Add Your Piece to the Patchwork of Prairie Gardens

We are experiencing a paradigm shift that is sweeping across the country.  People are becoming increasingly aware of the natural world and their ability to impact it.  If we begin establishing landscapes that appeal to us aesthetically, but benefit wildlife ecologically, we can have the best of both worlds.

Each of us has the opportunity to develop a native wildlife habitat, to design your garden in such a way that attracts pollinators and wildlife, and to create a safe space for depleted and endangered native bees and Monarchs to find the food they need to survive.  This is a small way you can show you care.  It is one way you, along with others in your neighborhood, can develop prairie gardens that are refuges for these beneficial insects.  Even a small garden can have an impact.

(If you are interested in or are searching for native plants, peruse our 2017 Native Plant Guide and Plant List and plan to attend our 2017 Spring FloraKansas Plant Sale.)

Monarchs

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. If you plant even a few milkweeds in your own garden, you can help reverse the fortune of these beautiful insects.  You can be part of the ultimate solution, which is to provide the plants monarchs need for their life cycle.

Pollinators

The plight of the honey bee and the loss of entire hives has garnered nationwide attention.  However, many of our native bee populations are in danger too.  Scientists continue to track dwindling populations of native bees, including the possible extinction of some species.  The native pollinators are key components of a healthy ecosystem.  The use of pesticides and insecticides, habitat loss, along with the introduced diseases threaten their lives.  These bees often lack season-long food sources, which is obviously important to their vitality.

Bumblebee on Echinacea purpurea – photo by Janelle Flory Schrock

Many different pollinators face these realities.  Native plants can help us alleviate some of the problems they face.  Native plants have the ability to grow in our soils, are adapted to the climate, look attractive, control erosion, create beneficial habitat and are the preferred food source for many of these pollinators.  By establishing prairie gardens that use native prairie plants, we can improve their plight in this world.  Recognizing that we can make a difference should be motivation to at least begin to help them.

Stewardship and conservation can start with our gardens.  Despite size limitations, these prairie gardens are an important part of conserving the prairie and the wildlife that depend on them.  You might be surprised how much your garden can do to reverse some of these trends.  Imagine your garden combined with hundreds of other small prairie landscapes.  True, it is not the expansive prairies of the past, but it does make a difference.  Your garden can be a piece of the patchwork of prairies.

How to Plan for Pollinators

It is hard to believe, but it is mid-January already.  Spring is right around the corner.  Yes, it will be here before I am fully prepared.  Are you ready for spring?  Do you know what your garden needs?  Do you know what pollinators need?  How can we sync our gardens better with nature?  These questions and many more have been rolling around in my head over the past few weeks.

I have been reading articles and reviewing plant catalogs.  My brain is in overload.   Here is one of the directions I will be taking my garden this year.  I am planning for pollinators and not just hoping they will magically appear.  So, what does that look like?  Here are a few points to consider as you plan for pollinators in your own garden this year:

Establish plants with nectar.

Pollinators depend on nectar throughout their adult life stage.  A variety of native wildflowers that grow in a sunny location and bloom at different times throughout the year provide pollinators with a constant nectar source.  Not every plant is beneficial to pollinators.  If possible, utilize native plants because they offer nectar that many native pollinators seek.  Here are some sample landscape designs to get you started.

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Bumblebee on Echinacea purpurea - photo by Janelle Flory Schrock

Bumblebee on Echinacea purpurea – photo by Janelle Flory Schrock

Think of color and form.

Butterflies can see yellow, orange, pink, blue and purple blossoms. Bees are unable to see the color red, but are very attracted to yellow and blue flowers.  Darker colors such as black are a warning sign for them to stay away.  Bees for the most part are attracted to bright colors.  So don’t wear a bright colored shirt in the garden.  Flat-topped or clustered flowers provide a place to settle for feeding.  We carry many options of native plants at our FloraKansas Plant Sale.

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Texan Crescent

Provide puddles.

Butterflies like wet sand and mud left behind by puddles or on the edge of a water feature.  They drink the water and extract minerals from damp soil.

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Pearl crescent butterflies – Photo by Dave Osborne

Establish host plants.

Host plants provide food for butterfly larvae (caterpillars).  Butterflies look for specific plants when they are ready to lay eggs.  The host plants for the Monarch butterfly are milkweeds.  If you want to help save the Monarch butterfly, include some milkweeds in your garden plan.  Here is some additional information on Monarchs.

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Great Spangled Fritillary on Sullivant’s Milkweed

Make your garden a pesticide-free zone.

Insecticides kill insects.  Herbicides kill plants, but they can be toxic to insects as well.  Pesticide-free lawns and gardens allow pollinators to survive and flourish.

Provide habitat.

Small wood piles, old logs and leaves in your garden at strategic areas provide important habitats for many different pollinators.  Bees will uses these areas to overwinter because they keep them safe from the elements and predators.  Don’t be too quick to get rid of that old rotting log.  It is just what pollinators need.

Bee Hotel Photo by John Regier

Bee Hotel – Photo by John Regier

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Bee Hotel Explanation – Photo by John Regier

Many butterflies, pollinators and native wildflowers have co-evolved over time so that each depends on the other for survival.  Wildflowers provide food for all life stages of pollinators.  In return, wildflowers and much of the food we eat are pollinated by bees, butterflies, and a host of other pollinators.  With a little planning now, pollinators will flock to your garden this year and in years to come.

Six Ways You Can Help the Pollinators

Did you know that this week is National Pollinator Week (June 15 – June 21)? Whether it is with bees, butterflies, birds or beetles, pollinators are extremely important and provide valuable services.

Three-fourths of the world’s flowering plants depend on pollinators to reproduce.  Think of all the food crop production that would not be possible without the help of pollinators.  We rely on these small, seemingly insignificant pollinators for the food we eat.  If they are so valuable, then they are certainly worth recognizing and saving.

Here are six ways you can help increase declining populations of pollinators, including bees and monarchs:

1. Plant Pollinator-Friendly Plants

Certainly, milkweeds are the best wildflowers for attracting monarchs to your yard.  We saw it this morning as we walked the arboretum – we found three caterpillars munching on the milkweed leaves.  Not only that, but every blooming wildflower was covered with a host of insects.  The wildflowers are the buffet. (Peruse our native plant list and sample landscape designs for some inspiration.)

Photo by Brad Guhr

Monarch butterfly on Asclepias incarnata, or swamp milkweed – photo by Brad Guhr

 

2. Plant for a Succession of Bloom

I recommend planting wildflowers that bloom at different times of the year.  A mixture of wildflowers coming into bloom and going out of bloom throughout the year provides a ready food source.  This approach mimics the natural prairie and the changing seasons.

Sulphur on Cardinal Flower

Cloudless sulphur on Lobelia cardinalis, or cardinal flower – photo by Brad Guhr

 

3. Provide Habitat

Layer trees and shrubs along with wildflowers and grasses.  These plants provide shelter from the wind along with nesting sites and food for birds, butterflies and bees. Even a small garden can have a tremendous impact.

Bumblebee on Echinacea purpurea - photo by Janelle Flory Schrock

Bumblebee on Echinacea purpurea, or purple coneflower – photo by Janelle Flory Schrock

 

4. Provide Water

We all need water for survival.  Pollinators need it too.  A clean source of water such as a birdbath, basin, or hollow stone is enough water for pollinators.  These features also provide landing spots so that pollinators have a perch. Here are some great plants to complement your water feature.

 

5. Reduce Chemicals

There is growing research on the detrimental effects chemicals have on pollinators.  Any time we can reduce or eliminate the use of chemicals in the landscape, we are impacting wildlife in a positive way.  Allow insects to control unwanted pests.  Be willing to accept a few damaged plants, knowing that by not spraying you are saving much more in the long run.

HummingbirdMoth on liatris

Hummingbird moth on Liatris pycnostachya, or Kansas gayfeather – photo by Janelle Flory Schrock

 

6. Learn About the Plight of Endangered Pollinators

There is so much to learn about each type of pollinator.  What do they need?  When are they out in the garden?  What do they need to complete their lifecycle?  Where do they migrate or how do they overwinter?  We have so much to learn about these important insects. (One good resource for this is this book, by Heather Holm, which we often carry in our gift shop. And, of course, MonarchWatch.org is a great resource.)

 

When it comes to supporting the life cycle of pollinators, you can be part of the solution.  Native wildflowers are the best option to help them prosper.  You will be amazed when you introduce just a handful of wildflowers to your landscape.  If you plant them, pollinators will come.