Grow These For the Bees Garden Plan

Pollinator Garden landscape plan

Many pollinator species have suffered serious declines in recent years. Unfortunately, most of our landscapes offer little in the way of appropriate habitat, forage, and housing. Even the most beautiful gardens are not always healthy ecosystems. Design choices, plant selections, and maintenance practices can make a huge difference in creating your own healthy ecosystem, filled with life. As a garden designer, I use variations of this landscape plan for many gardens to attract the greatest varieties of pollinators.

Bradford Pears are typically planted in new developments which have very little value for pollinators

Native Bee Habitats

Mason bee habitats attract pollinators to your garden also. Simple strategies, such as providing bee habitats and gardening with an ecological community approach, contributes to species diversity, attracting and supporting more birds, butterflies, pollinators, and beneficial insects.

Mason Bee Houses for sale at a local garden center

Paper tubes or straws provide nesting areas for mason bees which are pollinator powerhouses, much more efficient than honeybees. Tubes of any kind can be used, like bamboo or hollow stems of sunflowers or other thick stemmed plants.

Bamboo makes a good tube for a mason bee house

A pollinator garden can be beautiful as well as useful. Strategies such as planting in groups of at least 3 to 5 plants is very important. A single plant won’t attract pollinators, but groups of same plants stand out and pollinators use less energy flying to a compact group of flowers.

Think of planting in blocks of color-border seen at Stirling Castle, Scotland

My planting plan for pollinators includes an array of plants that span the early spring-time starting with Aconites, Snowdrops, Willows, Crocus, and Scillas, ending with the late bloomers of Aster, Tithonia, and Agastache. Mid-summer is not an issue  to have blooming flowers in your garden; it is the shoulder season of early spring and late summer/fall that keeps pollinators going.

Early spring bloomers, like Winter Aconite, are very important early nectar sources
Agastache, Anise Hyssop, is a late blooming perennial that is very beneficial to all pollinators
Joe Pye Weed, Eupatorium maculatum, is a butterfly magnet
Flies are an important pollinator; this is an early blooming Willow

Mixing shrubs and trees with perennials, annuals, and bulbs creates an all-season show of blooms for foraging bees for both pollen and nectar. Many of the plants are also host plants for caterpillars that produce butterflies. And caterpillars are the protein rich food that keeps our songbirds going as it is the primary food that many birds feed their young. For example in my plan, willows are known to shelter tiny overwintering Viceroy Butterfly larvae rolled up in a leaf. You could also plant an Oak nearby as according to Doug Tallamy of ‘Bringing Nature Home’, oak trees are top of the list for providing a host to hundreds of caterpillar species, critical for providing essential food source for birds and their young.

It is important to include both herbaceous and woody plants in your pollinator garden. Trees and shrubs not only provide pollinators with food but also offer protected areas from the wind and predators. Also, remember to plan for a sequence of blooms, staggering the flowering time of nectar sources so that butterflies will frequent your garden throughout the season. Water is an essential for attracting pollinators, and something as simple as a birdbath will work. Mud is the other ingredient that pollinators are seeking when they lay their eggs into the paper tubes that you put out for their use. So, don’t mulch every garden bed.

Side view of mason bee tubes reveals mud plugs placed between each egg
I created a meadow around my beehives

Meadow Creation

Meadow creation is an option if you have a large wide open area in full sun. Using a newspaper layer on top of the grass to smother it, you add compost on top and scatter wildflower seed.

A layer of newspaper is laid down first, then compost and seeds on top
Mix together seeds from various varieties to sprinkle on top
Tamp the seeds into the soil and sprinkle with water to jump start the seed germination
Mid spring, the plants are growing vigorously
High summer meadow

You need a sunny spot in your yard for a pollinator garden to be at its best. If your garden is shady but you have a sunny patio, plant containers full of annuals and perennials instead.

For recipes on planting pollinator-friendly containers, go to Nectar in a Pot-Movable Feast. 

An assortment of pollinator plants fill this container

Don’t excessively manicure your yard. Leaf litter, tall grass, stumps, and peeling bark provide pollinators ideal places to spend the night or to overwinter.

Don’t cut back all your perennials to allow insects places to overwinter
Poster available in my Etsy Shop

For more information on what plants to plant specific to pollinators, go to Plant These For Bees. 

Plant Milkweed For Monarchs

postermonarch1
Original poster showing Monarch Butterfly life cycle-available at TheGardenDiaries Etsy shop

Milkweed Options

More and more people are realizing the importance of milkweed to the Monarch Butterfly and looking for sources of plants and seeds. Buying large transplants at a local nursery is the easiest way, but can get expensive, over $7 a plant. At Monarch Watch  you can order a minimum of 4 flats of 50 plugs, small rooted seedlings, for any restoration project free of charge, if you pay shipping of between $40 to $60. Monsanto is providing the funding for this initiative.  Monsanto is pulling out all the stops to improve their public image and is partnering with non-profits like Monarch Watch and providing funding for programs that are committed to help the Monarch.

Monarch butterfly

I am restoring a field around my beehives and have ordered some of these flats. For my area of Maryland, the native plants that will be shipped is Asclepias syriaca or Common Milkweed. Go to Got Milk….Weed? to check out the importance of this plant to the Monarch as well as a whole array of other creatures.

Common Milkweed
Common Milkweed
Gomphocarpus fruticosus (syn. Asclepias fruticosa) is an interesting variety of Milkweed native to South Africa
Gomphocarpus fruticosus (syn. Asclepias fruticosa) is an interesting variety of Milkweed native to South Africa

Monarch Way Station

Creating a Monarch Way Station, which are plantings specific to Monarchs, is a great way to help the Monarch. Providing shelter and food for Monarchs on their long migration journey, Monarch Way Stations are popping up everywhere and Milkweed is the only food source that the caterpillars will eat to produce those beautiful butterflies. Helping Monarchs in this way helps many other species of insects and animals providing them with pollen and food sources.

 

Monarch Waystation Sign available at http://shop.monarchwatch.org/store/p/1181-Monarch-Waystation-Sign.aspx
Monarch Way station Sign
Tropical milkweed provides habitat for all kinds of butterflies and other insects
Tropical milkweed provides habitat for all kinds of butterflies and other insects

Starting Milkweed

Different types of Milkweed;left is Gomphocarpus fruticosus, top Asclepias tuberosa, bottom Asclepas curassavica
Different types of Milkweed; left is Gomphocarpus fruticosus, top Asclepias tuberosa, bottom Asclepias curassavica

Reading that the Tropical Milkweed was easy to start from seed and was a favorite of the caterpillars, I decided to start them inside this year. Stratification, which is soaking and chilling the seeds for at least 6 weeks, was recommended for most other varieties, so I instead chose growing the Tropical variety and sowed the seeds in peat pots last week.

Sowing seeds in peat pots
Sowing seeds in peat pots

Readily available from Joyful Butterfly for $2.95 for 100 seeds, the seedlings quickly emerged and I put them under grow lights.

Milkweed seedlings emerged quickly
Milkweed seedlings emerged quickly

 

Monarch
Monarch
etsy
Available at TheGardenDiaries Etsy Shop

Pollinator Week

Sunflower painting by Redenta Soprano
Sunflower painting by Redenta Soprano

White House wants to save the bees! That was music to my ears when I got The Great Sunflower Project newsletter in my inbox. A task force has been created by this Presidental decree that is trying to answer particular questions about the role of pollinators in relation to specific species of plants. Pollinators refers to both native and non-native honeybees, as well as all the other insect pollinators.

sunflower

I have posted before about The Great Sunflower Project and how it is utilizing citizen science to gather information about pollinators to assist scientists in analyzing information from all parts of the country to determine the health and ways to help pollinators.

sunflowerproject-seeds-mountain-1

All you need is five minutes per plant. Simply identify the plant and count the pollinators that visit. It is that simple!

Fibonacci spiral
Fibonacci spiral

If you want to read some amazing information about sunflowers, go to Magical Sunflowers.

Bee Skep poster, go to https://www.etsy.com/listing/182225449/18-x-24-pollination-poster-plant-these?
Bee Skep poster, go to https://www.etsy.com/listing/182225449/18-x-24-pollination-poster-plant-these?

 Mark your calendars for June 15-21, 2015 and go to https://www.greatsunflower.org/ to register and read all the great information that has been collected already by people in their backyards. And participate and help the bees!

Blueberry Bonanza

The Invasion of the Blues

I have been growing blueberries for years and this has been a banner year for picking them.  We have had plenty of rain and the weather has been perfect for growing.  I have only 5 shrubs but that is enough to keep us in berries, as well as providing the birds all they want to eat. I used to cover them with nets, but they are so prolific, I let the birds have at them.

Blueberry flowers
Blueberry flowers (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Growing

Blueberries are so unbelievably easy to grow, I am surprised that not everyone has at least one of these shrubs planted on their property.  They don’t get very large and have beautiful scarlet fall foliage that makes them worthwhile to grow just for that feature alone.

Wild Blueberry (Vaccinium) in autumn foliage t...

I have several varieties to extend my picking season and there are more than 100 varieties to pick from.  There are even dwarf ones suitable for container growing.

My blueberry bushes

Acid Soil

Blueberries require an acidic soil, 4.5 – 5.5 pH, much like rhododendrons and azaleas.  If you can grow rhodies and azaleas successfully, then you are golden.  But my soil tends to be more like 6.5 to 7 on the pH scale, so I add plenty of peat moss when planting. I continue to add it every year around the plants.  I also mulch with pine needles and add an acidifier in liquid form periodically to keep the soil on the acid side.  If you are unsure of your pH, you can always get a soil test done at a local garden center or the agricultural extension service.  Add some cottonseed meal or blood meal as a high-nitrogen organic fertilizer twice in the spring.  Coffee grounds rich in nitrogen, magnesium, and potassium are an inexpensive organic fertilizer to add some further nutrients to the soil.

pH Test of Soil in Flowerbeds
pH Test of Soil in Flowerbeds (Photo credit: Chiot’s Run)

Pests are never a problem except for the birds, and aren’t an issue if you have prolific bearers.

My blueberries are in partial shade and do fine with that light.  They will also perform well in full sun.

Pollination

There is really no secret to pollination other than planting several varieties close to each other.  For healthier, more productive blueberries, regardless of type or variety, you should plant different varieties so that bees can travel and cross-pollinate the plants. My bees are all over the shrubs when they are blooming.

Watering

Consistent watering of blueberries is important because they have a shallow, fibrous root system.  But I rarely water my shrubs as they are pretty distant from the hose reach. To avoid watering I layer on tons of mulch around the whole area. Once in a while when we have had some long periods of drought, I run the hose out to the plants for a good soak.

Picking the Harvest

The only thing that I don’t enjoy about growing blueberries is I hate to pick them! They are small and tedious to pick and take up time. The berries ripen over a couple of weeks, so you need to pick the ripe ones every couple of days. I have tried different methods, like placing a sheet underneath and shaking and pulling off the ripe ones, but I have gone back to my normal picking one by one into a Tupperware container.  The shaking method pulls off too many immature berries and wastes them.  I enlist help and ask people who want some berries to pick them and leave me some too.

Pruning

English:
English: (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Pruning the shrubs to make them more compact, and to get rid of older branches that bear less fruit, is a matter of a few minutes in the late winter.  This annual pruning forces the shrub to produce new wood that will bear larger, more abundant berries.

Simple Seasonal Care 

Winter – prune

Early spring – fertilize

Late spring – fertilize again

Summer –  harvest fruit and enjoy!

Fall – mulch

Healthy Eating

Blueberries are the perfect health food. They are nutritious, have anti-oxidants, and require little preparation. Freezing easily and going well with so many foods and desserts are among their many attributes.

Blueberry Temptation
Blueberry Temptation (Photo credit: kitsunebabe)

Everyone has recipes for muffins, pies, and cakes using blueberries so I wanted to pass along a great recipe that I use for meat! This is a great sauce and you can use either fresh or frozen blueberries.

Savory Blueberry Steak Sauce

3 T unsalted butter

2 small shallots, finely chopped

2 T flour

1/4 C sherry vinegar

1/4 C ketchup

3 T dijon mustard

1/4 C orange juice

1/4 C molasses

1/2 Tsp dried thyme

1/4 Tsp dried sage

2 C fresh or frozen blueberries

Salt and pepper to taste

Melt butter in large skillet and saute shallots for 3 to 4 minutes. Sprinkle in the flour, blending and stirring until mixture begins to bubble. Add vinegar, ketchup, mustard, orange juice, molasses, thyme, and sage, and stir until combined.  Add blueberries and raise heat to medium-high to bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and cool, stirring often for about 15 minutes until the mixture is thickened and glossy.  Season with salt and pepper. Serve warm over steak.

English: A pack of blueberries from a organic ...
English: A pack of blueberries from a organic farm co-op program. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)