Monarch Way Station


Monarch on Joe Pye Weed
Monarch on Joe Pye Weed

Monarch Way Station-Easy to Set Up!

Because of massive habitat loss due to large-scale corn and soybean farming that has gobbled up every acre of farmland, Monarch butterflies are on the decline.  Pervasive spraying with herbicides has largely eradicated the huge swaths of the common milkweed plant, which colonized margins around farm fields and roadsides that sustained Monarchs on their long migration.

Monarch Waystation on the roof of the conventiion center in Pittsburgh, monarch caterpillar picture by Martin LaBar
Monarch Waystation on the roof of the convention center in Pittsburgh, monarch caterpillar picture by Martin LaBar

 What Can We Do? 

This decline of Monarchs isn’t new information as it has been touted in all the news media for several years, but it seems like people are starting to pay attention and take action. Monarchs are a flagship species like the honeybee, and if we preserve existing Monarch habitats or add to them, we will be helping a lot of other organisms as well. So what can we as gardeners do who plant on small properties? Or even if a gardener has just a balcony or deck to garden on? We can plant the right plants for Monarchs and other pollinators.

Monarch butterfly on Zinnia
Monarch butterfly on Zinnia

Plant Milkweed Everywhere

Launched in 2005, Monarch Waystation was created by Monarch Watch and sells seed kits for starting your own Monarch Waystation or pollinator haven. If you are a school or non-profit, Monarch Watch will provide a free flat of 32 milkweed plugs as well as guidance on how to create a new habitat or enhance an existing garden. That is a great deal and schools should be snatching these up! And if you aren’t a non-profit, Monarch Watch will sell you seed kits with the proper species for your area for a nominal $16. Go to Monarch Way Station Seed Kit to order. If you are a regular home owner and gardener who wants to help provide healthy habitat for the Monarch, follow the guidelines on plantings to make your very own Monarch Waystation in your yard at the bottom of this post.

The Great Migration

Migration map of monarch butterfly-used with permission of Paul Mirocha at
Migration map of monarch butterfly-used with permission of Paul Mirocha at

Each fall, millions of Monarchs migrate from the U.S. and Canada to overwintering areas in Mexico and California, staying there until spring returns and then make their way back north. The Monarchs east of the Rockies follow a different path from the Monarchs west of the Rockies.  Flying thousands of miles for these fragile creatures is hard work and they need fuel during the journey. Increasingly Monarchs aren’t finding the proper nectar plants on their arduous trek and we need to remedy this. Since the program started there are over 7,000 Monarch Waystations registered. Other organizations, such as The North American Butterfly Association which is a program specific to Monarchs, and motto is “Healing Earth One Yard at a Time”, are also in the movement.

Cluster of flowers make up the common milkweed flower that sustains Monarchs
Cluster of flowers make up the common milkweed flower that sustains Monarchs

Monarch Habitat Guidelines

By following these basic guidelines, you can set up your own Monarch Waystation and get it certified with a designated sign. The sign and certification applications are available at Monarch Way Station.

Size: At least 100 sq feet; This area can be split up into different areas

Exposure: At least 6 hours of sun a day

Drainage and Soil Type: Low clay soil with good drainage

Spacing: Plants should be close and can be touching each other to give shelter to the pollinators from predators

Milkweed Plants: Plant at least 10 individuals, representing different species that flower at different times; By planting more milkweed plants, you increase your chances of successfully attracting Monarchs 

Additional Nectar Plants: Add at least four species who have different bloom times. For more information of types of plants that attract pollinators, go to Plant These for the Bees . Zinnias which are not a native is my single biggest draw for Monarchs. See my poster below for more flower options that are attractive to pollinators.

Flowers for pollination poster available at
Flowers for pollination poster available at My Etsy Store

Care: Water during drought and weed regularly. Mulch with compost in the spring and cut back dead stalks. Fertilize, amend the soil, and don’t use pesticides!



9 Replies to “Monarch Way Station”

  1. Great information Claire! I have quite a few butterfly weed plants and after seeing at least one Monarch yesterday and today. I’m hoping for more. I observed the one yesterday laying eggs on the underside of the leaves, so I’m waiting like an anxious parent to see the next phases.

  2. Love, love, love your blog!!!!I am easily confused. Trying to figure out which varieties (?) of milkweed I should plant in the Baltimore MD area. Scientific names would be most helpful, or maybe point me to a good website. I would prefer to buy the plants, not so good with seeds.

    1. Cyn, the native one to MD is ascelpias syriaca, or common milkweed. Read my latest post about growing it from seed and I do give the scientific names. But really, any milkweed at all will do. I am growing the tropical, Asclepias curassavica in quantity because it is easy to grow from seed and the caterpillars love this one. Asclepias tuberosa is commonly found at nurseries around here and I grow a lot of it.Go to and you can order plugs of the common or syriaca from them. Or just google free milkweed plants.Good luck!

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