By Veronica Serwacki
and in collaboration with Kathleen Contrino
Fall and Spring Preparations for Growing a Pollinator Garden
We are increasingly more aware of how important pollinating insects are. I often wonder - do we really know everything we need to know about insects? Every day brings revelations about the role insects play in the web of life and pollinator interactions within that web even as we harm them through pesticide use and exotic plant material. What the vast majority of the world fails to consider is that poisoning living things eventually poisons us. Pesticides seep into the soil and end up in our ground water which runs into our lakes, rivers and streams poisoning precious water systems that provide the water we drink.
WildCare is committed to specialized wildlife rehabilitation but that mission includes those critical components of conservation and education. These components that help wildlife and humans survive in healthy, sustainable, ecosystems. Ecosystems include insects, mammals and systems that have the right to coexist with humans. In fact, without these interrelated systems humans could not exist at all.
Our team has taken on the challenge of creating native pollinator gardens to support beneficial insects and pollinators that allow our native flowers to grow, seed and sprout the next year. These flowers provide habitat for caterpillars and larva during the summer months which feed nestlings and fledglings while later seed will feed the birds during the winter.
Kathleen Contrino, CW Native Plant Farm, promotes a simpler way to create pollinator gardens. There are many gardening tricks that she recommended to our team as a healthier way to grow gardens. Healthier for the land, easier for the body and cheaper for the wallet. The easiest way to prepare garden beds is to use the “lasagna method.” We will use this method to create a healthier environment for insects and wildlife and to prepare pollinator beds in the fall for planting our seedlings during the warmer months of spring:
Fall preparations for creating Pollinator beds in the Spring are as follows:
· Designate a patch of grass for the new native garden bed. This can be any size you wish
· Place a layer of cardboard/heavy layer of newspaper on the designated patch of grass
· Place a layer of soil on top
· Place a layer of mulch on top of the soil
· A thick layer of straw on the top of that or another layer of all three components
Layer of cardboard, soil and mulch and a final covering of hay as the top layer
In the Spring the bed is ready for planting as the snow and Mother Nature will kill the grass thatch.
As for what plants to plant in your new garden bed – that is up to you, your ecosystem and available plant material. The ideal plants for pollinators are those plants that have evolved over time to suit the pollinators that live there. Another way to define those plants is the species that existed in your community before European colonization. These plants will be the most beneficial to the pollinators that exist within your community. There are many ways to find plant material that will suit your soil, sun exposure and personal preference. Lady Bird Johnson Wild Flower Center, National Wildlife Federation, USDA Plants Database and the NYS Flora Atlas provide a plethora of information about local species. There are also many books to help you decide which plants you would like for your new garden. Finally you can browse your local native plant farm or website for additional information.
· Choose a reputable nursery or farm that sells native plants near your community. Some suggestions for our local community include:
o Locally CW Native Plant Farm in Akron
o Masterson’s Garden Center, Inc. in East Aurora
o Amanda’s Garden: Native Perennial Nursery in Dansville
o Mischler’s Greenhouses, Williamsville NY: Native Plants section is clearly identified
*Check their websites for days and times they are open to the public.
I have had some luck with perennial plants that attract a variety of insects and pollinating birds like Ruby-throated hummingbirds and Gold finches.
· Native Speedwell is attractive to a large variety of bees and bumble bees, butterflies and smaller insects
· Native Bee Balm, whether the red or purple, draws humming birds, butterflies and bees
· Common Milk Weed, Butterfly Weed, and Swamp Weed are beloved of pollinators – the monarch butterfly in particular.
The most important consideration in planting for pollinators is to locate the unadulterated species. Some nurseries sell exotics and nativars – these are cultivated plants that may escape the garden you plant it in and colonize somewhere else. Other nurseries grow plants that have the pesticide within the plant material itself which, if planted, harms the very pollinators you hope to help. Should you be planting species to help pollinators – the straight species is the most beneficial. If you ask the nursery if they have native plants they may not distinguish between nativars and straight species. The educated consumer is better prepared to purchase the best material to benefit pollinators. The CW Native Plant Farm has demonstration gardens and is focused on education. If you are in the neighborhood you can browse the garden beds and walk the habitats to see the ecosystems for yourself.
I encourage you to prepare and create your own pollinator garden. Your garden can be as simple as described above or as elaborate as you wish with borders and beautiful stone pathways winding through a labyrinth of perennial flower beds. Just remember, whatever style you choose, you will be helping pollinators of all kinds and contributing to a healthier environment with a greater diversity of insects, birds and mammals to watch and enjoy.