Gardening for Pollinators in a Big Way

This summer I’ll be planting a small pollinator garden on our boulevard.  It’s the start of what I hope will be a bigger garden along my hellstrip—the 55-by-7 foot stretch of our property between the sidewalk and the street.  Start small, and grow it from there is a good motto in the garden. Still, seeing a big, private garden with a focus on pollinators is inspiring.

wildflowers in a field
From the driveway, the yard was a sea of wildflowers.

During the recent Garden Bloggers Fling in Austin, TX, we visited the garden of Ruthie Burrus. The property includes a magical stone garden house and a killer view of downtown Austin, but it was the long, hilly driveway flanked by native plants that blew me away. The field was buzzing with bees, moths and butterflies, and I’m sure, dozens of pollinators I could not identify. The sheer expanse of the garden was impressive.

closeup of Mexican hat flower
Mexican hat (Ratibida columnaris)

Native plants filled the space, including blanket flower, beebalm, Mexican hat, winecup and Texas lantana. I couldn’t identify all the butterflies and bees feeding along the hill but I recognized monarchs and painted ladies.

purple wine cup flower
Winecup (Callirhoë involucrata)

At the top of the hill, near the house, Ruthie uses more pollinator-friendly plants, including ‘Black and Blue’ salvia around this blue agave, and a hedge of a native salvia along one edge of the property. The back yard is much smaller than the front and includes a beautiful pool and patio area along with that stunning view.

agave cactus surrounded by salvia
‘Black and Blue’ salvia surround a blue agave
hedge with purple flowers
I have to admit I experienced more than a little zone envy when I saw this hedge of salvia.

I left the garden feeling even more inspired to plant my own pollinator field.

stone garden house
This adorable garden house is going to be covered with roses, Ruthie told us.
view of downtown austin texas
The view from Ruthie’s back patio is of the skyline of downtown Austin

Thanks to the Texas Highway Department’s helpful website for assisting me with identifying some of the plants in Ruthie’s garden.

Creating a Monarch-Friendly Garden

Last weekend, I had a chance to speak at the Duluth Garden and Flower Society (MSHS District 8) Spring Luncheon in Duluth. The luncheon attracted about 80 enthusiastic gardeners from Duluth, the North Shore and the Iron Range. It was a fun event and I was honored to be asked to talk about MSHS, Northern Gardener and gardening trends.

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Monarchs seem to like annuals, such as zinnias, but native plants are best for them.

One of the host groups was the local chapter of Wild Ones, a national group that promotes environmentally sound landscaping practices to preserve biodiversity. Wild Ones does a lot to educate and encourage the public about planting nature-friendly landscapes, including Monarch Way Stations. Wild Ones will even certify a garden space as a way station, if you provide what monarchs (and other pollinators) need. Whether you get your garden certified or not, it’s a good idea to learn about what it takes to attract pollinators. I decided to do a little inventory of how my own garden stacks up.

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If you want Monarchs, plant milkweed. It’s what those caterpillars need.

Larval plants: Monarch caterpillars require milkweed to grow into butterflies. It is their only food source. Wild Ones recommends having two types of milkweed in your landscape. I have lots (and lots!) of common milkweed on and near my property, but I think that is the only type. I’ll be looking this spring for either seeds or plants for swamp milkweed or prairie milkweed, both of which would do well in different parts of my landscape.

 

Joe Pye weed is one of the summer plants Monarchs use for nectar.
Joe Pye weed is one of the summer plants Monarchs use for nectar.

Early, mid and late food sources: Of the six early necatar plant shrubs Wild Ones recommends, I have one (serviceberry) in my yard, but there is pussy willow in the ponds near here. Of the eight recommended early forbs, I’ve got three (lupine, beardtongue and phlox). Not bad on early plants, but it could be better. Of the 36 shrubs, vines and perennials recommended for Monarchs for midsummer, my landscape has nine—again, not bad, could be better. Of the 10 plants recommended for late summer, I have three (goldenrod, aster and ironweed). Here’s the list of plants, in case you would like to see how favorable your landscape is for Monarchs.

Other landscape features to include for Monarchs include:

  • No pesticide use
  • Grasses (I have lots of those)
  • One or more water source, such as a birdbath or a puddling spot
  • Let things go a bit in the fall. Do not be quick to clean up flower stalks, grasses or leaves that may provide overwintering sites for beneficial insects.

How welcoming is your landscape for Monarchs and other pollinators?