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Plant a Native Pollinator Garden

Interested in learning more about how to design and attract butterflies/pollinators to your garden? In this article, we have provided the following checklist to assist you in helping to explore the habitat requirements needed to create the perfect butterfly/pollinator habitat for Kentucky.


¨ Research butterfly field guides, to determine which types  of butterfly species are needed. Also, take notes on which types of plants they are visiting. This will help in deciding which plants to purchase.

¨ Evaluate your site and choose a location with at least six hours of sunlight. Select native plants (check light, soil,   pH and moisture conditions) and add to an existing garden or remove a section of the lawn.

¨ Select native plant species of varied heights that bloom at different times throughout the year such as Spring, Summer, and Fall. These will provide nectar for adult butterflies throughout the season. Enhance your garden with at least two different types of milkweed for monarchs and possibly a puddling spot.

¨ After planting, water regularly, remove weeds and keep mulched until the garden is established. Be pesticide free. Milkweed can be cut back in late June or July to force new leaves for monarch caterpillars. Later in the Fall Season (August-September), leave some dead leaves and stalks to provide overwintering sites for pollinators.

¨ Keep records of monarchs and pollinators observed. Each week or two, keep track of your observation such as which plants are preferred butterflies and other pollinators as host plants and nectar or pollen sources. Take photos of the garden throughout the season.

¨ Share seeds or plant divisions to help start another butterfly garden in the area. Invite others to visit your garden or come visit the Waystation to enjoy the beauty of the butterflies in the natural landscape you have created.

Why Native Plants…

Butterflies and pollinators depend predominantly on native plants as their larval host plants. In the case of Monarchs, milkweed species 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. Local genotype native plants are vigorous and hardy. These plants have adapted to their region and can survive winter cold and summer heat. The deep roots of native plants, especially those of prairie plants, trees and shrubs, old soil, control erosion and withstand droughts.

Once established, native plants require little watering and tolerate native pests.

Make sure to purchase native plants from a reputable nursery. For more information on native plant nurseries in the area, make sure to contact your local extension office.

Host plants for Monarchs…

Monarch larvae feed exclusively on milkweeds. Plant at least ten individual milkweed plants in your butterfly garden. If possible, choose at least two different species.

Nectar Plants for Monarchs

Nectar plants provide food for adult Monarchs and other   pollinators through-out the season. Pick from early, mid-and late-flowering species and have at least three different kinds of plants in bloom at any time. You will have visual interest all year long.

Early Nectar Plants


Serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea, A. laevis, A. interior)

Redbud (Cercis canadensis)

Flowering dogwood (Cornus florida)

Spicebush (Lindera benzoin)

Pussy willow (Salix discolor)

Wild blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum, V. angustifolium)

Perennial Wildflowers:

Wild columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)

Spring beauty (Claytonia virginica)

Wild strawberry (Fragraria virginiana)

Wild lupine (Lupinus perennis)

Foxglove beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis)

Wild phlox (Phlox divaracata)

Blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium angustifolium)

Common blue violet (Viola sororia, Viola spp

Mid-Season Nectar Plants

Shrubs and Vines:

Leadplant (Amorpha canescens)

New Jersey tea (Ceanothus americanus)

Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis)

Sundrops (Oenothera fruticosa)

Sumac (Rhus typhina, Rhus glabra, Rhus spp.)

White meadowsweet (Spirea alba)

Perennial Wildflowers:

Nodding wild onion (Allium cernuum)

Dogbane (Apocynum cannabium, A. androsaemifolium)

Swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)

Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)

Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa)

Wild blue indigo (Baptisia australis)

Partridge pea (Cassia fasciculta)

Tall thistle (Cirsium altissimum)

Swamp thistle (Cirsium altissimum)

Coreopsis (Coreopsis lanceolate, C. tripteris, C. spp.)

Pale purple coneflower (Echinacea pallida)

Rattlesnake master (Eryngium yuccifolium)

Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum)

Joe Pye weed (Eutrochium maculatum. E. purpureum)

False sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoides)

Roundheaded bushclover (Lespedeza capitata)

Blazingstar (Liatris spicata, Liatris spp.)

Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa)

Dotted horsemint (Monarda punctata)

Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum virginianum)

Yellow prairie coneflower (Ratibida pinnata)

Late Season Nectar Plants

Shrub: Witchhazel (Hamamelis virginiana)

Perennial Wildflowers:

False Aster (Boltonia asteroides)

Sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale)

Calico aster (Symphiotrychum laterifolius)

Stiff goldenrod (Solidago rigida)

Showy goldenrod (Solidago speciose)

Heath aster (Symphyotrichum ericoides)

Smooth aster (Symphyotrichum laevis)

New England Aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae)

Ironweed (Vernonia gigantea, V. missurica)

For More Information

Contact the Warren County Extension Master Gardener Page on Facebook or visit the Warren County Extension office website at to view our photo journal for the Certified Monarch Waystation area.