1st Monarch, April 16th

Monarch Waystation discovered on April 16 th !

As spring unfolds it is always a special day when the first Monarch appears.  Journey North tracks the first milkweed emerged, Monarch, egg, caterpillar, and chrysalis. In southern New Jersey our first Monarchs are the children of those that overwintered in Mexico. Generations are leapfrogging north to repopulate the eastern United States and southern Canada.

This Monarch, our first, sailed over our house and into the back yard. Our mid-April garden is mostly spring weeds, which I leave because so little else is in bloom. I’ve been observing elfins and other spring butterflies nectaring on our lush carpet of Chickweed and Purple Dead Nettle . . . so these weeds are keepers for now. The Monarch coursed back and forth and eventually found one of our Milkweed patches. The milkweed was just emerging, only up an inch or two. I didn’t even know it was “up” but this Monarch found it amidst the carpet of weeds. It laid eggs, sailed off, and disappeared from the garden and yard.

Monarch egg

Pointing out one of many Monarch eggs on this “just emerged” Swamp Milkweed

After about a fifteen minute walkabout it returned to our garden and made a Monarch-line right to the Milkweed tips, laying a few more eggs. It probably didn’t want to lay all its eggs in one Milkweed patch and was wandering the neighborhood looking for more. The fact that it kept returning, again and again, told the true story of a neighborhood all too rich in lawns.

Common Milkweed

Common Milkweed, a favorite with pollinators. Best in a meadow or where you don’t mind it wandering.

Explore the milkweeds native to your region and create a Monarch Waystation of your own. Plant as many different milkweeds as the various habitats on your property will support.   Barbara Pintozzi shares terrific information about Purple Milkweed.  Scatter your milkweed patches hither and yon on your property, so visiting Monarchs don’t have to lay all their eggs in one spot. Invite all pollinators to your yard by planting just the right nectar plants to attract them.  The Pollinator Partnership has terrific nectar guides region-by-region.

Think about joining me for the “Tours of Private Cape May County, NJ, Wildlife Gardens” in July, August, and September where you can see first hand many diverse pollinator gardens shimmering and glimmering with Monarchs and many other butterflies, caterpillars, bees, and joy!

© 2012, Pat Sutton. All rights reserved. This article is the property of Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens. We have received many requests to reprint our work. Our policy is that you are free to use a short excerpt which must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Please use the contact form above if you have any questions.

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  1. Kelvin Boyle says

    Hi Pat, I’m glad your not afraid of the weeds. While we won’t see a Monarch for another couple of weeks, we have seen both American Painted Ladies depositing eggs on the Pearly Everlastings and a lot of Red Admirals. I’ve discovered the reason our neighbor and I have so many Admirals: we’re the only ones on Chemical Avenue that have dandelions in our yards. I hope they also find the False Nettle.
    Keep up the good work!

    • says

      Hi Kevin, thank goodness for you & your neighbor in Chemical Avenue. YES, YES, YES, Dandelions are key spring nectar too. Good for you for bucking the trend to “do it in.” We had a major movement of Red Admirals yesterday and I’ll bet they’ll find your False Nettle . . . I’m counting on them finding my Stinging Nettle (planted down in a large pot in the back of the garden). Happy Gardening!
      Pat Sutton recently posted..Spring Cleanup in the Wildlife Garden

  2. says

    Pat, so excited to hear that the Monarchs are moving up the coast and are in NJ – thanks for giving them a way station en route to New England :) We have swamp, butterfly and common milkweed here but they are barely out of the ground yet, so I’ll just have to be patient…
    Ellen Sousa recently posted..NWF and ScottsMiracle-Gro? No!

  3. Ursula Vernon says

    We haven’t seen any monarchs here yet, despite it being practically late spring (at least by the feel of the weather!) and having purple, whorled, and tuberosa up already, as well as my usual supplemental annual offering of tropical milkweed. (My swamp milkweed gave up the ghost, finally.) Oddly enough, though, we ALSO don’t have any aphids or milkweed beetles. Looks like none of the usual milkweed ecosystem is out and about down here yet. I’m not sure what to make of that…

    • says

      Hi Ursula, Your garden sounds very Monarch-friendly! Some years we see a spring Monarch or two or three or more and then it’s a long while before they’re an every day garden visitor. If not for my mister and rain barrel hoses, I would probably have lost my Swamp Milkweed too.
      Pat Sutton recently posted..Spring Cleanup in the Wildlife Garden

  4. Barb Elliot says

    Saw my first-of-year Monarch in a field in Wayne, PA , also on April 16th. I could barely believe my eyes – it seems so early and milkweeds are barely pushing up.

    • says

      Hi Barb, I’m with you. But, as you could see from my photo in the post, Monarchs don’t need big honker plants, a bit peeking through the ground will do. Check out the link I shared above in my reply to Ellen Sousa for the Journey North Milkweed Map and you’ll be amazed how much milkweed is already available to Monarchs .. yes newly emerged plants … but at least they’ve emerged. Happy Gardening!
      Pat Sutton recently posted..Spring Cleanup in the Wildlife Garden

  5. says

    Oh Pat, I can feel your excitement at seeing your first returning Monarch! Frightening how early it is. It could so easily become very cold again. Thank you so for your efforts there for without people like you I may not continue to enjoy this magnificent journey and the beautiful Monarchs visiting our gardens and fields. I love to think of one of your offspring finding its way to our gardens later on. Great advice for helping these creatures and we need more wild corridors and to somehow protect their overwintering sites. I should love to visit and see the monarchs migrating in the fall! It must be amazing there.
    Carol Duke recently posted..Spring Spreads Swaths of Sweetness in Petals and Song

  6. says

    Hi Heather, they like my Swamp Milkweed too and mine fades out of the garden over time too, despite having my rain barrels empty out in their patches. Luckily it’s easy to grow from seeds to replenish the patch each year. Here the Common seems to be as much a favorite as the Swamp. May you see your first Monarch soon!
    Pat Sutton recently posted..Spring Cleanup in the Wildlife Garden

  7. Joe says

    Always looking for others who are milkweed keepers. My son and I live in Erie Pennsylvania and we are still waiting for our first Monarchs. People here just take them so much for granted, they don’t even realize how they are in the epicenter of the Monarch summer breeding grounds and by just being a little friendly with the yard plants we could have so many Monarchs.

    We keep Common, Swamp, and Showy(hybridizes with Common). In the first part of the season the Common is as important as the Swamp but by June our Swamp milkweed is the primary plant for egg deposits. They pick the plants in groups; they lay the eggs on small plants that will be big plants by the time the eggs hatch.

    We keep the Swamps going in our yard but it is a challenge. It just isn’t aggressive like people fear and sunny and wet is a tough combo in the yard. I put ours by bird baths and by downspouts and then spend a lot of time eliminating competing vegetation (leave some because part of monarch cat defense is to drop from the plants into surrounding weeds when attacked by European paper wasps).

    This year we are trying Poke milkweed–will tolerate some shade, will grow in damp to dry conditions. Don’t know if they like it as much yet.

  8. says

    Hi Joe, your garden sounds like my kind of garden. Yes, plant it (as many milkweeds as possible) and they will come. I’m sure the Monarchs will find your garden soon. I tried Poke Milkweed, but sadly it didn’t survive in my garden.

    One way to “hook” others around you is to show them a Monarch egg or caterpillar or chrysalis in your garden … I find it brings out the child and wonder in just about anyone. A miracle that the end result is a Monarch that wings its way to a place it’s never been, the Mountains of Mexico. And hopefully that person will begin growing Milkweeds, show another, who will show another, and another . . . Keep having fun with your wildlife garden and thanks for sharing.
    Pat Sutton recently posted..Spring Cleanup in the Wildlife Garden


  1. […] and then planting key host plants resulted in nurseries of eggs and caterpillars within the garden: Monarchs on an assortment of milkweeds, Black Swallowtails on fennel, American Snout and Question Mark and […]

  2. […] 1st Monarch, April 16th “As spring unfolds it is always a special day when the first Monarch appears. This Monarch, our first, sailed over our house and into the back yard. Our mid-April garden is mostly spring weeds, which I leave because so little else is in bloom.” by Pat Sutton […]

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