Planning Your Wildlife Garden (cont’d.)

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.

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Who-knows-what-species enjoying my candytuft (Iberis umbellata). Of which I have an abundance!

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…

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Tips for Post-Spring Clean-up

DSCN1027Your crocuses and daffs and tulips were lovely, but now they’re just a mess.

The candytuft really filled the space, but now it’s all just one big mess.

The early peonies were bright and bold, but now they’re really a mess.

What to do? Cut, cut, cut. But cut with care!

Let’s Start With Peonies

I didn't stake these up, so this is the consequence. I managed to cut a few for a bouquet before losing the rest.

I didn’t stake these up, so this is the consequence. I managed to cut a few for a bouquet before losing the rest.

You can cut off the flower stalk, but leave the rest of the foliage. It’s lovely right now, will furnish cuttings for bouquets through the rest of the growing season, and will probably turn a bit red in the fall before they finally succumb. A lot of your larger non-bulb spring plants can be treated the same.

Spring blooming bulbs and rhizomes

Most of your bulbs need to continue to grow and photosynthesize even after the         flower fades in order to replenish the bulb, and in some cases multiply the bulb. So you can cut the flower stalk and leave the foliage until it turns completely yellow. Problem is, of course, it begins to look unsightly pretty soon after the flowers are done. Your best solution is to plant bulbs in among other perennials that will grow up alongside, or soon after the bulb, so the new growth of the companion plant hides the dying foliage of the bulb.

This is the same spot as the picture at the top of the post. Grasses, lilies and (not visible in the picture but off to the left) coreopsis--all hiding the tulip leaves. I won't bother cutting them off, they'll be compost by the end of the year.

This is the same spot as the picture at the top of the post. Grasses, lilies and (not visible in the picture but off to the left) coreopsis–all hiding the tulip leaves. I won’t bother cutting them off, they’ll be compost by the end of the year.

Irises (a rhizome) are easier because they maintain their sword-like foliage into the late fall. All you have to do is cut down the flower stalk.

Last bloom of the irises--can be sacrificed for the sake of getting rid of the unsightly stalks.

Last bloom of the irises–can be sacrificed for the sake of getting rid of the unsightly stalks.

Some faded flowers are definitely worth keeping. This allium (‘Purple Sensation’) is setting seed, and usually that means that it isn’t putting it’s energy into replenishing its bulb. But why cut down something that looks this good?

Allium 'Purple Sensation'

Allium ‘Purple Sensation’

Ground cover

Aubretia, Creeping Phlox, Iberis–all ground covers that bloom like crazy in the spring, then really NEED to be trimmed after blooming so they’ll maintain a nice neat growth habit. Otherwise they get woody, or sprawl all over the place, or grow out the ends and die in the middle. Trimming is exactly what it sounds like–grab a handful and CUT.

You can just see (it's ll the same green unfortunately) the faded flower stalks that are setting seed.

You can just see (it’s all the same green unfortunately) the faded flower stalks that are setting seed.

I've taken a good handful here and I'm cutting well below the beginning of the faded flowers, leaving just a bit of old growth. It'll grow back in no time, and increase in size.

I’ve taken a good handful here and I’m cutting well below the beginning of the faded flowers, leaving just a bit of old growth. It’ll grow back in no time, and increase in size.

Most of your similar low-growing spring bloomers can be handled the same.

I’ll have more tips for pruning in future posts. Post some questions below about your own pruning needs–I’ll answer what I can, research what I don’t already know, and ask my more expert friends if I’m still in the dark. And as always, click on the “Follow” button, and “like” on Facebook.