Plants available for feeding monarchs

Rob Zimmer

With all of the headlines recently about the plight of monarchs in North America, now is the time to take action here, locally, to do what we can to give them a helping hand.

The last week or two in August into the second week in September are peak monarch migration time, and there are a number of wonderful plants that you can add to your garden and landscape now to encourage these winged migrants to stop by and visit and fuel up for the next leg of their journey.

Garden centers still offer a number of these plants, often at discounted prices this time of year. There’s no need to wait until next year. Get them now when the monarchs need them most.

Chances are, you are already growing some of these wonderful choices in your garden beds and containers. If so, keep them blooming by deadheading regularly and pruning off spent flowerheads. This is true for both annuals and perennials.

Here are some of my favorite nectar plants for migrating monarchs during late August into September. Many of these will still be blooming in October, which is excellent, since many monarchs are still straggling through from the north at that time.

Lantana is a wonderful choice for monarchs, as well as migrating hummingbirds that move throughout at the same time. These floriferous plants feature wide-branching, woody stems and clusters of sweetly fragrant blossoms at the tips of each branch. They come in pink, white, yellow, orange and red. Many hybrids feature combinations of these colors.

Lantana is an excellent choice because it blooms late into the season — often still blooming at Halloween, if we have not had a killing frost or freeze.

Mexican sunflower is another excellent choice. In fact, the state of Minnesota named this as their No. 1 nectar source for monarchs migrating through in fall. This variety of sunflower features a wide, bushy habit with neon orange blossoms covering the shrubby growth.

Like lantana, Verbena grows wide and sprawls in containers and borders where it is planted. Verbena comes in a wide range of colors, from near white to near black and just about everything in between. It is another excellent late season source of nectar and pollen for migrating hummingbirds, monarchs and others.

Black and blue salvia is often listed as one of the top two or three plants for attracting hummingbirds during migration, but monarchs love it, also. Its long, tubular, cobalt blue flowers are an excellent source of nectar for monarchs.

Zinnias are a monarch favorite and another excellent late season source of nectar. In some gardens during peak migration, I have seen every single zinnia blossom host a monarch butterfly at once. Truly incredible. When planting zinnias, select the ones that have a visible center component. Some of the hybrids that look more like pom-poms restrict access to the nectar and pollen.

Tall verbena is another form of verbena that grows upright on tall, leggy stems. Each stem is tufted with a small purplish, ball-shaped cluster of blooms that draw monarchs during migration.

Of course, there are many excellent perennials that can be grown as well to draw monarchs during the migration.

Some excellent choices for late bloomers are New England Aster, frost aster, Wood’s Aster, Joe pye weed, ironweed, goldenrod, turtleheads, cup plants, compass plant, Jerusalem artichoke, great blue lobelia and cardinal flower.

Purple coneflowers and Black-eyed Susans are also excellent, long-lasting blooms that continue into October if they are properly deadheaded and pruned.

Enjoy growing a feast for monarchs this migration season.

Rob Zimmer is a nature and garden author, public speaker and radio show host on WHBY. Readers can find him on Facebook at