Are you wanting to help out pollinators or maybe you just simply want to bring beauty and wildlife to your yard?…. There’s no better way than with a Pollinator Garden!
And the best part…is your creation…will be giving pollinators a “wing up”.
While creating this refuge may be work, the process itself is simple. Basically, all you need is a chemical-free environment, rich organic soil, native plants, sunlight, a couple of other little things, and before you know it, you will have blooms and pollinators of all kinds in your garden.
STEP 1 – Location
Since location is key, we’ll start there….so look around your yard and find a spot that receives 6-8 hours of sunlight every day. Now, don’t worry if your yard is mostly shaded as there are flowers that take shade and attract pollinators.
Sunny spots are best though because the sun helps to keep the pollinators warm, helps to dry their wings after it rains, and not to mention the bigger selection of sun-loving plants to choose from.
If your spot happens to be near a hedgerow then this will offer a windbreak which is a good thing…..as a lot of our little friends do not like to fly on windy days……takes a lot of their energy.
CREATING YOUR BED
Here are a few methods: 1.) A shovel and a lot of elbow grease 2.) A tiller (in my experience just as much elbow grease 3.) A raised bed 4.) Covering the ground with something to starve out the light 5.) Or my personal favorite – The Meadow
(I personally have tried all these methods and highly recommend #4…..if you have the time that is) or #5
So, let’s talk about Numbers 1 & 2. When it comes to trying to break up sod with a shovel or a tiller….I personally can’t decide which is worst because they both suck…immensely. While the tiller may be quicker for some, to me it is just downright brutal (my troy-bilt throws me around like a sack of potatoes). Not to mention the fact that it disturbs the soil structure and decimates the much-needed earthworms.
Number 3, If you already have the materials on hand or if money isn’t too much of an issue, then you could go with raised beds. All you’ll need is something to hold in soil, so if you have brick, cinder block, logs, stones, lumber then you have the makings for a raised bed. I have used every single one of these materials listed above and they all do the job. Just build and fill……but remember, before you fill, aerate the ground with…say a pitch or broad fork.
The filling part may be the most expensive….not only is good rich organic compost hard to come by but it is pricey as well.
Number 4, if you have time….I recommend putting something down to slowly kill the grass. Look around, you probably have something on hand to do the job… (maybe some old plywood, cardboard, or plastic…anything really to shut out the light) and do some of the work for you.
But remember the elements are tough, so just any old plastic will not last long and the last thing you want is to be cleaning up thousands of pieces of plastic. I learned this the hard way with a tarp.
If you go the plastic route look for a product that is UV resistant, agricultural grade, they call these “Silage Tarps”. I just bought my first one, they are pretty pricey….I let you know if they are worth it.
I’m currently doing a little experiment on how long a 6mil sheet of plastic will last versus the AG tarp…I’ll keep you posted.
Number 5….The meadow! Just simply pick yourself a small sunny spot, give it a pretty border if you like, and see what grows. You need to see what pops up in all 4 seasons ( a very good excuse not to mow.)
I’m always ecstatic when I see Goldenrod or Asters pop up or even some native Grasses which are my absolute favorite.
As time goes by you can pull out what you don’t want and add in what you do.
STEP 2 – Amend the Soil
You may have heard how important the soil is. You should consider it the foundation of your garden. The soil is the life-blood of your plants.
I am gonna guess and say that you will most likely need to amend your soil… and if you don’t think you need to..you should. Depending on how deficient your soil is, I would amend at minimum, the top 3″-4″. You can also go as far as a soil test to see what nutrients are lacking….this is never a bad idea.
One thing you do need to be sure of is aeration… compacted ground makes it hard for roots to spread. This is where a broad-fork or pitch-fork (I personally use the latter because I cannot afford the other) comes in handy to aerate the soil.
Don’t worry about buying mulch, we will discuss this a little later.
A few tips for organic matter, especially if you want to start providing your own….is leaves. Gather and store your leaves or anyone else’s, let them compost down to become the very beneficial leaf mold. Leaves also make for the best all-natural mulch.
Another thing you can do is start composting and collecting your grass clippings. Check out this post on composting. ABC’S OF COMPOSTING
STEP 3 – Picking Out Your Native Flowers
Now for the fun part…picking out flowers!
You first need to find out what some of your native perennial and biennial plants are. Start by visiting your local extension office or visit this link for some help. www.nwf.org/nativeplantfinder
The plants you are looking for are ones that do not perish in the winter. For instance, in my zone 7, Coneflowers are an amazing native, along with Rudbeckia, Goldenrod, and so many more. Remember you must have blooms from Spring thru fall to keep the pollinators fed.
I will provide a shortlist of some Spring, Summer, and Fall bloomers for my zone 7.
- Sun – Coneflower – Echinacea purpurea – Blooms Summer
- Sun – Goldenrod, Stiff – Solidago rigida – Blooms Fall
- Sun – Coreopsis, Lanceleaf – Coreopsis lanceolata – Blooms Spring/Summer
- Shade – Phox/Blue Woodland – Phlox divaricata – Spring blooming
- Shade – Cardinal Flower -Lobelia Cardinalis – Blooms mid-summer to fall
- Shade – Celadine Poppy – Stylophorum diphyllum – Blooms April – June
Supplementing your garden with some annuals is always a good idea as well. Many pollinators love the annuals…like Zinnias, hummingbirds love them!
The Other Little Things
Water, you will want to supply water for all the bees and things. Nothing too deep or anything that transmits heat. I usually use large ceramic dishes. Remember to place rocks in, so everything can easily get out. And keep it clean, they will thank you.
Deadwood and debris, pile up some sticks, branches, logs of different sizes and leave them so that different pollinators can nest in and under them for the winter.
Also leave some leaf piles, as bumblebees, butterflies, and other beneficial living things take refuge here.
If you have any bare ground around leave it as well, lots of native bees nest in the ground and they cannot do so if it is covered in mulch (this is exactly why you should not use mulch). If you have a dry embankment somewhere that is even better.
And for one of the last little things….Mud. If you don’t already have this feature in your yard, create a small muddy area. Butterflies and native bees will love you!
And lastly but not least, remember to not clean up so much, nature needs the messy. Especially fall thru spring, because when you rake up and throw away a bunch of organic matter, like leaves and sticks, you are likely throwing away, nests, eggs, even hibernating butterflies. So, wait until late spring or even better early summer before you cut back perennials or clean out beds.
Oh…..and don’t forget….Let the Dandelions and clover bloom!
Go Create Your Pollinator Garden!