Wild for Monarchs

Welcome to the Wild for Monarchs program, a collaborative effort between Wild Ones and Monarch Joint Venture dedicated to the conservation of monarch butterflies and their critical habitats. Our goal is to create and sustain healthy ecosystems by emphasizing the vital relationship between native plants and pollinators. 

The mutual work of Wild Ones and Monarch Joint Venture aims to create habitats that support local ecosystems by emphasizing the crucial relationship between native plants and pollinators. Together, we seek to educate and engage communities in planting native species that provide food, shelter, and breeding grounds for pollinators, thus enhancing biodiversity, improving ecosystem resilience, and contributing to sustainable landscapes. This joint objective underscores the interconnectedness of plants and pollinators, aiming to restore and maintain healthy ecosystems for present and future generations. 

Why Native Plants Matter 

Butterflies and moths depend predominantly on native plants as their larval host plants. In the case of monarchs, milkweed species (Asclepias) are critical for their survival. Whenever possible, grow local genotype native plants that have co-evolved in their native habitats with other plants and wildlife. Additionally, Native plants are often hardier and more resilient, adapted to local environmental conditions, including temperature, rainfall, and soil types. Their deep root systems, especially those of prairie plants, trees and shrubs, stabilize soil, control erosion, and mitigate the effects of drought. Once established, native plants generally require less maintenance and watering and can better tolerate native pests, making them more sustainable for both the environment and gardeners. By choosing native plants in our gardens, we play a vital role in preserving these intricate ecological relationships and supporting the overall health and biodiversity of our local ecosystems. 

“Without milkweeds there can be no monarchs” — Doug Tallamy 

Get Involved

You can be part of this crucial effort to protect monarch butterflies and their habitats. Join us in our Wild for Monarchs program to: 

  • Learn more about the vital role of native plants and pollinators. 
  • Participate in community initiatives to plant native species. 
  • Educate yourself and your community about the significance of monarch conservation. 
  • Collect native milkweed seed and encourage others to grow milkweeds. 
  • Join local efforts to protect and restore natural areas and monitor pollinators. Encourage land stewards of parks, preserves and wildlife areas to include native milkweed species in their restorations.  
  • Talk to your friends, family and neighbors about the role of pollinators in food production and ecosystem health.  
  • Plant native trees for butterflies and moths including: oak (Quercus), cherry (Prunus), willow (Salix) and hackberry (Celtis).  
  • Keep outdoor lighting turned off at night—light pollution is harmful to some pollinators and other wildlife.  
  • Find out about policy issues that affect pollinators and share information with your government representatives.  
  • Join your local Wild Ones Chapter and participate in their efforts to develop native habitats.

7 Steps for Success- Plant a Native Garden for Pollinators

Native plant gardeners show they care deeply about the environment and their connection to nature. While providing food and shelter for monarchs and other pollinators, they also help conserve native plants, reduce habitat loss and fragmentation and increase biodiversity. Healthy ecosystems support life on earth and preserve the quality of our food, water and air—and what could be more important than that? 

  1. Join Wild Ones:
    The first and crucial step is to become a Wild Ones member. Our community is a rich source of support, knowledge, and inspiration that will enhance your garden project. By becoming a part of Wild Ones, you gain access to a network of experienced native plant enthusiasts and conservationists who share a deep passion for preserving biodiversity and supporting pollinators. You can tap into their wisdom, seek advice on plant selection, garden design, and maintenance, and connect with like-minded individuals who can offer guidance and encouragement. Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned gardener, you’ll find a supportive network that celebrates your successes and provides solutions to challenges. Join Wild Ones today!  
  2. Preparation:  
    Selecting and preparing a site for a pollinator garden is an essential step in creating a thriving habitat for local pollinators. Start by choosing a sunny location with at least six hours of sunlight each day, as most pollinator-friendly plants thrive in these conditions. It’s also important to assess the soil, as you will want to select plant species that match the light, soil, pH and moisture conditions of your garden plot. Take a “before” photo of the site. Once you’ve identified the site, clear it of any existing vegetation, particularly non-native plants. Solarization to cover and kill the grass or using a sod cutter to remove the grass are the preferred methods. Do not use glyphosate-based herbicide (Round-up) or other herbicides 
  3. Design Considerations:  
    Your garden should be visually appealing while also offering food, water, and shelter for pollinators. Select native plant species of varied heights that bloom at different times. These will provide nectar for adult butterflies throughout the season.  Include native grasses such as little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) not only for contrast, but also to help keep the blooming forbs upright. Enhance your garden with at least two types of locally native milkweed (Asclepias) for monarchs and as well as host species for caterpillars of other butterfly species if you would like. Provide moist soil or sand called a puddling spot and a small brush pile for over-wintering species like mourning cloak butterflies. For inspiration and guidance on creating a vibrant native garden, consider exploring our Native Garden Designs
    Make a sketch of the planting plan and color-code bloom times for early, mid-season, and late flowers. Fall-blossoming, nectar-rich plants, such as goldenrods (Solidago) and asters (Symphyotrichum), are particularly important to migrating monarchs. Check out the National Wildlife Federation’s regional monarch-specific nectar plant guides. Make a list of your plant species and check the mature size and number needed to allow for sufficient room between plants as they mature.
  4. Plant Selection:  
    Prioritize native plant species that are adapted to your region. Native plants have co-evolved with local pollinators, making them an ideal food source and habitat. They are also better suited to local climate conditions. Straight species are preferred rather than cultivars, and make sure they haven’t been treated with systemic pesticides or other pesticides. 
    To prevent the local extinction of native flora, plants should be purchased from reputable nurseries and never removed from natural areas. Ensure that the nursery follows sustainable and ethical practices, including not using harmful pesticides. Wild Ones maintains a nursery list of businesses endorsed as trustworthy sources for acquiring native plants. You should also check your local Wild Ones chapter for upcoming plant sales.  
    If you decide to plant seeds, you have a couple of options. One is to plant a temporary cover crop of annual rye or oats alongside your main plants. This helps prevent weeds from taking over your garden. Another method is to cover your seeds with a layer of burlap during the fall and winter. When your plants are ready to sprout in the spring, simply remove the burlap. To source seeds, you can check your local Wild Ones chapter for upcoming seed swaps 
  5. Maintenance:  
    At first, water regularly, remove weeds and keep mulched until the garden is established. Be pesticide free since this garden is wildlife food. Some butterfly gardeners cut back some milkweed stalks (late June or early July) to force new leaves for monarch caterpillars. Be sure to check the milkweed for any eggs or caterpillars before you cut them. Later in the season (August-September), practice benign neglect since this is a peak time for butterfly activity in the garden.  In the fall, leave the dead leaves and stalks to provide overwintering sites for pollinators. Update your garden plan. Take an “after” photo of your garden.  
  6. Monitor:
    Monitoring your native plant pollinator garden offers the pleasure of witnessing the thriving ecosystem you’ve created. Observe the butterflies, bees, and other pollinators that visit your garden throughout the season. Participation in community science programs provides a sense of fulfillment as you contribute to the greater understanding and conservation of these vital species. By recording your observations and sharing them with like-minded individuals, you become part of a network of citizen scientists dedicated to safeguarding pollinators and their habitats. For more information, see our list of three habitat-focused monarch community science initiatives.
  7. Share
    Take photos of the garden throughout the season and share your favorites on Wild Ones social media. Invite your local chapter for a garden tour. Share your seeds or divisions of plants in the fall to help start another butterfly garden. You can also consider educational signage to inspire and educate passersby about the benefits of supporting pollinators and native plant ecosystems 

Frequently Asked Questions

Find answers to your native plant and pollinator FAQs
What are native plants, and why are they important for pollinators? 

Native plants are those that naturally occur in a particular region and have evolved alongside local wildlife, including pollinators. They are essential for pollinators because they provide nectar, pollen, and host plants, creating a balanced and sustainable ecosystem. 

How can I attract butterflies to my garden?

To attract butterflies, plant a variety of nectar-rich native flowers and provide host plants for caterpillars. Offer a water source and create sunny, sheltered spots for butterflies to rest. 

What are host plants, and why are they crucial for butterfly conservation? 

Host plants are specific plants that butterfly species lay their eggs on, and their caterpillars feed on. Without host plants, butterflies cannot complete their life cycle. Planting host plants is vital for supporting butterfly populations. 

How can I create a butterfly-friendly habitat in a small space, like a balcony or a tiny backyard?

Even small spaces can be transformed into butterfly-friendly habitats. Choose compact native plants, use containers, and create a diverse environment with various plant species to attract butterflies. Check back soon for new Native Garden Designs for small places.

Is it possible to create a pollinator-friendly garden in urban areas with limited green space?

Absolutely! Container gardens, vertical gardens, and green roofs are great options for urban areas. Choose native plants, provide water, and make use of vertical and compact planters to attract pollinators. 

“Monarch on BFW” photo by Steve Schmidt. 2023 Photo Contest.
Monarch on Butterfly Weed, Photo by Steve Schmidt. 2023


At the 2012 Wild Ones Annual Membership Meeting, the membership voted to partner with Monarch Joint Venture and Monarch Watch’s Bring Back the Monarchs program to help the monarchs and their migration. As a result of that meeting, Wild Ones established a committee that spent the next eight months developing information, materials, presentations and contacts which officially became the Wild for Monarchs campaign. This partnership has provided tremendous opportunities for our members and chapters across the nation to engage in conservation actions for monarch butterflies. These include creating habitat, educating others, and studying monarchs through community science. Previous work also included the certification of butterfly gardens, a service Wild Ones hopes to bring back soon.
More than 15 years later, the Wild for Monarchs committee still exists, and we are welcoming new members: https://members.wildones.org/volunteering/  

Logo of a monarch butterfly resting on a coneflower.
Monarch Joint Venture