Congrats to the Native Plant Center for putting on another great spring conference. Called “Wildlife Matters: Creating Landscapes that Sustain Nature,” it ran all day Monday at the Westchester Community College campus in Valhalla.
Among the four speakers was Doug Tallamy, the University of Delaware professor who’s the resident rock star of the native plant world. He was terrific, as always.
Kim Eierman, who lives and gardens in Bronxville, gave an interesting, energetic talk on “Planting for Pollinators.”
As home gardeners get ready for spring, Eierman urges us to consider planting for pollinators, instead of just falling for what looks pretty at the garden center.
As we all know, honeybees are in serious decline and they need all the help we can give them. These honeybees, by the way, are not native to the United States. Most are either Italian or Russian.
There are 4,000 species of bees native to the U.S., and many of those are in trouble, too, Eierman says. Among those are about 50 species of bumble bees. About half are in serious trouble.
“Honeybees are the only insect to make sufficient honey for human consumption,” Eierman says. A healthy colony has about 50,000 bees.
When gathering pollen, a honeybee worker bee will visit up to 50 to 100 flowers per trip out of the hive, and make up to 50 trips per day. They will fly up to 5 miles for good foraging, but you don’t want to make them work that hard.
Other pollinators include butterflies, beetles, bats, flies, moths, birds (especially hummingbirds) and wasps. Butterflies, which are not as efficient as some of the other ones, pollinate include milkweed, Joe-pye weed, coneflower, sunflowers and gayfeather (liatris).
When planting a garden for pollinators, you want to plant things that bloom from early spring right through late fall, to attract the full range of pollinators and to ensure there is always something for them to feast on.
When shopping for plants, don’t buy just one, Eierman says. Buy groups of plants, to create a fairly large target for bees and other pollinators to find. Her ideal is to create a 4 by 4 foot target. In a meadow, you want repetitions of the same flowers.
Also, remember that the closer a plant is to the straight species the better it is for bees, Eierman says. Avoid overhybridized flowering plants.
If you want to draw pollinators to your yard and garden, you cannot use any pesticides. Even the broad-spectrum organic pesticides can be just as destructive to bees, Eierman says.
You should clean up your garden and cut back perennials in spring, not fall, she says. That way you leave seed heads and foliage up for overwintering insects and birds.
If you have a meadow, it’s best not to mow it down every spring. Rather, cut down one-third each year, over a period of three years. Then you don’t kill as many insects.
A particularly good website for identifying insects is bug.net, Eierman says.
SAMPLES OF NATIVE PLANTS FOR POLLINATORS
Early spring bloomers
Red maple tree
Pussy willow – very early source for food
Later spring bloomers
All ilexes/hollies – inkberry, winterberry
Black cherry—a little weedy looking, but feeds caterpillars
Early to middle summer bloomers
St. John’s wort
Smooth hydrangea (H. arborens)
Brambles/red and black berries
Elderberry – great for wet spots
Late summer plants
Swamp milkweeds — all are good
Eupatoriums — Joe-pye weed and boneset
Culver’s root – good for wet spot
New York ironweed
Goldenrod — Canada variety is very aggressive