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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!

I’m Feeling A Bit Left Out….

April is National Garden Month….

And while that garden journal that I keep has shown that in other Aprils there have been plants in bloom, trees in bloom, bulbs past bloom at this point, this is not one of those Aprils.

You might have even heard the statistic: all of New England was exceptionally cold for March and Boston was colder in March than it had been for December, January or February. Now that’s cold!

I am fond of saying that we don’t really have spring here in Connecticut. Yes, trees bloom and we do have all sorts of lovely plants like azaleas and rhododendrons. But quite often, there is this “2 steps forward and 1 step back” pattern where we will have a nice day or two, followed by cold wet days (which we desperately need to end our drought, by the way and which we should all be grateful for but it’s hard to be grateful for them after the winter). And it’s especially hard to be grateful for them when it doesn’t really rain–when it’s just damp.

We will always get a teasing heat wave around Memorial day, and then the first and second week of June are so cold that I usually head right back for some kind of fleece and wonder if the plants I have just planted are going to make it.

It’s only at some point in July that the weather finally turns warm enough to finally make us think that summer has arrived. And then by August, cooler nights set back in and we’re back on our way to fall, which, thankfully, is a lovely season here or no one would live in the state at all. It would be deserted.

I know lots of people–gardeners even–live in much more inhospitable places.  I am just not sure what mechanisms they use to cope.

Let’s Talk About Plant Marketing

On Friday, I talked about some of the awards that are given to plants and Is aid that when you are at the garden center, it is not necessary, always, to seek out plants that have won awards to always get the best plants.

I also threw in an offhand comment about a marketing company that sells a line of plants called Proven Winners.™ And I left it there. So today I thought I would talk a little bit more about plant marketing or plant branding.

This isn’t something that a lot of folks think about but I promise you it drives the nursery growers and the garden centers nuts! Where once you went to the garden center and most plants came in little green pots, now they come in a bewildering array of “branded” pots.  Proven Winners™ is probably the best known and most nationally known brand out there but there are lots of others, some of which even pre-date them.

Remember the Flower Carpet™ rose? It too came in a branded pot–it was distinctly pale pink. It is still around, but it is not nearly so famous or well-known as Knock-Out,™ which, like other Star™ branded roses, comes in a pot that’s branded with its own distinct color. Knock-out’s is sort of an olive green. The Drift™ family of roses is white, with olive green lettering. See the branding going on?

David Austin™ roses come not only in a pot that is a distinct color (black) but that is a distinct shape (taller and square, supposedly to accommodate the tap roots).

Are you beginning to see why the growers and garden centers hate all this branding? And this is just the roses!

What does it mean for you–the buyer? Well, for one thing, it’s probably increased your cost a bit to have all these fancy pots.

Next, if you look at the tags on the plants you’re buying, almost all of these plants are now patented. They say “propagation prohibited.” What does that mean?

Technically, it means that you can’t take cuttings or in any way reproduce and grow more plants from the plant that you are buying. This is something that isn’t on anyone’s radar.

Are there plant police out there? Not that I am aware of. But if a garden club suddenly started selling a lot of a branded plant at a plant sale, without the rights to do so, technically, one of these plant companies that owns the rights to that plant could come in to enforce its rights.

I haven’t heard of it happening–but just be aware.

Does Being a “Winner” Count for Anything?

After my temporary horror last week when I realized that I hadn’t done any plant shopping at all, I am now back on the theme of–you guessed it–plant shopping!

At the garden center or the box store or sometimes even at the supermarket you’ll see a lot of labels that say that such and such a plant or even a vegetable was a “winner.” There’s even a best selling brand of plants sold nationally called Proven Winners.™

You might see AAS winners, All America winners, Perennial Plant of the Year signs, signs for regional plant award winners like the Cary awards, the Plants of Merit award winners–you get the idea. But what on earth does any of that mean? Are any of these plants any better than plants that haven’t won anything?

Like a lot of things in life, the answer is yes, and no. If you’re looking at annual or vegetable plants, then I would definitely take these “award winning” designations with a huge grain of salt. You want to remember the purpose of the plant. An annual or a vegetable is a plant that is, for the most part, a plant that is designed to complete its growing in a single season.

So its “award winning” characteristics might be something like bigger flowers, bigger fruit or vegetable production, increased disease resistance, increased drought tolerance–you get the idea.

All of those sound like good things–and they are, of course. But if you live in a climate where drought isn’t necessarily a problem, a plant that’s bred to withstand it isn’t something that’s important to you.

And with vegetables, while disease resistance is important, some of our best heirlooms have almost none of that bred in–and they are some of the tastiest vegetables. So don’t automatically assume that these traits are things that you must have.

With perennials, trees and shrubs–things that are going to be around in the garden a bit longer, “award winning” can be more helpful. I do look for Cary award winners, for example, because they are specific to my region–New England.

The Perennial Plant of the Year is another good example. It is never a “new” plant. This year it is asclepias tuberosa–better known as Butterfly weed. I’ve probably been growing this plant for 20 years. It is a tough prairie native that has proven that it is non-invasive in all parts of the continental United States–and because it is a native milkweed that the monarchs need, we should all be planting it.

The PPA folks do their research and study up to be sure that when they name a plant that it won’t run amok in one part of the country once everyone plants it. So in that case, it really is a “winner.”

So when you go out plant buying–whenever you get to it–understand what these terms means.  And then go get some real “winners” for your garden.

Where are the Receipts?

It’s no secret that I keep a garden journal. I have kept one for 17 years now. I find it invaluable for all sorts of things.

I use it to tell me the weather (no, I really don’t see a warming–or cooling–or any other sort of trend at my particular site. But I won’t deny that overall climate change is definitely happening!), I use it to tell me when birds arrive and when they leave and I use it to tell me when plants bloom and when the leaves fall off the trees–things like that.

One thing that I have never used it for but it shocked me to realize this past weekend was that I have never started my plant buying this late in the season before. Well.

Over the last journal (so for the past 7 years) I have made a habit of stapling my garden center receipts into the journal. For one thing, they’re easier to refer back to. And for another, it’s easier for me to see what I bought when.

I can tell, for example, that right around the middle of January I always get “flower starved” and buy a phalaenopsis orchid–no matter how many I already have.

I can see what lectures I many have had when because of my receipts, even if I didn’t record the actual lectures in the journal–the plant receipts from the lectures are there.

And finally, I can see that I always start my tomato seeds in mid-April–after feeling as if this is the latest I have ever done it! So I need to get over feeling guilty about that!

But it was a total shock to see that I hadn’t bought any plants–or even been to a garden center–this entire month.

Obviously the cold, snowy, dreary month had something to do with that. And my lectures are a little bit later this year. But still–I have to get with the program and make up for lost time. Good thing the weekend is here!

 

Gardening Is Not About “Getting It Done”

The second half of my post on Friday talked about how you can’t just expect to plant a perennial garden in a Saturday afternoon and expect it to be “done.”

Back in the day when I worked in retail garden, there were three types of customers–the type that thoughtfully took their time, made a plan, and planted a garden. This type would be back often through the season to ask questions and to maybe add plants to the garden.

The second type was the “get it done” type. They never had enough time for anything–and it was always our fault for that. They would ask for all sorts of things, and then when we attempted to provide the requested services, they would say, “I can’t do this now. I have to go____” But at least they didn’t take calls on their cell phones while they were asking for things as my retail customers at the box stores did.

The third type was the type that could never make up their minds about anything. In the spring, it was the geraniums. They would agonize for hours–literally–over 6 geraniums, trying to choose the 6 that were exactly the same color out of thousands. Or trying to decide whether such and such a color would match their house color.

Once the mums came in in the fall, they were back, with the same agonizing choices. Or occasionally, it was over pansies.

I don’t tell you any of this to “shame” customers. I tell you this because “this” is not what gardening is about. And if you see yourself as the second or third type of customer, go home and find a new hobby.

Gardening is supposed to be relaxing. It is supposed to be a release of stress. Now granted, there are plenty of times, especially in the spring, when I get a little frustrated at all the things that have to get done in my garden and wish I had more time to do them. And that’s when I take a deep breath and tell myself that that isn’t what gardening is all about.

When the garden no longer is “fun,” or a source or relaxation or a source of peace, that’s when it’s time to find something else to do. It’s not something to rush through to get out onto the golf course. It’s not something to rush through so you can go to the beach. Why put yourself through that? Life is too short. Rip up the garden and just enjoy golf or the beach or whatever.

So if you don’t get an adrenaline rush at the garden center–or the box store–or even when you see that huge display of plants out in front of the supermarket–then maybe gardening isn’t your thing. We can’t all like the same thing, nor should we try.

Shopping At The Garden Center

Okay, now that we have established that when you shop, go to the garden center, what should you be looking for once you get there?

It can be a bit overwhelming–in a really positive way–to be in a garden center in the spring. There are often acres of trees, shrubs, vegetables and beautiful flowers to look at–and never mind the fountains and wind chimes and statuary and all the other things that go int the garden! Of course you want it all! You’re supposed to!

And in most places, even places without really cold and snowy seasons, you have just come out of “winter.” Even in places where it doesn’t snow, “winter” is a time where plants are in a dormant state because of lower light levels. So once that passes, plants get revved up and it’s time to grow!

So now that you have exited the car and your sense are assaulted by glorious colors, often wonderful fragrance and happy sounds, what to do you?

Well, ideally you have come with a list. It’s not going to control all the madness of this happy place but it should keep you focused on your task at hand. Why are you there today? Is it for some new perennials? Are you replacing a dying tree? Or adding a tree or some shrubs? Maybe it’s time to get the vegetable garden started. Or perhaps you just need to fill a few containers. Or are you buying a gift plant?

Once you answer that question, there is going to be lots of signage to direct you. That doesn’t mean you can’t look, shop touch and even ask questions along the way.

When I worked at the garden center, lots of people came one or more times to explore before they purchased. We encouraged that. Especially if you are planting something major like a tree–or even a new garden–you’ll want to get that as right as you can the first time. Take your time.

And that’s another important point: if you are planting an entirely new garden, don’t expect to do that in a Saturday afternoon or you will be very bored with it in upcoming years. If you buy all your plants in one afternoon–I mean perennials–they will all pretty much bloom at the same time. And then you will be looking at leaves for the rest of the season.

So many folks would come in early in the season and say “I just have today and I want to get this done” as if planting a garden were something like spring cleaning that could be checked off and “finished.”  I am not sure what they thought would happen once the garden was planted–who would weed it, or water the plants or divide them as needed in upcoming years.

But isn’t that a sad commentary on some of our mentalities when gardening is something that we need to “get done!”

Anyway, if this is your plan, I would suggest that you re-think it. Plant a lawn or put in a pool or better yet a patio–something that needs less maintenance than a garden. Because gardens are not about “getting done.”