Autumn actions for pollinators

Autumn actions for pollinators

If you’ve driven past our office lately, you might have noticed one side of the building has sprouted a bed of surveying flags, which are marking over two-dozen native plants that we installed to have our very own pollinator garden on site. Several of the plants were donated by Leroy at Backyard Herbs and Flowers, who is a walking encyclopedia of information on Ohio’s native and rare plants.

While most of our plants are still getting established and will not bloom in abundance this year, the roadside habitats are going strong. The Joe-Pye weed has come out in abundance within the past couple weeks, and yesterday, for better or worse, I started noticing the beautiful magenta hues of ironweed blooming. This is great news if you’re a butterfly, but it also is a signal summer will wrap up soon and fall is on its way.

One of the things that was a little disconcerting to me is the large patch of milkweed we leave for the monarchs was left relatively untouched earlier this summer. The honeybees couldn’t get enough of the gorgeously perfumed flowers, but I only found a handful of caterpillars and have seen an equally small number of adult monarchs around.

I am hopeful we will be a stopover for the fall migrants, not just to witness the beautiful, miraculous nature of the migration, but also to continue to pique the interest and create learning opportunities for the folks across the state who have been working to create and restore habitat spaces for all our pollinator species.

Spring is when we get excited to start flowers and plant gardens, but to be really beneficial to bees and butterflies, more good can come from work done in the fall. For one thing this is the season when we should start preparing ground for areas that will be future habitat sites. Whether you need to use herbicides, plow or burn a site to start clearing out the current plants (especially thick grass stands), site preparation should begin in the autumn months with follow-up treatment in the spring, if required by the types of seeds you intend to plant.

Of course we recommend using an annual cover crop such as rye to prevent soil erosion, provide weed suppression and protect any seeds planted in the fall.

If you can’t get seeds planted in the fall, mimicking winter by exposing them to freezing temperatures (an unheated garage or a freezer can work for this) will trick the plant into beginning its germination cycle on schedule in the spring. However, many native plants will do better if they can go through a natural winter season where they are exposed to varying moisture levels, the lengthening days and freeze-thaw cycles in early spring.

Fall is a very important opportunity to learn which plants are being utilized by insects as they gather nectar to energize them either for a migration or to keep them well-fed so they are strong and healthy going into hibernation. There are many choices for insects throughout the late spring and summer months, but by late fall the food sources available to insects have diminished substantially, so ensuring there are plenty of cold-hardy natives in your habitat spaces are a must.

As you observe which plant species attract the most activity, gather seeds from your favorites to replant. Locally adapted natives will continue to provide the best nutrition for our pollinators, and it’s far cheaper to establish large areas this way.

Speaking of seed collection, I’d like to remind our readers of our annual milkweed seed collection, which runs through the end of October. As milkweed pods mature (easily recognized by dry, brown seeds inside the pods of butterfly weed, common milkweed, and rose or swamp milkweed), collect them in a paper or mesh bag and drop them off at our office in the large trash can in the parking lot. Collecting the pods will not diminish the milkweed in your patch for next year, and it provides valuable seed sources for the Department of Natural Resources to start plugs and create habitat plantings across the state.

Call the office at 330-674-SWCD if you have questions about establishing your own pollinator habitat or if you are interested in other ways to help wildlife at home. Follow us on Facebook and check out our website at www.HolmesS

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