NORTHEAST OHIO – Lawns are the largest irrigated crop in the United States, covering nearly 40 million acres. They require mowing, feeding with fertilizers, treating insects and fungi, watering during droughts, aeration, overseeding and more. Lawns do not provide nectar or pollen for bees; no food for butterflies, native birds or insects; and no shelter for wildlife. If every owner, organization, and business replaced a sunny area of lawn with a garden to support pollinators and wildlife, the cumulative impact across Ohio would make a difference.
You may want to create a pollinator garden using native plants in containers or caps, or you may want to use seeds. If you choose potted plants or caps, visit www.ohionativeplantmonth.org/native-plant-sources. If you want to use seeds, Ohio Prairie Nursery (an Ohio company) worked with us to create a special blend for Pollinator Pocket Gardens. This mix consists of seeds from 28 native plants, all selected to grow in full sun, growing up to 3 feet in height, containing flowering plants with lots of color to help pollinators, including three weed species to butterflies (Asclepias) to meet the requirements for a Monarch Waystation.
To plant a pollinator garden, start by selecting the site. Choose a location in full sun, dry, sunny and generally flat with good soil. If you do a soil test first, you will know if your soil needs additives. If you are using seed, you can purchase seed in bulk or a package that will cover 250 square feet, or an area of about 16 feet by 16 feet.
The best time to plant is in the spring, but you can also plant seeds in late fall, any time in winter or early spring and through early June. The only bad time to plant seeds is during the hot, dry summer months. If you are using caps, spring is the best time, when it is cooler.
To prepare your site, remove any rocks or debris from the area. If you have sod in the area you want to use for the garden, mow it as low as possible or use a trimmer to remove the lawn to the ground. You don’t need to plow and you should refrain from using any type of lawn chemicals in the area.
To lay the foundation for your garden, cover the garden area with cardboard or several layers of weighted newspaper. Wet the cardboard or newspaper so that it is in good contact with the ground. The layer of paper forms a barrier that will help prevent weeds from growing underneath.
If you are using plant plugs, now is a good time to punch holes in the paper layer and plant them. After planting, you can place small round pots, cardboard rolls or other lids in it, which will make it easier to apply mulch more quickly and evenly.
Add a layer of clean aged pine bark nuggets or pine fine mulch 3 to 5 inches thick on top of the paper. Make sure the mulch is clean (no dyes or chemicals to control weeds and no weed seeds). If you are using caps, you are done except watering around the plants. From the second year, your plants will spread in your garden.
If you use seeds, you will find that many are tiny and need to mix them in rice husks or playground sand to distribute them evenly throughout the garden. Once you’ve mixed them up, take handfuls of them and spread / throw them all over the area. Then take a garden rake and gently rake the top quarter of an inch of the mulch. Native seeds prefer to be close to the soil surface, so you want to make good contact with the soil with minimal disturbance. At the end of the first growing season, you might see tiny plants sprouting, and a few might bloom in late summer. The second year you will see more plants sprouting and growing, and the third year your garden will be filled with native flowering plants.
Whichever method you choose, you will be helping to save our precious pollinators and create biodiversity in your own backyard.
This article was started by Ohio Native Plant Month, a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit. It has been rewritten with slight modifications by Sandy Barbic, education specialist at the Summit Soil & Water Conservation District. Visit www.ohionativeplantmonth.org for more information.
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