In a home garden, native plants preferred by pollinators can go side-by-side with non-native plants.
“I’m gradually working in more native plants,” said Leanne Phinney, Shoreview resident and pollinator gardener, showing off the first May flowers in her yard this spring — Minnesota native trillium, ginger and Jacob’s ladder blooming along with Pacific Coast bleeding heart flowers.
Phinney was an early adopter of native plants in her gardens; she began planting them in the early ’90s, long before it was trendy to save the bees. Now that the city of Shoreview became officially pollinator friendly in 2018, Phinney hopes more residents and others from across the Twin Cities will join the pollinator plant movement. “They (pollinators) need more than a small patch,” she noted.
The city became pollinator friendly at the suggestion of the Shoreview Environmental Quality Committee. It followed other cities in the northeast metro, including Stillwater and White Bear Lake. About 35 percent of food crops and 75 percent of flowers depend on pollinators, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. Humans depend on bees, butterflies, other insects, birds and bats for about one-third of food, according to some scientific estimates.
According to recent research, more than 50 percent of insect species are declining and 30 percent are heading towards being endangered, said Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources senior ecologist Dan Shaw at a conservation forum May 17 hosted by Ramsey County Parks and Recreation. Stress on ecological systems caused by pollution, habitat loss, higher temperatures in urban areas, impervious landscaping and extreme precipitation all play a factor.
Some pollinators rely on certain native plants for survival, Phinney said. For example, Monarch butterflies only lay eggs on milkweed plants and the resulting caterpillars only feed on the plant’s leaves. Different varieties of bees also tend to feed on certain native plants.
“We have 400 species of native bees in the state, and they all have unique needs,” Shaw said.
For example, the rusty patched bumblebee, a threatened species, tends to visit spotted Joe-Pye weed, wild bergamot (bee balm) and Culver’s root, according to “Pollinators of Native Plants” by Heather Holm.
Phinney said she has all three of those plants. She has quite a variety of native plants that bloom in the spring, summer or fall, throughout her front, side and backyards. To have a pollinator-friendly home garden, you don’t need to have only natives, she noted. Popular European plants imported to the U.S. and commonly used in gardens can add color and variety. But Phinney does suggest avoiding “double bloom” flowers because the petals are so thick and large that pollinators have trouble getting to any of the nectar or pollen. Native trees, such as oaks, are also good for pollinators in the spring. Native plants attract insects that attract the birds that need them to survive.
Besides saving pollinators, having native plants makes gardening slightly less work, Phinney noted. She keeps the fall’s leaves in her garden as a natural mulch. She still has to weed, but her perspective on what is a weed and what isn’t has been informed by her growing knowledge of native plants.
“This one came on its own and I’m leaving it,” Phinney said of a native white baneberry bush that popped up in her front garden recently. She suggests visiting minnesotawildflowers.info for identification assistance.
Phinney also volunteers with the Wild Ones Big River Big Woods Chapter to maintain a community pollinator garden at Island Lake Elementary School in Shoreview. The garden was planted by a group of local Boy Scouts nearly a decade ago and is open for visits from the community during the summer. Phinney is also involved with a group of locals who maintain native plants at the Shoreview Commons and a rain garden at Lake Johanna Fire Station No. 4.
Create new garden style at expo
The city of Shoreview sponsors an annual Landscape Revival - Native Plant Expo & Market with the St. Paul Audubon Society, Wild Ones and Blue Thumb. The event makes it easier for area residents to learn about native plants, noted Karen Eckman, volunteer coordinator and Shoreview resident.
“Native plants are a natural part of our food web and well adapted to local conditions,” noted John Bly of Blue Thumb. “They require no pesticides and no fertilizer and, once established, they require little or no water.” Minnesota plants will be sold by a variety of local growers at Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church in Shoreview June 1 and Oakdale City Hall June 8. Ramsey County conservation groups will offer educational resources at the Shoreview event and Washington County will offer resources in Oakdale.
The Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources recently partnered with Washington County to perform pollinator mapping, Shaw said. The map identifies the places in the county where pollinator habitat should be restored. A mapping project is underway in Minneapolis; the state is looking for partners in Ramsey County to get involved with mapping the area.
When a wide range of landowners are involved in native planting, it creates a sewn-together network for pollinators, Shaw noted. In addition, native plants are less expensive to care for than turf.
Ramsey County Master Gardener and Shoreview resident Dawn Pape said she hopes the style of yards change. Decades ago, lawns became popular and now turf is the largest irrigated “crop” in the U.S.; it occupies more land mass than corn.
“Lawns were popular because people didn’t want to seem like peasants,” Pape said. But she thinks it’s time to embrace a new style.
The Stillwater-based Pollinator Friendly Alliance’s 2019 pollinator initiative is to replace turf with pollinator gardens or bee lawns, according to Executive Director Laurie Schneider. Turf requires a large amount of water and when pesticides or certain fertilizers are used, environmental contamination occurs. Pape also hopes more people use composting as a natural fertilizer. Ramsey County offers free composting starter kits that can be picked up during open hours at yard waste sites.