Tag Archive | Backyard Wildlife

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!

More About Fall and Pollinators

On Friday, I talked about the importance of leaving some leaves in the garden to help wildlife.

I said that it would even help over-wintering pollinators. This is a topic that doesn’t get enough attention. Too many people think that once there has been a frost or a freeze, everything is “dead” in the garden. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Those of us who are long time bird feeders know that there is still lots of life in the garden in the presence of birds. And even though I have had to abandon my feeders for fear of bears (I will still toss out a small handful of seed in the morning for my friends, however!), I still have lots of birds–and believe me, it’s not the because of the few sunflower seeds I am providing.

When I lecture on house plants, I often joke that if I find an over-wintering grub or beetle, I will take it outside and toss it, calling to the birds, “fresh meat!” But really, they don’t need me. There are plenty of over-wintering insects, spiders and even natives bees right out in the gardens. That’s really why the birds are there. They just amuse us by coming to our feeders too.

I learned this first hand one winter when a tree-mounted feeder came down in a storm. I waded out in thigh deep snow drifts to put it back. What I was so surprised to find  were several beetles and a couple of spiders nestled in the crevices of the bark of the tree where the feeder had been. I guess they had been protected under the feeder.

We of course know that many of our native bees are solitary. They may burrow into the ground for cover over the winter or, in the case of orchard mason bees, find a twig or stick to call home. I can’t tell you how many bees I have dug up in the early spring when I am planting. But they are very docile–I have never been stung. And I always feel terrible when it happens–sort of like the snake incident I described Friday.

And I am always disturbing spiders in the garden as well. I feel less terrible about that but I have an uneasy relationship with spiders. I know they are the “good guys,” but they still are creepy to me.  Still, I never kill them–I just make sure I see where they are going so I don’t come upon them again.

Ground beetles are the same way. They are doing good work in the garden and need to be left alone.

So as we enter into this “quiet” season in our “northern” gardens, don’t think of them as dormant at all. There’s lots going on out there. If you’re adventurous enough, you can even get out there and find it!

Thought About Your Pollinators Lately?

I haven’t done as much with pollinators on the blog this year as I do some years. Some years I feature different pollinators every day for Pollinator Week (in June) or I talk about native plants for pollinators or have some other theme going. I think this year the overwhelming chore of trying to keep things alive in our drought sort of put me off my game.

But as our season winds up here in the northeast, and folks bring out their huge, gas guzzling, ear splitting leaf blowing machines, this is the perfect time to think about pollinators.

Where do they go? They’re not all monarchs, you know, that fly hundreds of miles to hibernate. Lots of them stay right on your property–or they would if you didn’t insist on blowing them to the curb or bagging them up with your leaves.

I am a raker (or I was prior to this year). I will never forget raking my wildlife garden and raking up a lovely 3 foot long snake. Because it was cool, the snake was rather docile, although I didn’t take the time to examine it too closely. I simply took the rake and placed it right back where I found it and stopped raking right that minute! Clearly the snake was using the leaves as cover from birds of prey.

Not everyone is so calm around snakes–I am lucky that they don’t bother me. But that’s just one example of the native wildlife that uses your leaf litter to hibernate.

Not all of us can have large piles of leaf litter on our property. For one thing, the neighbors might object, or the town. But smaller piles in an out of the way corner might work for most of us, particularly if those piles are tucked into a corner of a garden bed.

How is this going to help pollinators? In lots of ways! Native insects and butterflies will use the litter to overwinter. Birds will also use those leaves, come spring, to line their nests. Many birds nest before the trees fully leaf out. The leaves will act as a type of mulch, insulating the ground as well.

Think of the forest ecosystem and the important roles fallen leaves play there. And this fall, find a spot for a small pile of fallen leaves in your yard.

Late Summer Blooms


Normally when I talk about later summer blooms,  I might be talking about late blooming hydrangea,  fall blooming shrubs or even fall bulbs.  But of course this year has been a very unusual one in the garden,  so I thought that I would showcase a few house plants–or tropicals,  if you prefer–which really have been going strong all summer as well and are still putting on quite a show.

This is my third summer with this hibiscus.  Yes, I have hardy hibiscus in my garden.  But this tropical one will bloom until December in my home,  and then start back up again in March.  Why would I not save that from season to season?


This spectacular bloom is on something called the Phillipine or Malaysian orchid. Botanically it’s medinilla magnifica. I got it at the Flower show in February.  It’s still blooming, although it seems to be almost finished.

I bought a less showy version (medinilla myriantha) of this plant over the summer.  We’ll see how long it takes to bloom.  This is its habit. In the catalog, this was called a ‘Malaysian Orchid.’ Hmm.


Finally, I again own something called a “Frostproof” gardenia.  Frostproof is relative, of course. It’s hardy to 25F.  So while it can survive a freeze in my climate, I cannot grow it outside.

I owned one for 10 years and wintered it, along with lots of other  things,  on my glassed in porch. The winter of 2014 killed everything, despite the fact that they were indoors.  I think the prolonged cold did it–I am not honestly sure.  The winter of 2013 was just as cold. Maybe it was the back to back cold weather.


In any event,  I am happy to have one back.  My mature plant used to have as many as 10 blooms at a time.

Gardeners are always at the mercy of the weather.  In times of drought, or extreme cold (or any type of extreme weather) I am always grateful that my garden is primarily ornamental and that I don’t have live off the produce.

As the mighty small acorns in some of these photos show,  the wildlife might not be as lucky this winter!