Mow no more? How to create a pollinator-friendly yard.
But there are many lawn alternatives that are not as complicated or labor-intensive, such as perennial flowers, creating a meadow, or a pollinator garden. Simply mowing less has benefits, such as allowing more flowering plants to grow. The nonprofit Pollinator Pathway recommends mowing less frequently — just once every two to three weeks.
Here’s how to make your garden a friendly environment for bees, butterflies, bats and more.
Find a location
The first step is to choose where you want to place your lawn or garden. Find out how much light this area receives. Whether full or partial sun will determine which types of seeds can survive and thrive in that area. Soil quality and how much moisture the area gets are other important factors.
You will also need to know the size of the space you are using to determine the amount of seeds you need.
If you still want to keep some grass, you can reduce the size of your lawn by adding shrubs, trees, or clover. Or you can let only part of your garden become natural.
“Site preparation is the beginning, middle and end of all successful gardens,” says David Hammond, founder and executive director of Creating Pollinator Habitats. “You can’t scatter seeds there or you won’t succeed and you’ll be disappointed.”
There are two ways to do this without spraying pesticides to kill the grass. One option is even location. This can stir up dormant weed seeds, so Hammond recommends tilling three times over a seven or eight-week period to ensure the seeds are killed.
Otherwise, a tarp can be used to kill any grass or weeds growing underneath. This method takes at least a few months. “The downside is you have to keep an ugly piece of plastic in there for three months,” Hammond said.
Ecologists and pollinators recommend choosing plants native to your area. They have been developed to suit local conditions and will require less maintenance, such as irrigation. In addition, they found that native pollinators prefer native plants.
Theresa Ong, a professor of environmental science at Dartmouth University, recommended flowering plants. “The more variety in your flowers, the better,” she said. Look for plants that will flower at different times, distributing resources to pollinators over time. “Columbine, grasses and lupines grow well here and support pollinators,” she said.
She cautions against choosing a plant based solely on appearance: People could unwittingly introduce an invasive plant into the ecosystem.
This list from the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension includes wildflowers and pollinator plants, and indicates whether they are native to the Granite State and when they bloom. Red columbine, yellow wild indigo, cardinal flower, and New England aster are some examples of colorful species native to New England on the list.
The University of New Hampshire is working with the University of Maine to certify pollinator gardens. UMaine has a list of resources for choosing appropriate pollinator plants for this region.
Choose your seeds wisely
Not all seeds are created equal. Beware of seeds coated with pesticides called neonicotinoids, a synthetic insecticide banned by the European Union in 2018 because of the threat it poses to pollinators. They are the “primary culprit” responsible for pollinator deaths, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.
“Neonics are these persistent insecticides. The seeds are coated with neonics, and every generation of that flower that comes from that seed, every generation has the insecticide in it,” said Patricia McGovern, who grows the pesticide-free pollinator trail in Lebanon.
She said to stay away from commercial-scale plant or seed sellers because the default option includes herbicides and pesticides. She buys the plants from Bagley Pond Perennials in Warner. The Pollinator Pathway includes a list of many native plant nurseries online.
Hammond recommends seed from American Meadows in Vermont. The seeds are free of neonicotinoids, according to the company. He said the prices are reasonable and the company offers a toll-free helpline. “These gardeners will guide you through your project,” he said. Hammond creates a mix of 70 percent native perennials and 30 percent bold-colored annuals, so the garden will look beautiful in its early years as the perennials are still establishing.
Many of his projects are in towns and schools, and this allows for “quick wins,” when annuals flower within four to six weeks of planting, preventing weeds from leaving room for perennials. “They grow fast. They’re beautiful flowers. People say, ‘What a great idea,'” Hammond said.
You can plant either in the fall after the first frost or in the spring. Hammond cautioned against going too far. A quarter pound of seed can cover an area of up to 500 square feet. Although it doesn’t seem like a lot of seeds, trust your calculations.
You can mix the seeds with sand to ensure the seeds are evenly distributed, using a ratio of 1 pound of seed to 8 pounds of sand.
Hammond recommends making two passes when sowing seeds: moving first from left to right and then from north to south. After sprinkling the seeds, tamp them down to ensure they come into contact with the soil. You can do this by stomping your feet or placing a piece of plywood to press it into the floor. This will also prevent birds from eating the seeds before they have a chance to start growing.
Watch what grows in the new garden. If weeds or invasive plants appear, remove weeds before they become established.
Weeds can easily establish themselves as people transform heavily manicured landscapes into something more natural, Ong said. If they grow unrestrained, there’s a risk “they will escape your garden and enter the forest ecosystems and take them over,” she said.
Some of Hammond’s farms are acres, which he said are too big to irrigate, so he doesn’t worry about them. But if it’s a particularly dry day, he said, a little water won’t hurt.
“Usually, if you can get it established in the first year, it will pretty much take care of itself,” Hammond said.
Amanda Gokee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. follow her @Amanda_jokey.