Pollinator Gardens: Help Encourage Ecological Diversity In Your Own Backyard
If you’re looking for a great project at home, here’s an idea-- plan a pollinator garden in your backyard or anywhere you have some space. Here’s the planning process I went through for the one in my backyard, but a pollinator garden of any size will do. -- David Hess
What got me interested in putting in a pollinator garden? An October 2018 Senate Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee hearing.
Now you might think legislative hearings are boring, and many are, but Dr. Doug Tallamy from the Department of Entomology & Applied Ecology at the University of Delaware held everyone’s attention as he outlined how homeowners and landowners have a major role to play in strengthening natural diversity in our landscapes so they can better support wildlife, pollinators and us.
The key quote? Tallamy said non-native and invasive species are “biological pollution” that “ecologically castrate” all the land around them and eliminate the natural diversity that supports the complex web of pollinators, insects, birds and other animals we depend on for our food supply and a healthy environment.
Some research led me to the Penn State Master Gardener Pollinator Friendly Garden Certification Program that provides a roadmap for planting a diverse garden to supply a continuous source of food, water and shelter for pollinators from early to late in the year.
I spent some more time looking for the assistance I needed to design and select native plants for the garden and found it with the Manada Conservancy’s Gardening For Nature Program that serves the Dauphin County area.
For a donation, Laurie Crawford of Mae Marie Organics, a Manada Conservancy consultant, did an onsite visit and evaluation and suggested a landscape design based on native plants that support pollinators and wildlife. Click Here for a brochure on the program.
When she did her initial visit last October , I also gave her a specific goal I wanted to achieve-- become a Penn State Master Gardener Certified Pollinator Friendly Garden.
Laurie came back with a great plan for an 80 x 23 foot space (our entire backyard) that had a meandering green river of lawn down the middle with banks made of pollinator-supporting native plant beds-- flowers, shrubs and small trees-- and a new water and rock feature to support wildlife and insects and keep stormwater on my property from the downspout.
It was a big project for me and her. And let me quickly add, you don’t have to do a big project to have an impact, any size will do, as well as phasing in native plantings.
Laurie and her project partner Mark Girton of M&J Girton Landscaping met at our home in March  to lay out the plan on the ground and hash out details.
In April, Mark and his team took up sod, took out old and snow-damaged bushes, filled the new pollinator beds with a mixture of organic compost and screened soil and topped them with 4 or 5 inches of natural mulch.
Then they let the beds rest for a month, soaking up spring rains.
In May, Laurie and her planting partner Sally put in nearly 100 native plants following the plan. Only a few changes needed to be made based on the availability of specific native plants.
Laurie bought most of the plants from one source locally-- Diakon Wilderness Greenhouse and Native Plant Nursery in Boiling Springs, York County.
And then I watched them grow. And grow they did with all the great rain we had!
Long-story-short, the 6-inch flowering plants grew quickly, some to 4 and 5 feet tall! We had only a few losses to rabbits, who decided to have a few for breakfast.
Two of our granddaughters picked out 2 birdbaths for the garden and planted our small vegetable patch. I added small pebble dishes as sources of water for the pollinators and several bee houses.
We always had lots of birds in the yard, because we feed them regularly. We also had non-native butterfly bushes and other flowers in the front of the house that attracted butterflies, moths, bees and hummingbirds.
But when the native plants started to bloom one kind after another in the first 3 months, the pollinators flocked [I guess that’s not the right word] to the new garden and seemed to adopt it as their own.
The pollinator garden and our yard qualified to be certified as part of the Manada Conservancy’s Habitat for All Program.
We also received certification under the Penn State Master Gardener Pollinator Friendly Garden Program, meeting my overall goal.
We’re garden #845 of 895 statewide as of April 14.
Since I knew nothing about native plants and what kinds to plant to sustain a food supply over an entire season, the critical thing for our project was finding the right expert who did know.
For me it was Manada Conservancy, Laurie and Mark who offered the critical design service, picked the native plants and executed the plan.
I would have been lost without them.
There are resources like Manada Conservancy, Laurie and Mark around, but you have to look for them in your local conservancy, watershed group, audubon chapter, conservation district, county Penn State Master Gardeners and other places.
Below are all the details about our pollinator garden project, including a video and photos showing before, during and after, our Pollinator Garden Certification application listing the native plants in the garden and Laurie’s plan, of course.
I also included other pollinators and native plant resources you can take advantage of.
As I said, you don’t have to do a big project to have an impact, any size will do, or do it in phases, but the key is to get started!
(Written By: David E. Hess, former Secretary Department of Environmental Protection. Questions? Send me an email at: PaEnviroDigest@gmail.com.)
(Photo: Taken August, 2019)
Pollinator Garden Details--
-- Penn State Master Gardener Pollinator Garden Certification Application showing the kinds of plants Laurie planted
-- Video Of Project Start To Finish (don’t expect Spielberg)
-- NEW. Video Of Fall Cleanup - What To Trim & Keep
-- NEW. Video Of Spring Cleanup - Ready For 2nd Year
Pollinator/Native Plant Resources
There are lots of resources available to help property owners landscape with native plants, and now is the best time to start planning for Spring projects. Here are just a few of the resources available--
-- PA Native Plant Society: Create A Native Backyard Garden
-- Game Commission: Common Beneficial Plants Found In Wildlife Habitat
-- U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service: Native Plants For Wildlife Habitat And Conservation Landscaping
-- Brandywine Conservancy: Forested Riparian Buffer Planting Guide
-- Audubon PA: Bird Habitat Recognition Program
-- National Audubon: Native Plants Database
-- Pennsylvania Pollinator Protection Plan - Learn Why Pollinators Are At Risk In PA
Related Articles - Pollinator Gardens:
Feature: Recognizing The Value Of Native Plants For Pollinators - Dr. Doug Tallamy
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[Posted: April 12, 2020]
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