Don Torino’s Life in the Meadowlands: Still Time to Plant Milkweed to Help the Monarchs

Monarch on Milkweed by Marie Longo

Monarch on Milkweed by Marie Longo

For the typical backyard gardener planting time usually slows down in summer, but it’s very important to remember there is still plenty of time to add or introduce milkweed to your backyard habitat.

Monarchs are just beginning to deposit eggs in our area and will be well into August. Remember, the female monarch does not need the plant to be flowering in order for them to lay eggs. All they need are the leaves of the milkweed and of course as we should all know by now, NO MILKWEED, NO MONARCH BUTTERFLIES!

Milkweed is the host plant for the Monarch Butterfly, which means it is the only plant that the female Monarch will lay its eggs on. The eggs hatch into Caterpillars that feed on the Milkweed, then turning into a chrysalis and then to the magnificent, magical migrant Monarch we all love.  No Milkweed, No Monarchs. That is it, that simple.

But there is also something very simple that we can do to help, right now, today. Plant Milkweed!  The home garden can be a vital wildlife habitat and it can make a real difference, especially here in New Jersey. Anyone that has grown up here knows how much critical habitat we have lost over the years. Creating backyard wildlife gardens can restore some of the balance   and planting milkweed is a good way to start your backyard renewal and give a helping hand to this beautiful creature.

Milkweed was almost impossible to find at your local nurseries just a few years ago. One had to either gather the seeds and hope for the best or travel to far off native plant nurseries, if you could find one back then. Now Milkweed plants can be found at many local nurseries and garden centers.  Milkweed is easy to grow and as beautiful as any exotic non-native plant that you might otherwise plant in your backyard, and far more beneficial.

There are at least nine species of Milkweeds native to New Jersey, but there are some easier to find at your local garden center.

Asclepias Incarnata – Swamp Milkweed

Don’t get nervous, you don’t have to live in a swamp to have this plant in your backyard. In fact, it is the best variety for the home landscape. It has beautiful pink or white flowers which are great for many other species of butterflies that will use it as a nectar source. The Monarchs just love placing their eggs on this plant in my yard every year. Full sun and average garden soil will keep this plant happy, but it doesn’t like to dry out for long

Asclepias Tuberosa- Butterfly Weed

This variety has beautiful orange flowers which are a great nectar source for butterflies and hummingbirds as well as the Monarchs host plant. Poor sandy soil works better for this gorgeous milkweed


Asclepias Syriaca – Common Milkweed

This is the milkweed that is seen growing along roadsides and fields in many places in New Jersey, or at least it was that way in the past.

Common milkweed has beautiful pink flower clusters that smell great. The only downside is that it is not great for the small home garden because it does tend to spread. But if you want it to naturalize a large area this is the milkweed to plant, and at least 60 species of other butterflies use the flower for a nectar source.

Our backyards have become very important places for the Monarch butterfly to survive and carry on its lifecycle. Be sure to make a place for some milkweed this summer in your home garden.  If your school, church or any non-profit needs help with milkweed lets us know. Bergen County Audubon may be able to give you a hand.

You can contact me at or 201-230-4983.

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