Refreshing A Garden for the Pollinators

perennials in pots

A week or so ago I showed some annuals and tropicals that I had for my pollinators. I also mentioned that I was re-planting a portion of my garden that had succumbed to weather.

I say “weather” because I don’t believe it succumbed to our harsh winter–at least not entirely. These were hardy perennials well suited for my zone (I always chose plants for zone 5 even though, according to the charts I’m at least a zone 6, just because of the difficult conditions of wind and heavy wet clay). Further, most of them had been in that particular garden for 10 years or more. A few of the milkweeds (yes, I lost 3 different varieties of milkweed–none of them tropical–I know better–one of which had been there for 20 years!) were recent additions but most of the garden was very well established.

So what do I think happened? You heard me say it. The garden was very well established. You also know that at my house, the garden get tough love. No additional water, no nothing. Last summer, we had 4 inches of rain in a four month period–and 2 of those inches fell on 1 day in July so it was a very dry summer. That garden was wilting a significant portion of the time.

Couple that with an exceptionally cold winter–the earlier portion of which was snowless–and I think that’s why I lost so much.  Sad, yes, but not a total shock. That’s the only garden where I lost plants–and of course, I didn’t lose all the plants. And interestingly enough, I didn’t lose the ridiculously thirsty hydrangeas. Go figure.

So now I have an opportunity to re-plant. And with the exception of the one variegated plant in the photo (it’s a catmint and I know for a fact that catmint is a bee magnet!), all of the plants in the photo are natives.

From left to right in the photo are: cone flower (I am adding a total of 6. The variety is Cheyenne Spirit so who knows what colors I’ll have and that’s fine. I can see one blooming in yellow and another is blooming in orange in the garden already. They should be great for the bees and butterflies. It was an AAS Winner in 2013.)

Next to that are two asters–the variety escapes me at the moment but they are deep purple and dwarf.

Then milkweed, of course. One is already in the garden. This one is here because I’m taking it to a lecture Monday. Then it will go in beside it.

Then more echinacea (the yellow) with some agastache ‘blue fortune’ near it, as well as the variegated cat mint I mentioned earlier.

Finally, all the way on the right, in the white Proven Winners pot is a native bush honeysuckle (diervilla) Kodiak Black. Behind it is a goldenrod.

I have lots of goldenrod elsewhere in the yard planted by who knows what but I thought I should actually plant some myself as well!

The pollinators should be happy. I know I will be!

The Simple Things….continued

I started off my Friday post with a quote from a previous post about “sometimes doing the simple thing is also the best thing for our pollinators.” I sort of intended that post to be about pollinators and then it wasn’t. Sometimes that’s how it works out.

What I had in mind there was that rather than bringing out the big old can of spray every time we see a weed or an insect, there are really much easier approaches to dealing with both. I know I’ve talked about my “Freedom Lawn” (aka lawn full of weeds like clover and violets) as being a lawn that’s beneficial to lots of pollinators.

In preparing an upcoming lecture on pollinators, however, I was a little startled to discover that 5 different species of butterflies, as well as my beloved ants, use the clover and violets as food sources. And I know I talked last year about how the clover was sort of “detouring” the rabbits away from some of my perennials and vegetables. It’s working so far this year as well (with a little encouragement for my rescue dog, Amie, as well!). That’s what I call freedom!

I’ve also talked in the past about how some customers in my retail gardening past would come to me, puzzled, because they would have no vegetables in their gardens. I would ask them if they saw any bees and they’d say no. Then I’d ask about their insecticide use and inevitably they’d be doing a chemical 4 step lawn program and a grub program and probably something else as well.

So I’d try to gently explain that bees were very susceptible to pesticides–the grub control in particular most likely was one of those dreaded neonicotinoid type pesticides–and that they might be working at cross purposes by at best driving away all the bees and at worst killing them. I’d say that if they didn’t want to be hand-pollinating their crops they might want to back away from the pesticide use a little.

This was always very unwelcome news and was usually resisted quite strenuously. And then I’d tell my story about the butterflies. It’s really simple and very effective.

The year before we got married–but I was dating my husband and gardening on the property–I noticed there were no butterflies.  Hmm, I thought, this is strange. What’s wrong here? So I started to read up on them and found that they were very susceptible to pesticides. At that point, way back in 1994, I decided that we weren’t going to use any because I’d rather have butterflies than perfection.

By 1996, when I applied for certification as a backyard habitat, I counted 36 different butterflies and moths on the property. Technically that was only 2 springs without pesticides. It doesn’t take much. Stop using pesticides and they will come. It’s the simple things…..




Wordless Wednesday–Bring on the Annuals!

Annual Container

I surely don’t do as many annual containers as I used to–it’s not sustainable and I’m not as young as I used to be!

But I always try to do a few. I did this one because I do try to attract hummingbirds. Because we had such a cold spring, I couldn’t find the plants I wanted, so I settled for a pink and red theme and decided I would move the container near my hummingbird plants as needed. So far that seems to be working.

National Pollinator Week

Today begins National Pollinator Week, a week devoted to celebrating and promoting pollinators of all sorts.  And boy oh boy, do our pollinators need help!  The honeybees have suffered what is estimated to be at least a 50% reduction in their numbers due to a syndrome called colony collapse disorder.

Our bats have been decimated by something called white nose fungus.  Bats in 19 states as far west as Oklahoma are now affected.  It is estimated that as much as 95% of the population of some states have died off.

Many other pollinators–insects in particular–suffer from a combination of habitat loss and chemical attack.  Many folks do not realize the important role that insects–beetles, flies, ants, and some of the other “less desirable” types of pollinators play in our ecosystems.

Several great resources exist for learning about the different types of pollinators and how to garden for them.  The Xerxes Society has a great web site and many on-line resources, as well as many resources that can be purchased.  They deal primarily with invertebrates.

The North American Butterfly Association is devoted, as its name implies, specifically, to butterflies. It has specifics on butterfly gardening and regional butterfly gardening guides.

The Pollinator Project is the most broadly based of the resources out there.  It is responsible for National Pollinator Week.  It includes lists of plants for different pollinators, and regional gardening guides for selecting plants for all sorts of pollinators.

Finally, for resources on the ruby throated hummingbird (the only hummingbird that is resident East of the Mississippi) the US Fish and Wildlife Service is the place to go (strangely enough).  It has great resources, including a downloadable guide about attracting pollinators using native plants.

But a few simple things to remember, no matter which pollinators you are trying to attract: limit or completely avoid pesticide use since most are very sensitive to pesticide–even organic pesticides.

Create habitat, which is defined as food, water, shelter (or cover) and places to raise young.  Now this will be different for the different types of pollinators.  Places to raise young for hummingbirds might be trees and shrubs.

For butterflies, it’s going to be larval food–in other words, stuff for the caterpillars to eat.  And shelter or cover for butterflies is a wind break, because they are very susceptible to wind!

For bees, again, slightly different.  Bees see in the same color family as butterflies–blues and purples and yellows and oranges and whites.  So those flowers are good for bees (and bad to wear to picnics!).  Most bees are ground nesting so you’ll want to take pains to disturb your ground very little, obviously to try to observe where the bees are nesting to avoid harm (to you and them) and to avoid chemicals in the ground–and that might include lawn chemicals as well.

The references have lots more great suggestions.  But this week–during pollinator week–why not decide to take one step to save the pollinators?

Attracting Hummingbirds

Ruby-throated hummingbird from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology site.

The Ruby-throated hummingbird is the only hummingbird we have east of the Mississippi.  Occasionally we will have one of the western hummers stray east, but this is our only regularly occurring native hummer, so when we talk about attracting hummingbirds anywhere east of the Mississippi this is the bird we’re referring to.

Hummers see the color red best.  This is thought to be an adaptation because bees do not see the color red–they see it as a dull grey or black–and therefore they do not regularly go to red flowers to pollinate them.  Hummers therefore know that the red flowers will have lots of nectar for them when they get there.

Because of those long beaks, hummers prefer tubular flowers, but they will also land on and use composite flowers because of the abundant nectar in one place.

A list of hummingbird plants is shorter than that of butterfly plants, but if you think red, tubular flowers you can’t go wrong.  Some perennials that fall into that category include bee balm (monarda), cardinal flower, (lobelia cardinalis), columbine (aquliegia canadensis), coral bells (heuchera species), foxglove (digitalis), penstemons, Rose of Sharon (hibiscus syriacus), trumpet honeysuckle, (lonicera sempervirens), and Trumpet Vine (campsis radicans).

If you prefer to use a hummingbird feeder, there are some exacting requirements for preparing the sugar water and keeping the feeder clean in the heat.  Hummers won’t use a feeder where the syrup has spoiled in the heat so be sure to only put a little out at a time until they find your feeder.  Nectar must be changed every 2-3 days in the heat if it is unused.

The recipe for “nectar” is 4 cups of water to one cup of sugar.  The water must be boiling before the sugar is added.  Use only room temperature sugar water in the feeders, and unused nectar may be stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Do not use any poisons, repellents or petroleum products on or around the feeders–this includes Vaseline or Skin-So-Soft. Ants can be deterred by filling small cups of water and suspending them above the feeder.  Pre-made cups are sold for this purpose or you can experiment yourself with paper cups.

Above all, hummers are fast and easy to overlook.  You may only know you have them when you hear an exceptionally loud “bzzzt” in your ear or near you.  It’s not the biggest bee you’ve ever heard–it’s more likely to be a hummingbird!