Saturday, May 06, 2017

Attracting Beneficial Pollinators

Starting Milkweed From Seed

Here’s the progress of the milkweed I started from seed a few weeks ago. I got the seeds at Washington Gardner’s Seed Swap Day on January 28, at Brookside Gardens in Maryland. I put the seeds (the fuzzy white things pictured lower right) in the fridge for four weeks (that’s called stratification, not to be confused with scarification) as instructed. 

Back in early April, reusing a cupcake container from Safeway, I punched a few drainage holes in the bottom, put them in seed-starting mix, found a warm spot in the house and hoped for the best. My friend Jen told me it took milkweed two years to germinate in her yard so I did not have high hopes. But a few weeks later, I had my first sprout! And then many days later, another sprout. I think these seven seedlings have been coming over the past few weeks. They definitely did not all sprout at the same time and I hope to get one or two more before I put them in the ground later in May in a sunny flower bed where I also grow Black-eyed Susan.

The zinnias I plant every year attract butterflies and Goldfinches, too. I look forward to seeing a few more butterflies in my Hyattsville gardens this summer.

Create Habitat for Monarchs in Your Garden
According to the Monarch Joint Venture, Monarch butterflies cannot survive without milkweed; their caterpillars only eat milkweed plants (Asclepias spp.), and monarch butterflies need milkweed to lay their eggs. With shifting land management practices, we have lost much milkweed from the landscape. Planting milkweed is a great way to help other pollinators too, as they provide valuable nectar resources to a diverse suite of bees and butterflies.

Get Ready for National Pollinator Week in June

What can you do for pollinators?
There’s a lot here, just choose one that’s doable to get started this year.

  •  Create a pollinator-friendly garden habitat in just a few simple steps.
  • Design your garden so that there is a continuous succession of plants flowering from spring through fall. Check for the species or cultivars best suited to your area and gradually replace lawn grass with flower beds.
  • Plant native to your region using plants that provide nectar for adults plus food for insect larvae, such as milkweed for monarchs.  If you do use non-native plants, choose ones that don't spread easily, since these could become invasive.
  • Select old-fashioned varieties of flowers whenever possible because breeding has caused some modern blooms to lose their fragrance and/or the nectar/pollen needed to attract and feed pollinators.
  • Install 'houses' for bats and native bees. For example, use wood blocks with holes or small open patches of mud. As little as 12” across is sufficient for some bees.
  • Avoid pesticides, even so-called "natural" ones such as Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt). If you must use them, use the most selective and least toxic ones and apply them at night when most pollinators aren't active.
  • Supply water for all wildlife. A dripping faucet or a suspended milk carton with a pinhole in the bottom is sufficient for some insects. Other wildlife need a small container of water.
  • Provide water for butterflies without letting it become a mosquito breeding area. Refill containers daily or bury a shallow plant saucer to its rim in a sunny area, fill it with coarse pine bark or stones and fill to overflowing with water. 
  • Share fun facts, such as: a tiny fly (a “midge”) no bigger than a pinhead is responsible for the world's supply of chocolate; or one out of every three mouthfuls of food we eat is delivered to us by pollinators.

More Information

2017 Green Matters Symposium, Montgomery County, Maryland

Twelve Native Milkweeds for Monarchs, National Wildlife Federation

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