It’s not difficult to make your yard a hospitable place for pollinators, butterflies, and birds, but there are some guidelines about the most effective ways to do it.
In your existing garden. A couple of pollinator plants or host plants (those that moths and butterflies need for their larvae) scattered around your yard won’t be nearly as effective as groupings of plants. We suggest at least a 4′ x 4′ area planted up with a mixture of forbs (flowering plants) and prairie grasses. Most pollinator plants require at least 4 hours of direct sun a day, but some will thrive in semi-shade and woodland situations, too. If you’re not sure where a particular plant will do best, visit www.wildflower.org/plants, a resource of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. Keep in mind that there are few absolutes in this business, though, so check other native-plant resources, make your best effort, and see what happens. Don’t forget–you can move the plant later if it’s not doing well.
Space the plants out with a foot or so between them. Over several years, the plants will gradually spread out to fill the bed, and your pollinator garden will be beautifully established.
Treez Please sells neonicotinoid-free perennial plants every spring at the North Side Farmer’s Market. We do this both to raise funds for the organization and to provide plants that will not poison the very pollinators you’re trying to save. Garden centers as a rule do not guarantee that their plants are neonic free; our supplier, Prairie Nursery, does provide that assurance. At any rate, buy your plants carefully: ASK whether neonics have been used at any stage in the plants’ production, and that will put sellers on notice that the public is paying attention to this issue.
Seeding a meadow space is best done in the fall, but you need to prepare the area by smothering existing vegetation over the summer. You can spray in the spring or early summer with Burnout or other organic herbicide, then cover the area with cardboard topped with mulch and let it cook in the summer sun. In late fall, remove the cardboard, rake the exposed soil lightly, hand-broadcast the seed (mixed in with moist sand or sawdust), tamp to insure soil-to-seed contact, and cover with a layer of straw mulch. If you can arrange it, seeding is best done just before a good snowstorm. The snow will help the seed work into the soil and protect it from birds and other seed eaters.
We recommend consulting one of several websites for more detailed information about establishing seeded meadows in the first three years. Go to themeadowproject.org, or to this link at Prairie Moon Nurseries www.prairiemoon.com/PDF/growing-your-prairie.pdf (NOTE: We at Treez Please do not endorse the use of glyphosate [e.g., Roundup], as Prairie Moon does, especially not in smaller meadow projects where mechanical reduction of unwanted species is probably an option. We are field testing Burnout, an organic herbicide, in our projects, but don’t yet have definitive results to share. Persistent hand-pulling and digging seems to us the safest, most earth-friendly approach.)
Good luck with your efforts! Please comment on our website about how it’s all working.