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Wordless Wednesday–Accidental Pollinator Habitats

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There’s a lot of talk these days about “post-wild” planting. And while I haven’t read that particular book, I have read Larry Weaner’s books and been to a couple of his talks on habitat plantings and succession plantings. From what I can glean from interviews with the “post-wild” author, he has made habitat and succession planting just a whole lot more complicated than it needs to be! But maybe I need to read his book–perhaps I do him a disservice.

Take a look here. These are two native plants that have sprung up under my star magnolia. The Spoiler keeps wanting to “pull out the weeds.” I keep telling him that he’d better not, on pain of death (besides, good luck getting out the goldenrod. Its roots are incredibly deep!)

The taller, darker one on the end with the lance shaped leaves is goldenrod. The one in the foreground is a shorter lived succession plant called either white snakeroot, or boneset, depending on which common name you prefer. It actually migrated here from the edge of our woodlands. There is still a little bit there, but it obviously prefers this sunnier spot. Both of these are pollinator magnets, as I will show you later this summer.

What’s left in the woods? White wood aster, also a pollinator magnet.

And what was under this tree? Nothing. We keep limbing it up to let the plants grow in.

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Here’s another “accidental” habitat that most people never see because they use 4-step programs and those programs kill clover. Clover is prime habitat for butterflies and bees. I am always amazed when I see folks walking barefoot on their lawns. I wouldn’t dare–and not because I’ve poisoned it with pesticides either!  I don’t want to accidentally step on all my precious bees!

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Finally, don’t over look habitat in the most unlikely places. This is an overly broad crack between the slates on my walk. Yes, there are too many weeds here that I need to address. But there’s lovely moss, a fern and some violets. Those get to stay.

If nature is doing your “planting” for you, why fight it?

 

Mulching With Grass?

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You have probably heard of mulching your plants with grass clippings. This is a good way to use up clippings that may be a little too long to leave on your lawn. If, however,  you choose to do this,  you’re going to want to evaluate how “weed free” your lawn is. There’s no point in introducing lawn clippings that are filled with weed seeds.

And you definitely can’t do it if you have treated your lawn with a four step program.  The “Step 2” part of that program contains a herbicide that definitely has the potential to harm your plants. And perish the thought that you might think of using lawn pesticide treated grass around your edibles!

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This year I am unfortunately growing my own grass as mulch. It wasn’t something I planned–not like my moss and fern gardens in other words. But just as the gardening season started,  I have needed some more surgery for skin cancer, this time in a tricky spot on my back.

So I was able to get a little bit of planting done early, and now I am done for several weeks. My neighbors are just going to have to put up with the “grass mulch” look.

But heck, so long as they keep catching all my cancers early, I will put up with some gardening inconvenience!  I am grateful.

 

Pollinators and Pesticides Don’t Mix

I am sure that you don’t want to hear the story about why I became an organic gardener again. I re-hashed it just in the last two weeks.

So here’s a different story that I haven’t told in quite some time. Retail gardening was an eye-opener for me, particularly as an organic gardener. The idea that not only was I there to sell an arsenal of toxic products and to advise the consumers on how to use them was difficult, but worse yet, in the box store where I worked, half the customers were absolutely convinced that they knew far better than I did how to use the products and refused to take my suggestions.

This was extremely upsetting because I had customers coming in and saying things like that they were going to put down their crabgrass preventer in February because the bag said it could be applied then (mind you, it’s a national product, so the February recommendation is for the southern regions of the country!). Some of them even said that they were going to apply it over the snow! Sigh.

I don’t have enough time or patience to explain why that is a bad idea other to say that none of the product is going to reach your grass. It’s just going to wash away, into the streets and storm drains and contribute to pollution in our waterways. So for those of you that do that, you are wasting money and polluting our waters. Please re-think.

The other issue with this foolhardy way of using so-called “Step 1” programs is that the preventer in these bags is good for 4 months of crabgrass prevention. Now, crabgrass germinates at soil temperatures of 50 degrees or so (not under the snow!) So if you put the preventer down in mid-February, let’s count forward. Your preventer will be all used up by mid-June–just about the time crabgrass really gets going in my region.

But this is not a post about crabgrass. It’s a post about the many crazy things that folks do to harm our pollinators, our waterways and even ourselves.

Back when I was at that same box store, I had a lovely woman come to me and say that she wasn’t getting any zucchini on her plants. She had flowers on the plants, but the flowers were just falling off and not forming squashes.

So I asked her if she saw any bees in her yard. She had to think long and hard and finally said, no, that she didn’t. So I told her that her squashes weren’t getting pollinated so they couldn’t form the zucchini.

She wanted to know why, so I asked her about pesticide use. Normally, I knew better than to voluntarily bring this up. At first she said no, but then she said that yes, they did use the 4 step program on their lawns. They used a grub killer on the lawn. She also used a foundation spray that claimed to work for long periods of time to keep insects out. And she might even have used something in the garden–I don’t recall now–like a weed killing product.  But even if not, that’s still a pretty intensive pesticide load on the property and it was clearly taking a toll on the bees–there were none.

So you tell me whether pesticides and pollinators mix based on that story. Or, you can learn the hard way and try it on your own. But, quite frankly, I’d prefer that you didn’t. Our pollinators are too imperiled for that!

Sustainable Planting

On Monday I said that it was just about time to get out and start plant shopping. Our weather here in Connecticut can be finicky–we’ve had snow as late as May 15–but most people use Mother’s Day as a safe planting date. I usually plant by the “oak leaves” adage: if the oak leaves are the size of little mouse’s ears, I know we’ve had our last frost and I will do things like put my house plants outside (at least everything that’s not really tender). I never plant the vegetable garden until Memorial Day. Why borrow trouble?

But I certainly shop, and if I am able to tell what needs to be replaced after another season of drought (because lately, it’s not cold that’s killing my plants, it’s drought!), I will look for something that might survive both drought and cold. It will be native, and it will probably be something that is going to have to establish itself without any extra “anything” from me: no extra water, and definitely no extra fertilizer or pesticides.

And that, my friends, is the idea-at least to me–of sustainable planting–at least in my region. Your idea is going to be something entirely different. That’s why the word “sustainable” is a little “squirrelly”–it will have different meanings for different folks. Does that mean that the word doesn’t have value? Absolutely not!

The idea that I could take my same criteria and transplant it to the south or southwest is ludicrous. No extra water? Not going to happen!

And I have a friend in California that insists that she cannot battle aphids without pesticides. I don’t know. I don’t live there and I don’t have her long growing season. My aphids are relatively benign. But if I didn’t have a really long cold period to kill them, maybe I couldn’t either.

So your “sustainable” isn’t going to be my “sustainable,” just like your invasive plants aren’t the same as mine and your native plants aren’t the same as my native plants. Does that mean “sustainable” doesn’t have any value?  Only if “invasive” and “native” don’t have value–and I am going to leave those battles for another day!

But for our pollinators, we need to do what we can to plant sustainably. Here are some resources from the Million Pollinator Challenge site.

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!