Gardening Tips

Pale Purple Coneflower
Echinacea pallida

Monarch caterpillar on
swamp milkweed Asclepias incarnata

Bee on coreopsis
Coreopsis lanceolata

Caterpillar on pearly everlasting
Anaphalis margaritacea

Bumble bee on Culver’s root
Veronicastrum virginicum

Hawk moth on wild bergamot
Monarda fistulosa

Bee flying over balsam ragwort
Senecio pauperculus

Bee on sundrop
Oenothera pilosella

Bee on spreading dogbane
Apocynum androsaemifolium

If You Plant it, They Will Come

The plight of our bees, both native and the non-native honey bee, has been in the news a lot lately. Loss of habitat, food sources, pests and diseases and pesticides are all to blame. Even our love for mulch can have a negative impact on ground burrowing native bees. They need bare soil to dig their home in! How can you help? Native bees love native plants, it’s as simple as that!

I love my native plant garden and tell the world about it whenever I can.2007 brought a severe drought to my area. Practically no rain fell during a four month period. Other than a small 6’ x 6’ area where I keep my moisture loving plants I did not water at all. This is why I garden with native plants after all. The results were still spectacular. My meadow was in bloom from early spring, starting with golden Alexander, Zizia aurea, and prairie smoke, Geum triflorum, until late fall with Aster spp and Jerusalem artichokes, Helianthus tuberosus. No one in my neighbourhood had a display like I did, and I was proud of it! It was teaming with flying and crawling insects and other critters all through the season. For the first time ever I saw a bee hawk moth. It visited my garden several times and was seen on common milkweed, Asclepias syriaca, bee balm, Mondarda fistulosa, and ironweed, Vernonia missurica.

All winter I was curious what I would see this spring. A few plants died, as was expected, but most survived, and I even found a few new seedlings. I try to look at it in a positive way and hope that native bees found the bare soil dead plants left behind and made a home in it.

Here are a few tips if you plan for a pollinator smorgasbord:

  • Hold off the mulch in a few areas and leave the soil bare for burrowing bees
  • Rather than growing many species but only a few plants each, grow few species but lots of each. A garden is most attractive to pollinators with many plants in bloom at the same time
  • Provide a water source. Keep a birdbath with clean water and float a blade of grass or place a flat stone in it. Bees will land on the blade or stone and drink from there
  • Don’t leave container with water laying around; insects will be attracted to it but can’t get out of deep water and will drown.
  • Plant scented flowers, bees love plants in the mint family
  • Avoid hybrids; many of them are bred to please man and are low in or lack pollen and/or nectar
  • Plan for blooms throughout the season and use annuals, perennials, flowering shrubs and trees
  • Remember, not all bees sting and of those who do, won’t unless you frighten or hurt them. The honeybee dies if she loses her stinger, she will only use it as a last resort. Alas, accidents do happen and there are lots of ideas out there to treat bee stings; rub a penny on it, rub honey on it, chew on a plantain leave and rub it on the sting. There are even battery operated gadgets that lessen the pain and swelling and I was told they work.
  • Let pollinators go about their business, enjoy watching them and take close-up pictures if you can. There is nothing more cheerful in the winter than looking at a picture of a yellow flower with a bee enjoying its goodies. Nature is beautiful, and you are part of it.

Sharing Your Garden with Birds and Other Critters

In the fall, instead of cleaning up my garden I like to leave all the plants in place. It provides winter interest and food and cover for birds and other critters. I’ve often found dens in my meadow built by small animals, lined with fur and grass. Although this has uprooted some of my plants, it’s a small price to pay to know that my place is a haven. In the spring the spent plants provide nesting materials for the birds. I often sit by my window, watching the birds look for just the right piece and then fly off in a hurry. For that reason I wait as long as I can before I cut everything down to get the garden ready for spring.

Leaving your plants up in late fall might not be possible in the front yard of your city garden, but how about giving it a try it in your backyard. The critters will appreciate it and there’s nothing more enchanting than seeing snow falling on your seed heads, turning them into works of art.

This picture, taken through my front window, shows a junco eating seeds from my Great St. John’s Wort, Hypericum ascyron. This plant produces copious amounts of seed that germinate easily, but this shot is worth the extra work of pulling unwanted seedlings. Donate your extra seedlings to friends or the “home grown” table at NANPS’ plant sale coming up in May, and send extra seeds you have to NANPS for its seed exchange.

Ruth Zaugg, Caledon Ontario
January 2007

Junco eating seeds from my Great St. John’s Wort

Do you have a garden tip or photo you would like to share with other Nanps members? To submit please send it to with your permission for publication. Make sure you include your name and location so that proper credit can be given to you.