What’s the Buzz?

This week on around the grounds, we learn about the ecological advantages of pollinator pathways. Additionally, get some useful home gardening tips that help our pollinator pals! 

Have you heard all the “buzz” about pollinator gardens? It seems that community groups everywhere are planning, planting, or maintaining pollinator gardens. Schools, parks, churches, and homeowners are adding pollinator-friendly native plants to landscapes all around us. Are you involved?

Pollinator Pathway garden sign

The original “Pollinator Pathway” idea was to create linked gardens through urban and suburban areas so that pollinators could travel, finding what they need to survive along the way.

The concept has grown wildly and Pollinator Pathway organizations are popping up everywhere, including locally in Irvington, Hastings-on-Hudson, Dobbs Ferry, Bedford, Elmsford, and many others.

Physically connecting pollinator gardens into an actual pathway is less important than having lots of them everywhere. From big meadows to front lawn patches to container gardens on balconies, every blooming native plant helps pollinators.

August Brosnahan and friends started a pollinator garden along the Old Croton Aqueduct
Friends of Dobbs Ferry Waterfront Park planted native plants for pollinators
Photo: Don Vitagliano

Driving this movement is recent documentation of a stunning decline in insect populations, especially pollinators. Since many of our food crops depend on insect pollination, this is a huge wake-up call for all of us. Insecticides, agricultural techniques, and loss of habitat all contribute to crashing insect populations. And since most birds depend upon insects to feed their young, bird populations also are declining rapidly.

The New York Times reports on the “Insect Apocalypse”

Unlike many other global problems, we can actually do something about this crisis — right in our own yards. Pollinator gardens are a powerful force for good. And the bonus? They are gorgeous! Every time we convert a patch of lawn, or bare dirt, or a weed-infested spot to a pollinator garden, we not only provide survival essentials for birds, bees, and butterflies, we brighten our neighborhoods with color and life.

The pollinator garden at Dobbs Ferry Waterfront Park
Photo: Nancy Delmerico
This pollinator garden replaced a lawn in Hastings
Photo: Myriam Beck

So, what makes a garden a pollinator garden? Short answer: native flowering plants. The two main classes of pollinators we are trying to save are butterflies and bees, especially native bees. Bees need flower nectar and pollen. Butterflies need nectar and host plants for their caterpillars to eat. Pollinator gardens should provide all 3 essentials: nectar, pollen, and host plants.

Native bumblebees need pollen from native plants
Photo: Travis Brady

The reason we keep emphasizing native plants is because most of these insects are specialists — they depend upon one or two specific species of plants for survival. For example, there are over 20 species of native bees that can only eat the pollen of Goldenrod! And just as Monarch caterpillars can only eat the leaves of Milkweed, other butterflies’ caterpillars are also completely dependent upon specific plant species – their “host”plants.

Swallowtail butterfly caterpillar on its host plant, Zizia
Adult Black Swallowtail on Zizia at the Nature Center

Pollinator gardens do best in sunny spots. Butterflies and bees prefer sunshine and are more active in sunny areas. Any place that lawn grass grows is a good spot for a pollinator garden.

The best plants for pollinator gardens are native meadow or prairie plants. Adapted to harsh environments, they don’t need rich soil and never need fertilizer. Most of these plants are drought-tolerant, so they don’t need irrigation once they are established, and many are deer-resistant. And we recommend perennials rather than annuals, so the plants come back every year. It is easier, and definitely cheaper in the long run, to plant a perennial pollinator garden than it is to buy, plant, water, and fertilize annual bedding plants every year.

Pollinator Garden at the Nature Center

Spring is almost here! If you are thinking about planting or expanding a pollinator garden, there are loads of great resources to get you started. The Pollinator Pathway website linked above has how-to’s and plant lists. Watch for local native plant sales. The Native Plant Center will hold its annual plant sale this year at Westchester Community College on April 30. And the Garden Club of Irvington will have native plants for sale at the Greenburgh Nature Center on May 7, plus lots of knowledgeable help on hand.

And watch this space! Over the next several months, this blog will highlight many of our favorite pollinator plants. Come see them in action at the Greenburgh Nature Center all season long!

Come visit our Pollinator Garden!
THIS BLOG IS AUTHORED WEEKLY BY CATHY LUDDEN, CONSERVATIONIST AND NATIVE PLANT EDUCATOR; AND BOARD MEMBER, GREENBURGH NATURE CENTER. FOLLOW CATHY ON INSTAGRAM FOR MORE PHOTOS AND GARDENING TIPS @CATHYLUDDEN.

Let’s Talk About Plants!

You probably know the Greenburgh Nature Center best for our animals – the animal museum, the barnyard, the raptors, even the wild animals in the forest — all delight visitors and help our naturalists teach about biodiversity and sustainable living.

Now let’s focus on plants! Plants are the first link in the food chain. Don’t all animals eat plants or other animals that eat plants? Without native plants, most species of insects, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and mammals native to our region would be deprived of critical food sources. If we are passionate about the natural world, shouldn’t we be paying more attention to plants?

Over the past several years, the Nature Center has recognized the urgent need in our community for more native plants to support wildlife. We decided we should begin in our own backyard.

Our first project was the Native Wildflower Meadow. What was once a weed-infested field is now a glorious highlight of our landscape:

Before: a mess of invasive plants
Today: the Meadow is a place to explore and enjoy

What was once treacherous tumble of rock in front of the Manor House is now our lovely staircase and native garden:

Before: weeds and rocks
Today: A place for people, birds, and pollinators

And just this summer, a community group was inspired to plant a spectacular Pollinator Garden, full of native flowers and grasses, right at the edge of the Great Lawn:

Heaven for bees and and butterflies

The impact of these gardens was immediate. Greg Wechgelaer, our Director of Education and beekeeper, noticed that honey production in our beehives increased by over 50% the first season after the Meadow was planted. In addition, the Meadow has become a place for learning and for contemplation.

Naturalist, Travis Brady, teaching in the outdoor classroom in the Meadow
Peaceful moment in the Oak Circle at one end of the Meadow

The butterfly population on the grounds has exploded, and children are finding monarch caterpillars right next to the Manor House steps.

So, now we are talking about plants: what we should plant and where, which plants are best for home gardens, which plants should be avoided, and how everybody can add native plants to our landscapes for the benefit of nature.

Follow this blog to see what is happening on our grounds each week. We will feature specific plants, tell you where to find them on our grounds, and give you tips for how you can grow them, too. We are eager to share what we have learned, and to hear your questions and ideas.

And come take a look around! There are wonderful plants to see right now, and in every season that follows.

This blog will be authored weekly by Cathy Ludden, local expert and advocate for native plants and Board Member, Greenburgh Nature Center.