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Pollinator Garden

Gardening for the Birds, Bees, and Butterflies

Who among us does not enjoy birds, bees and butterflies? By creating plantings that replace even small segments of these beautiful creatures’ diminishing habitats, we can contribute to their preservation. I personally had the opportunity to do this when a retention pond was built on the property bordering mine. The large slope between my garden and the retention pond receives 5-8 hours of sunshine daily, and is the perfect place for a sunny garden devoted to birds, bees and butterflies! Now that it is established, not only do the pollinators enjoy it – my family, friends and neighbors do as well!

Pollinator Garden, Rudbeckia, Echibeckia

Soil Preparation

I was determined to grow lavender at the top of my sloped butterfly garden, so I began my project by amending the top 3-4 ft. of the slope with course sand and perma-til and composted leaves to create good drainage. I mulch my lavender plants as well as the bearded German iris, asclepias and santolina with small gravel. All of these plants require very well-draining soil to thrive. To prepare the soil for the rest of my garden, I worked composted leaves into the clay soil to create better soil conditions for plants to grow.

Pollinator Garden

Seeding and Reseeding Annuals and Biennials

Many hardy annuals and biennials contribute heavily to a pollinator garden. I plant, seed others each year and allow some of the hardiest to reseed themselves. For plants that I allow to reseed, I mulch only very lightly after those plants begin to grow in spring in any areas where I want them to reseed. To lend a helping hand to their growth, I spread additional seed in August and September. Most of these plants will appear as tiny seedlings, and bloom the next spring or summer. These plants can also be seeded in March or April, but they may not bloom the first season. My favorite plants to seed in late summer or early spring are:

  • Bachelor’s Button
  • Cleome
  • Foxglove
  • Larkspur
  • Nigella
  • Parsley
  • Poppy
  • Rudbeckia hirta
  • Feverfew
  • Verbena bonariensis
  • Viola

For any seeds that cannot take the cold and frost, I direct seed after the danger of frost has passed and the soil has warmed. At this time, I also transplant any plants that I purchased, or started from seed indoors. Some of my favorite plants to seed after the danger of frost has passed are:

  • Amaranth globe
  • Calendula
  • Celosia
  • Cosmos
  • Dill
  • Zinnias
Zinnia, Celosia, Pollinator Garden

Seeds for the Birds

I remove spent flowers (deadheading) on some plants to encourage rebloom over the spring and summer, but as fall approaches I stop doing this in order to leave seeds for the birds through the winter. Providing food for the birds during this season when resources are scarce is vital to their health, and allows me to support our native bird population. While I clean up other areas of my garden for the winter, I do not give my bird, bee and butterfly garden it’s fall cleanup until February or March, just in time for spring. This leaves the garden looking a little messy through the winter months, but makes it a haven for wildlife by providing pollinator and seed plants over as long a period as possible. I personally find it quite pleasing to the eye!

Coneflower, Perennial, Native

My Favorite Plants for Pollinator Gardens

The plants I discussed here are only a small portion of plants that make an excellent addition to butterfly gardens!

For more information, check out this pollinator garden plant list I created for anyone looking to start a bird, bee and butterfly garden.

Hellebore with bees, Perennial

Perennial Winter Wanderings

As many of us have experienced these past few weeks with the temperatures bouncing back and forth between 10 and 60 degrees, winter weather is “like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get.”  Sometimes frigid temperatures keep us indoors, and sometimes we are fortunate to have almost tropical days in the midst of the frigid ones. I love to wonder around my garden and the garden center on these warm 60-degree days to see what is going on among the plants. While the winter landscape may seem to be fast asleep, there are actually many things to see and enjoy in the forms of wildlife, blooms, bark, and foliage.

Blooms

Hellebore with bees, Perennial

Hellebore

My most recent walk around the garden center revealed the Christmas Rose’s (Hellebore niger ‘Jacob’) white blossoms in full bloom. The weather has been so warm that the honey bees were even out foraging upon them! This compact perennial is shade loving, evergreen, winter blooming and a warm-spell pollinator savior. There are numerous types of hellebore which bloom later in the winter through early spring, but this variety has been blooming now for several weeks.

Paperbush

Paperbush

Another sight to behold right now is the Paperbush (Edgeworthia) shrub. This plant features beautiful, spotty bark covered with dangling umbrella looking yellowish blossoms at the tips. I have one strategically placed under a window on the east side of my house, so that when those warm days of winter show up, I can open the window and let its beautiful fragrance float in. Since it’s a zone 7 shrub, this placement by the house also helps to protect it during long, severe cold snaps.

Buds and Foliage

Dwarf Mondo

Planted under my Paperbush is the daintiest of evergreen groundcovers that can live in the deepest shade. Dwarf Mondo (Ophiopogon ‘Nana’) measures in at only 2-3” tall. I can only see it in the fall and winter, after the Paperbush has shed its leaves. A hidden treasure of tiny cobalt blue drupes hides within its foliage if you get down on your knees and move the foliage around. This plant is a slow spreader, but worth it for its beauty and ability to grow in deep shade.

Candytuff

Continuing my walk, my Candytuff (Iberis) with its little evergreen shiny leaves has swollen white buds ready to pop when spring arrives. It contrasts nicely in front of the purple toned winter foliage of my azaleas. I love to see these signs that spring is on its way!

Seed Pods

There are a number of plants whose seed pods look splendid in the winter. As a bonus, many of these plants attract birds, who find the seeds a valuable food source during a season where resources are scarce.

Siberian Iris Seed Pods

Siberian Iris

Looking splendid when “dead” for the winter, the bronze seed pods of the Siberian Iris protrude out like a porcupine’s quills. This Iris brings architectural interest to the garden all season long, and it does very well in the clay soil of our northern Virginia region. Of course, it is also beautiful during its bloom season – I know it doesn’t flower long, but when it does, it’s like a gorgeous, floppy butterfly.

Rudbeckia Seed head

Black-Eyed Susan

At the end of my garden walk, birds were feasting and frolicking around the numerous seed heads of the Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia). The seedheads of this plant look lovely when left standing in the winter, and of course, it is wonderful to provide food for the birds.

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