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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!

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

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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.

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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!

Time for a Road Trip to Bart’s Cobble!

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[Photos courtesy of the Trustees of the Reservation]

For those of you who might be traveling to New England to visit colleges in the near future, of if anyone has some time the next couple of weeks, it’s time to take a trip to Bartholomew’s Cobble in Sheffield, Massachusetts–in the Berkshires, just a little bit over the Connecticut border.

There will be daily tours from April 15 through May 7. This area boasts one of the largest collection of spring ephemerals in the region.

I visited the area last summer in the middle of a drought. Obviously the spring ephemerals were long gone but I was still captivated by the place. You can see my post about the visit here.

A press release with more information about the spring wildflower festival can be found here. I definitely am going to try to get there myself. And I encourage anyone in the area–or nearby, or even visiting–to go. I know you won’t be sorry!

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!

Garden Trends–“Uber”-izing the Garden

This is a weird title for what I would call the subscription food movement–you know, those home meal service delivery options like Blue Apron and Home Chef (2 options in my area) as well as local CSAs (community supported agriculture movements where you buy a share of a farm harvest for a season–although these are usually pick up).

I suppose perhaps community gardening might even fit this movement not because the garden comes to you–although it does, in a sense–but because of the education value of the garden. Back when I belonged to a community garden, we shared lots of things: advice about how to best manage pests (most gardens are organic), seeds and plant starts, extra produce and ways to prepare it and, at the end of the season, a community garden dinner. It truly was a “community” in every sense of the word.

The subscription services, on the other hand, while they might allow you to prepare dinner for others, are not generally communal in this nature.

And some CSAs can be this way, but not all are–it depends on the farm (although most will at least share ways to prepare what is in the harvest that week.)

I guess it is all up to the particular gardener–and how social he or she wants to be–to take advantage or this trend.

Garden Trends–“Clean” Gardening

On Monday I talked about the first of the “garden trends” that the Garden Media Group and Grow 365 identified as trends for 2017.

I have to confess, I am a little bit puzzled by some of these trends. This trend, for example, that they called “clean” gardening. It encompasses “natural,” organic and even hydroponic gardening. It also encompasses free range!

First, that’s a huge range of different gardening styles and there are battles brewing at the federal level (and no, I have no intention of weighing in here, other than to say that for the moment hydroponic is NOT considered organic, and natural can mean a huge range or different things but is also not officially considered organic under USDA standards).

As long term readers know, I’ve been organic for over 20 years–since 1994, in fact–so “clean” gardening is hardly what I would call a “trend” for me. However, I am delighted to see it getting publicity and I am delighted to see everyone becoming aware of the variety of different styles of eating and gardening, whichever they ultimately choose to adopt.

One of the things I always try to tell people when I lecture is that they should try to keep their homes and yards as free from toxins as possible, particularly if they are growing food. I say that there are  a couple of reasons to grow your own food: to get varieties that you can’t find elsewhere and to know where your food is coming from (literally) and what’s on it.

I also say that if you are just going to put synthetics on it–and I mean synthetics of any sort, from fertilizers to pesticides–you might as well just go down to the supermarket and buy the food.

You don’t have to agree with me, but that’s how I feel. And as I always say, if we all “liked” the same thing, we would have a very boring world. But this trend, at least, seems to indicate, that more folks are “liking” food without synthetics (that was one of the characterizations of “clean” in the Garden Media Group and Grow 365 report).

House Plants That Clean the Air of Ammonia

Now this seems like a no-brainer, doesn’t it? Many of you are saying, “But I don’t clean with ammonia, or use ammonia, so why do I need this?”

And I pray you need never know. But ammonia is not just a cleaning product, of course. It is also a by product of pet waste and human waste. And as someone who knows that pets are forever, I have had my share of sweet elderly dogs and can tell you first hand about how ammonia is a by-product of that.

So how to freshen the air after you have cleaned up the accidents that the poor pets (or elderly humans) can’t help? With plants, of course. (Just make sure to check out this chart, here, if you have pets that are likely to chew on plants so that you use the non-toxic ones!)

There are not a lot of plants that clean the air of ammonia–surprisingly, lilyturf grass (liriope spicata) is one that would be a non-toxic choice for pet owners (or those with young children). It is also a choice for low light situations.

Another good choice for low light situations is the Lady Palm (rhapsis excelsa). This one is going to be a little more finicky about humidity, however.

If toxicity is not a problem, our old friend the Peace Lily is a great choice and is tough as nails for low to intermediate light situations.

And if you have a sunny window, anthurium, often known as flame flower, is a great choice–but it too is toxic so be cautioned about that. They are often sold at the holidays and Valentine’s day because of their heart shaped red, pink or white flowers.

This concludes my series on house plants that clean the air. Next, let’s look at some garden trends for 2017!