Planting a Pollinator Garden

On Friday I talked about the Million Pollinator Challenge and I linked to the site. Today I am going to get more specific about one aspect of that challenge, planting your garden.

You may already have a garden that is a habitat garden of sorts. Or you may have a garden full of native plants. You may have one that you have designed to attract butterflies or bees or birds–or perhaps all three. These may already be pollinator gardens.


To decide, go to resources about planting your garden.

If you’ve ever done any sort of habitat garden, it’s very similar to that. Pollinators need exactly what any other “wildlife” needs: food (i.e., nectar), shelter, cover (in this case, it would be protection from wind, because they are sensitive to wind) and places to raise their young (so in the case of butterflies, you know that that means caterpillars and tolerating chewing damage–and not cleaning up the garden in the fall and cleaning it up very late in the spring, say). A nice sunny site is also desirable because in the case of butterflies, for example, many can’t fly until the temperature reaches 70 degrees.

A couple of other things–common sense to me but not always to everyone. If you read my “intro” at the top tab of this blog you’ll see that I became an organic gardener because when I moved to my property (24 seasons ago now,) there were no butterflies. A little bit of research told me that butterflies were highly susceptible to pesticides, so we went organic.  Within 2 years, we had 27 different kinds of butterflies and moths–a success story if ever there was one! So it is critical to avoid pesticides to every extent possible. That clover and those violets in your lawn are actually butterfly nectar food sources. And bees love them too!

Finally–and I talked about this when I talked about “don’t try to “get the garden done in a weekend!” It’s critical to have something in bloom for the longest time possible. At my house, it starts with snowdrops–or maybe hellebores–and it goes through to goldenrod and asters in late fall. Try your best to keep something in bloom during all the months of your growing season.

Our pollinators need–and deserve our help. With some of these tips, we can not only help them but grow some beautiful gardens as well!

The Million Pollinator Challenge

So who feels like a challenge? I talked on Monday about not cleaning up the garden until it’s safe for pollinators.

But how about actively gardening to attract and keep them safe in the first place?

GWA (that’s the association for garden communicators, formerly known as Garden Writers Association–you see the logo on the blog that means that I am a member) is partnering with the Million Pollinator Challenge to help gardeners learn about gardening for these important creatures. And before you decide that this sort of gardening isn’t for you, head over to their site. I’ve made it easy for you. Click here.

Okay, now that you’ve seen that you really don’t even have to touch a trowel to be involved, maybe I have your interest. Over the next couple of weeks, I will be posting about the various ways that you can take the million pollinator garden challenge but just so you have a taste of some of the ways, here they are.

First, of course you can plant something–and you don’t need to plant a prairie. A simple container of flowers will do.

Next, if gardening isn’t your thing–or perhaps you might have allergies (either to bees or plants)–you can read about the various pollinators (I have friends who hate the outdoors but love reading. This is a perfect way to join the challenge if you’re someone like that!)

If you’re someone like me and likes to register your garden for various things, you can sign your garden up for the challenge. I’ve already done it. We’ll talk about that in greater detail in a different post.

Plant sustainably–that one is dear to my heart. Again more to come.

And finally, spread the word, and if you do so on social media, use the hash tag #polliNATION. There you go. It’s not asking a lot, particularly since up to 1/3 of all of our edibles is pollinated. Think about that.

Isn’t it about time we gave something back?

Stop Right There! Is It Safe to Clean Up Your Garden Yet?


You’re going to hear a lot about pollinators from me and all the other Garden Writers (yes, I use capital letters because we’re all members of GWA, formerly Garden Writers of America) in the next few months.

For years we’ve been hearing about particular individual pollinators like bats, who were in decline from white nose fungus, or monarch butterflies who were declining because of loss of habitat and perhaps pesticide use and of course the honeybee and colony collapse disorder.

But have we ever stopped to consider that we might be the cause of some of the problem? It’s a dreadful thought, and not one that any of us want to think about I’m sure.

I know that I like to think that I do my part for pollinators. I plant native plants whenever possible. And I am the organic gardener that I am specifically because of butterflies–or the lack that I found when I moved to my current property in 1994. As soon as I convinced the Spoiler we had to stop using pesticides, the butterflies came back (now, if only I could convince the rest of the neighborhood!)

But I recently read this fascinating piece from the Xerces Society about leaving spring clean up in the garden until later in the season to allow the ground nesting native bees to seek shelter on cooler nights and to permit the overwintering butterflies to hatch out.

Whoa! That’s huge! Why does no one ever talk  about this?

I know we’re just starting to publicize leaving leaf litter and twigs, etc in the garden in the fall for just these same reasons–shelter and cover for beneficial insects and native bees.

You’ll be seeing a lot more from me–this month and in June, during Pollinator Week–about this topic.


The realization that for my climate I still need to be leaving the stems of my perennials standing a wee bit longer was amazing. I’ve been thinking about cutting them back for weeks and only time and wet weather prohibited me (thank goodness it’s raining again!)

If you live somewhere warmer, file this under “to be remembered.” The Xerces Society post has a great chart about how to know it’s safe to do spring clean-up by simple things like whether you have done your first spring mowing or whether the apple and cherry trees in your neighborhood have finished blooming.

Considering that’s a big fat “NO!” for me right now, I guess I and my neighbors will need to look at a messy yard a little bit longer–at least on my property!

Garden Trends–Natural Pest Control

This is a trend? Integrated pest management? Seriously?

If it is, I am very grateful–but I know it’s been a “thing” among gardeners who weren’t quite totally organic for years. Even gardeners who weren’t entirely committed to using no pesticides or only organic pesticides would “buy ladybugs” or some such thing in an attempt to keep insects under control in their yards.

I am delighted–utterly overjoyed really–to see whatever it is that home gardeners are willing to do that doesn’t involve putting things that endanger insects, bees, birds and bats on their lawns and gardens. Because once gardeners realize that all of these creatures are dedicated to the good of their yards, then I think our world literally becomes a healthier place.

One of the best thing that’s happened is an awareness of the plight of the pollinators–all the pollinators. I think people are seeing bees disappearing literally before their eyes. They don’t see butterflies anymore. They don’t see fireflies. They don’t see a lot of things that they grew up seeing–and they realize that in order to attract these things to their homes, yards, etc., they have to make some changes.

No longer is it perfectly acceptable to spray along the foundation every spring–or several times a year –just because some bugs might want to come into your house. No longer is it acceptable to put up bug zapping lights that kill moths but not mosquitoes. No longer is it acceptable treat the lawn four or more times a year when the birds–who, incidentally, are some of your best friends in the war on insects–might scoop up those little bits of fertilizers, eat them, and die. Instead, find out when your cooperative extension service or Ag station suggests that your fertilize–and only do so after a soil test, please!

And while we’re at it, to assist our friends (the birds, bats and bees) in helping us with natural pest control, let’s not manicure our lawns to within an inch of their lives. We’re not living on putting greens. Leave some nice flowers in your lawn for the early pollinators. Bees love clover and its nitrogen feeds your lawn. If you do that, you might not even need to put down a spring feeding!

So What Is A Gardener To Do In Winter?

I spoke to a newly retired friend recently and she was lamenting the lack of structure in her life–and the fact that her retirement fell at the end of the gardening season so that now she had to get through the entire winter before she could garden again.

I am quite sympathetic to this plight since most of my periods of unemployment have also fallen in the winter (and to be honest, the one that did come in the summer wasn’t truly enjoyable enough that I could just sit back and enjoy it–who enjoys unemployment if it is not of one’s own making?)

So for all of us gardeners who find ourselves with extra hours in the cold and the dark this winter (or any winter) I thought I might offer some suggestions. I offer many of these same suggestions at the end of my “Putting the Garden to Bed for Winter” lecture because I suspect that garden club folks might need a little help getting through winter–as do I!

One of my suggestions is to count birds for Project FeederWatch–but that doesn’t work if you’re not into birds of course. If you are, it’s a great “citizen science project” and a great way to give back to the online science community. More information about that project can be found here. And it’s not too late to sign up for this winter.

There are many online volunteer science conservation and observation projects that you can participate in over the winter. I had my backyard certified as a habitat one winter through the National Wildlife Federation.  Not only is that fun (and you’ll probably come out feeling better about your “yard,” however it’s defined. It can even be a balcony) but you’ll learn a lot too. And you can find out what you need to do to make your yard better as well. More information is here.

If online isn’t your thing, late winter and early spring are the time when lots of plant societies are putting on symposia and flower shows. Any group that I have ever belonged to was always looking for help in that area with their various shows and symposiums and day long series of talks. A little “Googling” around ought to help you find out plenty of places to volunteer in person depending on where you live–or stop in at a local garden center. They might be able to direct you. And if not, you can still soak up some warmth and maybe come home with a new plant or two to tide you over.

Finally, there are lots of books, blogs, podcasts and the like that are always putting out the latest and greatest ways to grow things. All of the early issues of the “horticultural” magazines will have the latest and greatest new plants that are coming onto the market. The plant societies have already introduced their new varieties for 2017–some old and some new. Maybe this is the year you decide to re-vamp a garden (or several) with some new–or tried and true varieties. Winter is for dreaming–spring is for planting.

And before we all know it, it will be time to get back out into the garden!



It’s That Time of Year–Be Alert!

Yes, today is what’s commonly known as “Black Friday” in the United States. It gets it’s name because supposedly so many folks go shopping that the retailers are able to move their books from the “red” (or debt) column into the “black” column.

A long time ago–ever since I worked in retail–I gave up Black Friday shopping. For one thing, I rarely found great bargains. For another, it just added a “not nice” aspect to the whole holiday season. And that was not how I wanted my season to begin.

I know lots of people make it a tradition with their family and friends. For those of you that do, enjoy, have fun, and especially after our turbulent political season, please be nice to each other!

But since many of you will be on the roads before dawn and out after dark, I chose to post this particular topic today.

November is the month with the highest number of automobile-deer collisions. And I can think of no better way to quickly ruin a day out with family and friends than to collide with a deer. Even if there is only property damage to the car and no injuries (except perhaps to the deer) it is going to leave everyone shaken and in no mood for the festivities that were planned. And that’s the best possible scenario.

So please–if you plan to go out shopping today–or when ever during this busy holiday season–be alert and stay alert.

That also holds true for holiday visits and all those holiday gatherings. December is also a prime time for deer-auto collisions (never mind auto collisions of other sorts).

Let’s all try to stay alert and safe on the highways this season so we can gte back into our gardens next spring!

A Lucky Spider?

Once again, I have a spider hanging beneath the backsplash of my kitchen sink. This happened 2 years ago and the spider was there from October until nearly April, I believe.

It’s hard  to believe, but I was once a huge arachnaphobe.  All you had to do was to mention the word “spider” and it would raise goose bumps on my arms.

But since I became a gardener–and a serious organic gardener at that–I know that spiders are the good guys in the garden. So I definitely always leave them alone outside.

I also tend to leave them alone in the house so long as I know where they are. I have a few exceptions to that rule. No spiders in the bedroom–but we tend to have few of those anyway, thank goodness.

And of course, I always give my “house” spiders a firm talking to. I tell them that so long as I know where they are and they are not in a spot where they are bothering me, they can stay. If, for some reason, that changes, I will have to squash them like a bug.

And most of the spiders behave nicely. Every so often, one runs across the stove or something while I am cooking and sadly, that one has to go. But those are very few and far between.

They say that spiders can even hear the vibrations from our feet when we walk into a room. I don’t doubt that. And if that’s so, why can’t they “hear” my little lecture?

All I know is that I have very little trouble with “misbehaving” spiders. And that suits me just fine!