One week ago today was the 50th Anniversary of the first Earth Day demonstration in 1970. The Environmental Protection Agency, the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts are lasting results of that first Earth Day! Yet much more remains to be done, and it can’t happen on just one day of the year. Earth Day reminds us that every day is Earth Day.
As gardeners and stewards and of our immediate environment, we are already making a difference in our own backyards and communities. As we explore and connect with nature each day, we are establishing a care ethic to make positive decisions for the environment, present and future.
Support biodiversity at home
This year, Earth Day recognized the enormous challenges – and vast opportunities – of climate action. So, what better place to start climate actions than in our native prairie gardens? Native prairie gardens are – by their very nature – pollinator gardens. They attract an abundance of pollinators (and other small creatures as well) throughout the growing season. In so doing, they help conserve biodiversity, protect species threatened by climate change, and restore ecosystem balance.
But native gardens do so much more to mitigate climate change. They hold and conserve water, store carbon in extensive root systems, build fertile soils, and help maintain cleaner air. In tending native gardens, we benefit as well by experiencing beauty, joy, and a sense of well-being.
Pollinator Garden Resources
You can celebrate Earth Day every day by joining Earth Day 2020’s campaign to Protect Our Species. Because the Monarch butterfly is currently vulnerable and declining, it is one of ten species directing the Earth Day Network’s conservation efforts in 2020. Earth Day 2020 provides an informative Pollinator Garden Toolkit, and Pollinator Garden Worksheetto help you plan or add to your pollinator garden.
Then, attend the online FloraKansas Native Plant Festival, with its large selection of hearty, native flowers, grasses, trees and shrubs suitable for a diversity of habitats. If you have questions, FloraKansas has experts available too!
Connect to the broader community
Last, but not least, invite your neighbors, friends and family to join you in your efforts to create pollinator-friendly spaces. Garden by garden, we can create a mosaic of native habitats that benefit a broader community of both pollinators AND people!
Photo: A native metallic green sweat bee Agapostemon sp gathering pollen from wavy-leaf false dandelion Microseris cuspidata. (Lorna Harder photo taken 20 Apr 2020)
Today is the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day. For a half century, April 22 has been a day when we celebrate a connection with our planet and pause to think about how we can be better earth stewards. I would like to state the case for having native plants be central to this stewardship focus.
Earth Day in 1970 mobilized 20 million Americans to unify in support of environmental protection. The energy of this movement led to a greater awareness of and protection for natural elements important to humans, including clean air (Clean Air Act of 1970), clean water (Clean Water Act of 1972) and biological diversity (Endangered Species Act of 1973).
Native plants and their ecosystems are closely connected to the health of air, water, and biological diversity. Native plants photosynthesize, produce oxygen and sink atmospheric carbon. Native plants buffer streams, hold soil, and filter moving water. Native plants provide food and habitat for wildlife of all kinds. For the more than one billion people that will recognize Earth Day around the world today, celebrating native plants could easily be central to this celebration.
So, to celebrate the 50th Earth Day, I would like to recognize some of the spring-blooming native plants that are hitting their stride in my home landscape right now.
Spring blooming wildflowers offer the first signs of hope after a long winter. In late winter/early spring, they bait us with anticipation, even when nighttime temperatures regularly dip below freezing and cold winds are not yet inviting us to be outside. Their root systems receive messages from increasing hours of daylight and higher average temperatures. Their green shoots break dormancy and emerge as if they are responding to cheerful invitations of the robins, repeatedly calling “cheer-up, cheer-a-lee, cheer-ee-o”.
That was the scene in my yard in early March. Fast forward now to mid April through more than a month of pandemic isolation. While I’m captive at home, the need for hope and beauty seems ever greater and the following spring blooming wildflowers are answering the call.
Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense)
Wild ginger is a creeping wildflower that creates growing ground cover colonies. The roots of the plant smell like ginger. Their heart-shaped close-to-the-ground leaves may be less than striking, but the hidden flowers of wild ginger (pollinated by beetles, flies and ants) are worth the search.
Woodland Phlox (Phlox divaricata)
The Greek meaning of the word phlox refers to the intense floral color which is evident once you see woodland phlox in bloom. The plant will form a spreading colony. It does surprisingly well in Kansas if you can find a protected place for it. The fragrant and showy flowers attract butterflies, hummingbird moths, and hummingbirds.
Roundleaf Ragwort (Packera obovata)
Once established, roundleaf ragwort establishes a creeping colony and is one of the earliest bloomers in the spring. Roundleaf ragwort flowers attract butterflies, bees, and bumblebees. With an evergreen leaf throughout all seasons, this species offers year-round interest without being invasive to the detriment of surrounding plants.
Pennsylvania sedge (Carex pennsylvanica)
Pennsylvania sedge is commonly found in the dry to dry-mesic understory of oak-hickory woodlands. It is a nice landscaping choice for a dry, shady yard location in Kansas. While they certainly do resemble grasses in their appearance, sedges, characterized by their triangular stem (“sedges have edges”) are in a family all their own.
Columbine ‘Pink Lanterns’ (Aquilegia canadensis)
Columbine is easy to establish in partial sun to full shade conditions and its flowers attract hummingbirds and bumblebees. The name is in reference to a couple of birds. The genus name Aquilegia is derived from a combination of the Latin word “aquila” (meaning eagle for the five spurs resembling an eagle claw) and the Latin word for “columba” (meaning dove, for five doves nestled together). This pink version of Aquilegia canadensis was actually discovered in Marion County, Kansas by Dyck Arboretum of the Plains!
Spring Bloomers in Your Landscape
Many spring blooming wildflowers are native to woodland understories. Such woodland understories historically would have only been native to Eastern Kansas. Today, urban tree canopies and the north side of fences, garages, and houses all provide great shady habitat to plant spring woodland bloomers like those featured in our FloraKansas plant sale Spring Woodland Kit.
But you certainly don’t need to stop with the species in this kit. See a previous blog post (Spring-Blooming Prairie and Woodland Plants) featuring additional spring bloomers that you might consider for shady or sunny areas.
Celebrate Earth Day with me. Consider participating in the rewarding ritual of native plant gardening and make every day Earth Day.
Gardens of every size are important to wildlife, including pollinators. A patchwork of small native plant gardens throughout our cities and towns are the harbor for migrating pollinators or permanent residents to our area. They provide habitat, a safe haven and vital food for survival.
From vignettes such as balcony gardens or a corner in your backyard to larger prairie reconstructions, each garden can be a critical stopover for wildlife. Large or small, a collective effort to establish native plants in landscapes can make a tremendous difference.
Besides the good they do for wildlife, native plants build the soil, clean water, and filter the air. They are good news for everyone and every thing on this earth. For these reasons, we have put together some custom native plant kits for a variety of garden conditions. Whether you are new to the prairie scene, these kits can be used to get a running start on your next native habitat.
Sunny Rain Garden Kit
(full sun, wet to medium soil moisture)
Do you have a wet section in your yard? These wet-loving natives will do just fine. From late spring to fall, these wildflowers will provide a succession of blooms and even look attractive through the winter.
Spring Woodland Kit
(shade/part sun, medium soil moisture)
These delicate beauties are at home in any woodland setting. We have included a couple groundcovers that will spread to slowing fill in your area. Be rewarded each year by these spring wildflowers.
Three Seasons Pollinator Kit
(full sun, medium to dry soil moisture)
This garden will provide season long nectar for some of your favorite butterflies, bees and other pollinators. Some host plants are also included. Plant these natives in any sunny spot in your yard.
Whatever your motivations for using natives, you will also be rewarded with a renewed connection with the nature. You will not have an ordinary landscape, but one that helps the birds and pollinators you are concerned about. Why not turn your landscape into something that makes a real difference?
To order these garden kits and other plants available for pick-up from our greenhouse, visit our FloraKansas Native Plant Festival page. We look forward to helping you get to know these plants!
Do you remember a time, in summers past, when your porch light was covered in moths? Or maybe you remember moth carnage left on your windshield after a drive at night? With moth populations in steep decline, those sights are harder to come by.
Moths, like most insects, are not faring well in an increasingly human-dominated world full of pesticides, mono-culture crops, and urban sprawl. Especially troublesome for moths is artificial light at night.
True darkness has important implications for biological processes in humans and animals. For millions of years, life evolved with the sun, moon and stars as the only light source (with an occasional fire here and there). Within the last two hundred years, artificial, electric light has forever changed the night sky and the way we interact with darkness.
Start by keeping the outside of your house as dark as possible. Consider turning off outdoor lights after a certain hour. Then install native plants to feed your moth friends! Like butterflies, most moths drink flower nectar. Some are active by day, others prefer to feed at night. White or pale flowers are attractive to night feeding moths because they are visible in low light. Moths are also attracted to heavily scented flowers, and those that open late in the afternoon or evening.
Any garden designed for pollinators will support moths as well. Plants like Liatris spicata, Asclepias tuberosa, and Aster leavis are perfect for attracting all types of pollinators to the garden. But consider adding more white flowers to hopefully spur some moth activity. Native options available to order for no-contact pickup at FloraKansas include:
For patio containers, consider Gardenia or Datura.
Moths are fascinating creatures. Some are as large as hummingbirds, others as tiny as your pinky nail. Some moths evolved so closely with the plants they pollinate that they have become completely co-dependent! They have a special ecological role in our biome, and deserve our attention and conservation.
Spring is coming. Nature is not locked down, but continues to come to life. We notice the buds expanding and the crocus blooming. Leaves emerging from the depths and plants all around us waking from their winter slumber. As spring unfolds around us, something extraordinary is about come our way again. The Monarchs are coming.
Providing for pollinators
The monarch’s annual spring migration north from Mexico has begun. You can track their progress through Monarch Watch and Journey North. Each year we take note of when this incredible journey passes through our area. It is amazing to think that these delicate creatures can make this trek north and south every year.
Statistics show that the monarch butterfly population in
North America has declined by over 90% in just the last 20 years. This is disheartening. One of the biggest factors in monarch decline
is the increasing scarcity of its only caterpillar host plant: milkweeds.
Monarchs can’t successfully reproduce, or migrate without milkweeds, resulting
in the species decline.
Monarchs also need other blooming native wildflowers, trees, and shrubs that provide nectar for the adult butterflies to feed upon. This habitat, critical to the survival of the monarchs, continues to disappear at an alarming rate. This natural habitat decline is taking a steep toll on wildlife of all types.
Plant more than milkweed
Many of us are planting milkweeds and native nectar plants in our gardens to help monarchs survive. Here is a list of plants from our Native Plant Guide that monarchs prefer:
Aster ‘October Skies’
Aster ‘Raydon’s Favorite’
New England Aster (Aster novae-angliae sp.)
Blackeyed Susan (Rudbeckia)
Coneflowers (Echinacea sp.)
Blazing Star (Liatris sp.)
Beebalm (Monarda sp.)
Milkweeds (Asclepias sp.)
Yarrow (Achillea sp.)
Goldenrod (Solidago sp.)
Vernonia ‘Iron Butterfly’
Veronicastrum virginicum ‘Lavender Towers’
Prairie clover (Dalea sp.)
Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium sp.)
Chokeberry (Aronia sp.)
Leadplant (Amorpha sp.)
ServiceBerry (Amelanchier sp.)
Buttonbush (Cephalanthus sp.)
American plum (Prunus sp.)
Elderberry (Sambucus sp.)
Viburnum (Viburnum sp.)
Buckeye (Aesculus sp.)
Redbud (Cercis sp.)
Persimmon (Diospyros sp.)
Linden (Tilia sp.)
Stretch the season
A greater variety of plants will attract a greater variety of wildlife, including monarchs. Try to plant several species of wildflowers with varying bloom times, providing nectar sources that stretch through the season. Different pollinator populations peak at various times through the warm months, so provide for them by having a long blooming garden. Early spring and late fall flowers can help sustain migrating species in the difficult stages of their journey. Research has shown that a lack of late season nectar sources is as crucial to migration success as milkweed. Help these insects get the energy they need all through the year!
If you plant even a few milkweeds in your own garden, you can help reverse the fortune of these beautiful insects. Support habitat and other food sources for monarch butterflies and other wildlife by planting native plants. It is always beneficial to reduce mowing, and limit or eliminate the spraying of herbicides and pesticides. You can be part of the ultimate solution, which is to provide the plants monarchs need for their life cycle. Watch for these incredible butterflies. They are coming.
One final thought I came across the other day:
“To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.” – Audrey Hepburn