How Does Your (Pollinator) Garden Grow?

Friday, December 4, 2020

Workshop participants enjoy the presentation in the WACF pavilion.

On a beautiful evening this June, 45 community members gathered under the pavilion at Wawasee Area Conservancy to learn about pollinator species and native plants. Participants enjoyed an entertaining and informative presentation from Brad Clayton of Clayton Garden Center. He spoke about different types of pollinators and the critical role they play in our ecosystem and in food production.

“Pollinators are the greatest silent heroes we have,” says Clayton, a plant and soil science specialist and a Watershed Conservationist for TWF. “Without them we literally have no food, shelter, or clothing; they impact all aspects of our daily life.”

From bees to birds, pollinators are any species that move pollen from one plant to another, a process that brings us the flowers in our landscapes to the produce in our grocery stores. However, pollinators face significant threats. From pollution to habitat loss, much of their decline is caused by human activity.

The good news is that we can all protect pollinators by making simple changes in our own backyards. These include mowing less frequently, reducing our use of mulch, changing our pest-management practices, and including native plants in our landscaping.

Lavender hyssop planted by Paige Hubner (2019).

In fact, native plants play a key role in pollinator survival, providing food and shelter for species like bees and birds, even in winter. Native plants also quietly protect our water quality, stabilizing shorelines, preventing erosion, and capturing runoff rainwater, filtering out pollutants before they reach our streams and lakes.

Because they’ve adapted to Indiana’s climate over thousands of years, native plants are perfect for landscaping. They’re drought-tolerant and disease-resistant, able to withstand Indiana’s hot summers and cold winters, and they don’t require fertilizer to thrive. Plus, native plants are attractive year-round, showcasing beautiful flowers in summer and interesting shapes and structures in winter.

To help establish their own native pollinator gardens, workshop participants took home a free 6-pack of plants, sponsored by TWF and provided by Clayton Garden Center, along with a planting plan for a 10-square-foot plot. Plants included flowers like milkweed and lavender hyssop and grasses such as prairie dropseed. Lavender Hyssop (Agastache) is one of Brad Clayton’s favorites: it’s durable, easy to grow, fast-spreading, and provides a great source of nutrition from spring through fall. “I call it a never ending smorgasbord for pollinators,” he says. “It always has a buzz around it.”

Indiana is home to several species of milkweed.

At TWF, part of our mission is to empower community members with the resources they need to take action for healthy water. Workshops are one of our favorite ways to do this! This is the second year we’ve held a pollinator plant workshop in coordination with our Clean Waters Partnership partners: WACF, Kosciusko Soil and Water Conservation District, and the Lily Center for Lakes and Streams. Each year, we’ve asked participants to send us updates and pictures from their pollinator gardens. You can see some of those photos below.

If you attended a workshop in 2019 or 2020, keep sending us updates. We love to see how your pollinator gardens grow! (Even better, consider submitting your pictures to our photo contest in the “Pollution Solution” category.) And be patient. Gardens take time to really take off. The saying “sleep, creep, leap” is a good way to gauge how your garden is growing for the first few years. Yours may still be sleeping (growing deep roots) or creeping (gradually taking up more space), but soon enough, it will leap!

If you’d like to attend one of our workshops, stay tuned. We hope to offer more opportunities like this next year. Meanwhile, winter is a great time to learn about gardening, from the flowers you might grow to the ways your garden can help our land, water, and local wildlife communities. Check out Clear Choices Clean Water to learn more about pollinators and native plants.

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