Pollinators and Rain Gardens

Pollinators and Rain Gardens

Yesterday was my "walk & talk" on Urban Plantscapes for kids and adults and we had a very good time. With populations of some species of native pollinators having dropped by up to 96%, it's always great to have a receptive audience that is just as shocked as you are by the data.

National Pollinator Week is coming up June 20th, so I'm trying to spread the gospel as quickly as possible. :)

More than 80% of all flowering plants need help moving pollen from one flower to the next for fertilization. But when we have things that need pollinating, and pollinators don't show up, it's not always so easy to figure out why they aren't magically there.  What can the average homeowner do to help alleviate the problem?

Kids check out the inkberry holly in the rain garden.

The first stop on yesterday's tour was the parking lot of the local library, where people with vision worked to see that rain gardens were installed.  These gardens were thoughtfully planned--they filter storm water before it enters the surface water of our cleanest-water-in-the-state-county and they provide food for pollinators at more than one time during the year.

This is a crucial need. It's easy to remember the pollinators when you need your tomatoes dealt with, but not so easy in, say, February. Or March. Or maybe April. Or September. And maybe even October, before overwintering. These rain gardens featured fothergilla, iris, Virginia Sweetspire, arrowwood viburnum, clethra, winterberry holly, chokeberry, inkberry, false indigo, rudbeckia and a few other gems just for fun. At the time of our tour, the winterberry holly was covered in bees. It was obvious by the forming berries that the bees had already done their job on the viburnum. Spent blooms on the fothergilla and clethra were more evidence of the smorgasbord previously enjoyed. It was a garden full of life--sitting in a parking lot. What city could NOT do this?

In some areas of the country (and world), property owners work diligently not to just "deal" with storm water, but actively look for ways to retain it. Rain gardens are a great way of doing this, since the whole purpose of a rain garden is to slow down storm water and make it stay where you want it for longer. Water absorbed by a rain garden becomes part of your ground water and is greedily sucked up by trees and shrubs outside the rain garden, as well.

Classic inflorescence on Mountain Laurel cultivar

But if there's anything better than a rain garden, it's a dual-purpose rain garden that rolls out the buffet for pollinators, too. One of the commonalities among the vast majority of selected plants in the library rain gardens is that each plant tends to present clusters of small flowers within a larger structure. The technical term for this is inflorescence, and you can read some awesome stuff about it if you want all that detail HERE. The benefit for pollinators is that each cluster provides lots of opportunities for pollen, instead of just a single, more vivid flower. And maybe this is part of the problem.

These complex clusters of flowers tend to appear on larger plants or shrubs--not on plants like daylilies or pansies that you might call "bedding plants." So the casual gardener, shopping for something pretty, is unlikely to select the viburnum or chokeberry (both pollinator favorites) because the flower just isn't very showy. And lots of homeowners might not know how trouble-free these larger species can be.

So another dozen people in my community now know that masses of tiny blooms are Good Things. And some of these folks are going to be coming over for some free yarrow, lamb's ear, goldenrod and coneflower. (All complex flowers that support multiple pollinators.) Maybe you have plants like these you can share with your friend and/or neighbors. Or maybe you'll just take the initiative to plant some more in your own space for National Pollinator Week. If so, it's time to get your fabulous, pollinator-supporting plant guide tailored to your zip code--Here!

Thanks for sharing--

Sacred Places

Sacred Places

Getting Thrashed

Getting Thrashed