Have a question about how to certify your pollinator garden through Penn State? Here we answer some of more common questions to come up as people prepare their gardens.

I want to start helping pollinators. How do I begin to transition to a pollinator friendly garden?

There are many ways to create pollinator friendly habitat.  Here are some suggestions to get started.Add plants to existing beds. Many gardeners have plants spaced far apart and fill in the area with mulch.  Instead of using mulch, fill in with pollinator friendly plants.

 Remove invasive plants and replace with native plants. Many people have a hedge of plants on the invasive list, such as burning bush or privet.  Begin to remove those plants and replace with a pollinator and bird friendly shrub such as red twig dogwood or arrowwood viburnum.

 Create a ground layer by planting native plants under your trees and shrubs. Plants such as Tiarella cordifolia (foamflower), Phlox divaricata (wild blue phlox), Phlox stolonifera (creeping phlox), and Chrysogonum virginianum (green and gold), are excellent choices.

 Convert an unused area of your lawn to garden. This is very easy to do by sheet mulching. (Learn how to sheet mulch at this link:   https://extension.psu.edu/sheet-mulching-lawn-to-garden-bed-in-3-steps.)  Then choose natives suited to your site  - sun/shade, wet, dry. Do not add fertilizer or enrich the soil for sun loving native perennials.  Herbaceous perennials can be spaced 10"-12" apart to create a beautiful garden.

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The Pennsylvania Native Plant Society website offers a list of nurseries that handle native plants.  Most will offer a good selection. http://www.panativeplantsociety.org/native-plant-sources.html

Why is it important to plant in groups, or drifts?

Many pollinators, especially bees, gather nectar and pollen from one species at a time. As they fly over a landscape they look for masses of blossoms that they know will provide the nutrition they need.

If your property is very small, plan on planting a minimum of three of each species. Most properties have room for at least 5 or more.   Plant close together – many species can be planted 10" to 12" apart.

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Is it okay to use cultivars? Will they count toward certification?

This is a complicated question.  It depends on how the cultivar is derived.  Some plants with cultivar names are natural selections of plants found in the natural environment.  Others are actually hybrids between plants from different continents. A good example is Agastache 'Golden Jubilee', which is derived from an Asian Agastache.  In our pollinator trials it performed very poorly.

Still others are man-made cultivars, created to appeal to our desire for bigger, showier blossoms.  To achieve this, sometimes nectar and pollen is sacrificed.

Hydrangea arborescens, smooth hydrangea, is a good example.  The straight species has many small nectar and pollen-rich blooms, and just a few large, sterile flowers with no pollen or nectar, around the edges to attract pollinators. 

The horticultural industry has created a cultivar from Hydrangea arborescens called Hydrangea 'Annabelle'.  'Annabelle' has almost all large, sterile flowers.  While the large flowers may appeal to us, they have no value for pollinators.

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Where can I find the straight species of native plants?

The Pennsylvania Native Plant Society website offers a list of nurseries that handle native plants.  Most will offer a good selection of straight species.  http://www.panativeplantsociety.org/native-plant-sources.html

There are several mail order sites that work with east coast native plant nurseries to offer retail sales.  Izel Native Plants consolidates the inventories of wholesale-only growers and retail nurseries into a practical mail-order solution. The Pollen Nation offers landscape plant plugs (small, but deep rooted plants that will reach mature size in a year). 

New nurseries and mail order options are showing up each year.  For the best results and to most value to pollinators, purchase plants as local to your location as possible.

 

Is there any place I can find templates to help me plan a pollinator friendly garden?

Maryland Extension has a lovely website with links to templates for small and large gardens for various site conditions.  Check them out at: https://extension.umd.edu/hgic/topics/pollinator-gardens