Kids Go Gardening - grow swan plants for Monarchs

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Gardens are full of amazing creatures. Some are so small we have to look close to know they are there. Others are big and so beautiful we can’t miss them! Like the Monarch butterflies that flutter around gardens in summer.

If you want to see lots of butterflies in your garden try growing their favourite food. Butterflies need food for energy but the caterpillar is the really hungry stage. Caterpillars literally live to eat - and eat, and eat! The swan plant is a favourite food for monarch caterpillars.

Warning: Swan plants are poisonous. Don’t eat them unless you are a caterpillar!

If you want to plant lots of swan plants, try growing them from seed. In most places, it’s not warm enough to plant little swan plants outdoors until about November. But spring is a good time to start growing them indoors, ready to plant out later.

Swan plants from seed

  1. Fill a seed tray (or recycled seedling punnets) with Black Magic Seed Raising mix.
  2. Scatter the seeds over the mix and then sprinkle a fine layer of seed raising mix over the top.
  3. Place them in a warm place indoors.
  4. Keep the mix moist with as you watch your seedlings grow (hint: keep a mist spray water bottle handy).
  5. When your seedlings are big enough to handle, plant them into bigger pots, or outside if its warm enough.
  6. Feed them with liquid fertiliser to help them grow fast and strong.


  1. Too many caterpillars on a small plant can destroy it before it gets a chance to grow big! You might need to remove some of the eggs until the plants are big and strong.
  2. Sow more seeds every few weeks so that you’ll have plenty of food for the hungry caterpillars through until autumn.
  3. Monarch butterflies aren’t the only creatures that like to feed on swan plants. Protect your seedlings from slugs and snails, which come out at night. Also look out for tiny yellow aphids and squash them with your fingers.

Look for Yates seeds with the butterfly logo. For every packet sold, a donation goes to the Moths and Butterflies of NZ Trust.  Visit for lots more information about amazing monarchs.

Fun idea

Try making a viewing enclosure out of a box. Cut out side windows and cover them with netting. Hopefully the pupae will attach themselves to the roof of your enclosure. Make sure you let the butterflies escape when they emerge from their pupae. The bigger your enclosure, the more plants you can fit in it and the more butterflies you will get.

Caterpillars are eating machines! As they grow they have to change their skins a few times before they are big enough to pupate.

Look for these products, tips and advice at a Go Gardening Store near you.



monarch caterpillar
Monarch caterpiller

monarch butterfly
Monarch butterfly on Scabiosa

swan plant
Swan plant with seed pods