase your Milkweed from Lukas Nursery & Butterfly Encounter. The plants are local, don’t contain pesticides, and are reasonably price. Should your Milkweed have aphids, simply wipe them off with soapy water.

Observe Nature's Miracle

Plant the Milkweed, and the Monarchs will come!

  • The egg stage- Female Monarch Butterflies will typically lay eggs on the underside of Milkweed leaves. The eggs will hatch in three-four days after they are laid.
  • The larvae stage- once the Monarch egg hatches, it will become a caterpillar. Monarchs’ will stay in caterpillar stage for approximately two weeks. During this time, they will shed their exoskeletons five times and grow up to 3,000 times their original size!
  • The Pupa stage- after your caterpillars shed their fifth exoskeleton, they will form chrysalises. Monarch caterpillars often choose cool, quiet places, to form their chrysalis— so be aware that it may not be on your Milkweed. Monarchs will remain in this stage for 12-14 days. The chrysalis will first appear jade-colored, then opaque, then transparent.
  • The butterfly stage- when the chrysalis turns transparent, the adult Monarch Butterfly is ready to emerge. This happens very quickly so keep an eye out! Monarch’s butterflies will dry their wings for a few hours before flying away.
  • 3stagesButterfly

UCF Student Tip: Volunteer at the UCF Arboretum Community Garden to learn more about pollinator friendly plants.