A new project has taken root in Central Oregon: The Bend Pollinator Pathway is establishing and connecting multiple native plant gardens throughout the city and beyond in a widespread effort to protect our native pollinators and grow their habitat.
Anyone can join the initiative - no space is too small! Below are some tips from the Bend Pollinator Pathway for a magical summer garden filled with butterflies, bumblebees and hummingbirds.
There are five steps to creating ideal pollinator habitat. These can be done at home or at the office, individually or with a group of neighbors or friends, on porches and on balconies.
1. PLANT NATIVE PLANTS! Native plants are those that evolved in our region along with our pollinators. They provide the pollen, nectar, nesting sites and shelter that our local bees and butterflies require to feed and reproduce. Native plants offer food for both the adult stage of their lives and food and shelter for their young, like eggs and caterpillars.
- If you have space to grow multiple plants, PLANT FOR CONTINUOUS BLOOM - add early, mid-, and late season blooming flowers so that a wider variety of pollinators, as well as those whose life cycles occur at different times during our growing season, will be able to use the plants. And PLANT IN BLOCKS OF SIMILAR SPECIES. Recently scientists have learned that it’s best to group similar species together, rather than interspersing them. Big blocks of color or scent can make it easier for the pollinators to find the flowers that they need most and return to them.
- PLANT KEYSTONE SPECIES. In addition to adding food sources for our pollinators, suitable habitat is imperative as well. Butterflies and Moths need particular species on which to lay their eggs to raise their caterpillars - think Monarch Butterflies and Milkweed - these are called Keystone Species. Trees from elsewhere provide for very few of our local species but our native Willow can host more than 300 species of Central Oregon butterflies and moths. Native Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana) is critical to more than 240 local species. More trees and shrubs that support pollinators can be found on the National Wildlife Federation's Native Plant Finder website here. We have two dedicated native plant nurseries in Bend: WinterCreek Nursery and Great Basin Nursery. They are both open by appointment but during the growing season (April - October) WinterCreek also has regular retail hours. Check the websites of each for the most up-to-date information or to sign up for their email lists to be informed of sales. Moonfire and Sun carries a small selection of native plants as well. Lastly there is a wholesale native plant nursery in Redmond called Clearwater that opens to retail customers one day per year - get on their mailing list to be informed of the annual open house.One word of caution when shopping for pollinator plants - Often, plants are touted as eco-friendly because they use less water. While water savings is absolutely critical in the high desert, many of these plants can be inedible to our local wildlife, including our pollinators. So if one of your gardening goals is xeriscaping, fantastic, it’s absolutely compatible. Just make sure to choose drought-tolerant natives over exotics.
2. GO PESTICIDE-FREE This is self-evident. Pesticides kill insects. That’s what they are designed to do. Our goal is to protect the pollinators.
3. PROVIDE WATER. If you have never seen a bee take a drink of water, you are in for a real treat!! Birdbaths work well, or a shallow plant dish. Place a rock inside so that bees can access the water without falling in.
- Butterflies, moths and other insects also seek nutrients, moisture and salt from wet soil, mud or sand. This behavior is called mud puddling. Use a small pie dish or again a planter dish, add some soil and water and try to keep it moist for your garden visitors.
4. CREATE NESTING HABITAT. If you have already completed Step 1, this step is easy. Just remember to Leave the Leaves, Save the Stems, and Embrace Bare Ground. Allow nature to overwinter as it intended. You can still rake your leaves if you want to clear any grass you may have but keep the leaves onsite, in a pile in an out-of-the-way corner of the yard. Or put them on your garden plants. Or mulch your trees and shrubs with them. But PLEASE do not shred them. If all is going according to plan, these leaves will have butterfly or moth eggs on them - and they will provide a warm blanket for bumblebee queens who nest overwinter underneath the soil surface. As for the stems, just leave them too.
- Cleaning up the garden in fall can be a hard habit to break. But plants are more protected from cold winter temperatures when they are not trimmed back; they provide shelter for birds and small mammals; and when spring finally comes, you can trim the stems to heights between 8 and 24” to accommodate a variety of different stem-nesting bees. The bees will lay eggs this coming season and then overwinter into next to emerge the following spring as adults. So allow those stems to stand for at least two springs.
- Seventy percent of native bees nest in the ground and they require access to the surface of the soil. So leave bare ground and eschew bark dust and bark mulch. If you see small holes in the soil near the base of plants or bunchgrasses, you may even catch a glimpse of a bee entering or exiting the nest through these holes.
5. RETHINK THE LAWN. If you have turfgrass in the yard, consider using organic practices like leaving the grass clippings after mowing - and mowing less often in season as your grass might be harboring pollinators and their eggs. Any ways that you can adapt the lawn to become more climate-friendly will also be a boost for the pollinators - like using a manual push mower or an electric mower, instead of gasoline.
- To borrow from Marie Kando, you might ask yourself, Does your lawn spark joy? If not, why not remove some grass to make room for more flowers, trees and shrubs.
The benefits of gardening for pollinators are many. Ninety percent of our plants and trees depend on the service of our pollinators for survival and one in three bites of our food are the result of their actions. Bees do a large part of pollinating but butterflies, moths and hummingbirds pollinate our plants as well. Join the Bend Pollinator Pathway and discover the joys of inviting these beautiful creatures into your own native pollinator habitat.
The Bend Pollinator Pathway is a volunteer-led, community-wide endeavor and would love your participation! Whether you are planting at home or can join us for planting parties in public spaces around town, there are plenty of volunteer opportunities with the pathway - from fall seed collection to growing and fostering plants to distribute to other members of our community, and more. You can also purchase a yard medallion to display in your habitat. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information or to be added to our email list. You can also join our Facebook Group to learn about upcoming events and opportunities for involvement.