I’ve put this discussion off long enough but I can’t avoid it forever.
There comes a time in every young gardeners’ life that he or she needs to learn the facts about fertilization, the transfer of pollen from the stamen to the ovule. This beautiful act is known as pollination and is often associated with those two little well-known animals … the birds and the bees.
That’s right, this is a brief discussion on pollinators.
At this point it would be beneficial to define the word “pollinator.” According to Merriam Webster online, it is “an agent that pollinates flowers.”
A year before I started gardening more seriously, I ran across a website that extolled the virtues of, and provided plans for, a butterfly garden. It provided a list of native plants that butterflies (and other pollinators) love. The design was simple enough to put together with minimal effort and it gave basic advice as to the placement of the garden in relation to the sun, water features, and other plants.
I was inspired. I thought it was a great project that I could do with my two youngest kids, so in the fall of 2019 I purchased a small cypress raised bed frame (4x4x1) to make the garden. After I assembled the frame and placed it where my wife wanted it to go, I lined the inside with cardboard and layered a couple of sheets of newspaper on top of the cardboard to create a “no-till” grass and weed barrier on the bottom. Then I whipped out my trusty abacus to determine that I needed 13 cu feet of top soil to fill the frame (and by trusty abacus, I mean an online cubic foot calculator). Once filled, I let it sit over the winter.
A couple of weeks before the last frost, I buried some kitchen scraps in the middle of the bed to start feeding the worms as well as letting the nutrients break down into the soil. Then after the danger of frost had passed, I transplanted three perennial pollinator friendly plants: white foxglove, pink creeping phlox, and anise hyssop. That left me one corner, the middle, and the four sides to pack in more tempting treats for any wandering lepidoptera.
For prime real estate like that, I had to make careful choices. I wanted to pack the box full but still couldn’t fit everything. In the end, I planted snapdragon in the corner, bee balm in the middle, and lantana on each of the four sides. At some point in the summer, a nest of fire ants took over the corner by the foxglove, and the insecticide I used also killed the foxglove. I tried planting some aster seeds, but it was late in the season and the lantana had already overtaken the spot. Next year I will move the bee balm and add to it, and try some black eyed susans in the middle. The lantana has gotten so big that not only am I going to trim it back this winter, I might move it out next year as well.
It has been very relaxing to watch the butterflies and bees utilize the garden. We ended up hanging a hummingbird feeder by the southwest corner of the box and it has brought in a couple of species, at least one of which is a ruby-throated hummingbird and another which I believe is an Allen’s hummingbird. We love to see the hummingbirds zoom around the backyard; they have enjoyed our patch of sunflowers, too.
Next year we will add another raised frame (also 4x4x1). In that one I plan to plant a pre-packaged seed mix of pollinator friendly wildflowers. I plan to place the new box about two feet from the other box in order to create a buffet line of herbal goodness for birds, bees, and butterflies. My goal is to become the Golden Corral of backyard gardeners, where pollinators come and eat so much they have to be carried out by their friends. That’s the American way.
Additionally, I plan to incorporate more pollinator friendly flowers around the yard, including a crimson clover patch near my vegetable beds and moving the sunflowers from the back of the yard to a more centralized location. My goal is to try and continue to use these amazing gardening assistants as much as I can to help me grow strong, healthy, and lasting plants, while simultaneously enjoying the sights and sounds of their activities in our yard.
What about you? What are some things you do to attract pollinators to your gardens? Please let me know in the comments below.
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Stay Nature-ly Thinking, my friends.