Last month I covered the basics of planning your wildlife garden: Water. Food. Shelter. Don’t use pesticides. Do plant some natives (NatureScapeBC.ca is a great resource)–here’s a short list of natives for various garden sites. Include a wide variety of plants–flowers, deciduous and evergreen shrubs, ornamental grasses, but enough of all to actually make a statement. After all, this is about DESIGN. And not too many highly hybridized cultivars which will have very little pollen.
Bees, Butterflies, Beneficials
I’ve lumped these together because they’ll require similar conditions.
Food throughout the year
Bees and beneficial insects have an affinity for small flowered, fragrant blossoms (not exclusively) which individually don’t have much pollen, but because they are usually grouped together, constitute a treasure trove. Think of alyssum, heather, california lilac, asters (each aster “flower” is in fact many flowers squashed together). I have an abundance of alyssum, having allowed it to go to seed one year and now it returns every year. Since I mulched all my beds last fall (one of the functions of mulch is to prevent weed seeds from gaining access to the soil where they’ll germinate) I wonder if I’ll get any alyssum this year.
Most of our bees will be inactive through the late fall-to-mid-winter time, but having plants that flower in late winter will serve the many species that get an early start in the year. Skimmia, Sarcococca (sweet box), and Hamemelis (Witch Hazel), and Hellebore (Christmas or Lenten Rose) are all winter bloomers that will serve those early bees a tasty breakfast of pollen and nectar.
What about bee stings?
According to Feed The Bees (please follow the link–a local partnership between Earthwise and Delta Chamber of Commerce), the vast majority of our native bees are solitary, non-social bees, having no hives and therefore nothing to aggressively protect. They’re unlikely to sting unless grabbed or stepped upon.
If you want butterflies you’ll have to welcome the caterpillars and their voracious appetites. Butterflies are happy to drink the nectar from the same flowers as the bees, but they will want “host plants” to lay their eggs, and without egg-laying, butterflies won’t linger. The host plants are all dependent on which butterfly species, but the bottom line is that they are the sacrifice plant for the butterfly–the eggs turn into larvae, which you may remember is the caterpillar–aka hungry–stage of the butterfly. No problem, locate them in an area where the eaten leaves won’t show up too much. And make sure if you’re growing food crops (in this case all the brassicas–cabbage, broccoli, brussels etc.) you cover them with row covers through the larvae weeks of May to July or even later. Incidentally, if you’re inviting birds into your haven, they’ll often help you keep the caterpillar population down to a manageable number.
Soil and Mud
As you know, I’m a mulch-addict. I love how it protects the soil, adds diversity to the soil organisms, and minimizes weeds. But many of our BBB’s want some open exposed soil for nesting. Most of our bees are little tunnel diggers and need to be able to see a dry-ish patch of soil in order to make their nests there. Beneficials also need someplace to nest, and that’s often in leaf litter or a bit of dried grass left in the garden. So find a little patch in the sun and leave it a bit more “au naturel”.
Those that aren’t tunnel builders like hollow stems or tubes–in many cases man-made are perfectly acceptable–or holes in dead branches or stumps. So again, completely cleaning up your property isn’t necessarily as hospitable as cleaning up your house. These bees and insects will welcome a muddy patch– the edge of a pond or the overflow from a rain barrel will do the trick–using the mud for their nests. I have a garbage can lid carefully positioned so it catches some roof run-off; a nice shallow bird bath that stays a little muddy around it.
So there you go: food, shelter, water. Just what your BBB’s are asking for. And you’re started on your wildlife garden.
Stay tuned for more, when I’ll cover small ponds.
As always, I welcome comments, questions, more wisdom than I have…