With the first day of spring come and gone, it’s time to sweep cobwebs from the tools in the garden shed and get planting.
For residents of Clarkson, KY—“Bee City USA”—spring gardening presents a special opportunity to welcome pollinators back into our yards. Whether you’re ready to till up your whole lawn and replace it with beneficial wildflowers, or simply add a few butterfly host plants to a window box, you’ll be playing a crucial role in pollinator conservation. Each and every one of us can help reverse the decline of our honey bees, native bees, butterflies, and other pollinators. Here are a few tips to help you get started:
1. Go native with Kentucky’s recommended native plant list
The Kentucky Native Plant Society’s website (knps.org) is a good starting point in identifying the state’s native plant species. A photo gallery highlighting some of our area’s native plants can be found under the “Quick Links” section of their website. Also under that section is the “Native Plants for Kentucky” tab, which directs you to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. Highlighting indigenous Kentucky native flowering species that our native pollinators depend on, this list not only covers what to plant but includes useful information about each species, such as required site conditions, bloom time, which pollinators they will attract, and which local native nurseries carry them. The list is available at wildflower.org. Select Kentucky from the menu on the left side of the page and click “Narrow Your Search.”
2. Continuous bloom in a variety of shapes and colors
An abundance and diversity of flowering plants in your garden will attract an abundance and diversity of pollinators (plus bonus wildlife, like songbirds). Plan your garden design so that several species are in bloom at any given time from spring through fall (check out the plant list at the website mentioned above for information about what blooms when). Be sure to include a variety of flower shapes and colors: bees are most likely to frequent shallow white, yellow, and blue flowers while butterflies prefer flat flower heads in shades of red and purple. Orange or red tubular flowers will attract hummingbirds. Be sure to include important butterfly host plants since many butterfly species will only lay eggs on certain flowers, trees, or shrubs—again, check the list!
3. Leave the chemicals behind
Overuse and misuse of pesticides is a major contributor to pollinator declines. One of the joys of creating a healthy native pollinator garden is observing all the wildlife it nourishes—ants and beetles probing for nectar, tiny solitary bees investigating tiny blossoms, fat caterpillars munching foliage and the occasional songbird swooping down to snatch one for its nestlings. Pesticides can compromise an entire food web, so pollinator plantings should be kept chemical-free. Making sure purchased plants were propagated without the use of neonicotinoids (a systemic pesticide that permeates even the pollen and nectar) will get your garden off to a healthy start.
4. Be a little wild
In addition to nutrition provided by flower nectar and pollen, pollinators also need places to nest and hibernate. Of our 4000+ native bee species, only bumble bees are colony nesters. The rest are solitary bees who prefer the quiet life in a hole in the ground or old wood, or in the hollow stems of last year’s plant growth. We can welcome these critters to stay a while by leaving an area of our garden less manicured—let that fallen log or pile of stones stay and leave a patch of dirt un-mulched. Providing a shallow bird bath or “butterfly puddle” will also help a great deal during dry periods.
5. Take a closer look
Most fun, spend time in your pollinator garden! Investigate and observe. There is a truly vast and fascinating world in miniature unfolding among those flowers. Once you begin taking a closer look to see a bee snoozing inside flower petals at the crack of dawn, or recognizing the difference between a bee and a bee-mimicking fly or which caterpillar turns into which butterfly, you’ll be hooked. And then you’ll find yourself planning how to expand and improve next year’s pollinator garden.
6. Register your garden at the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge website
The Million Pollinator Garden Challenge is a nationwide call to action to help preserve and create gardens and landscapes that help revive the health of bees, butterflies, birds, bats and other pollinators across America. The goal is to register at least one million gardens by the end of 2017. You can help reach the goal!