Pollinator Mix 2014

pictures of wildflowersWe will offer a pollinator mix later this year that should work in a range of conditions: compacted urban soils, hot spots in parking lots or boulevards, droughty sites with sandy or very well-drained soils, and even average garden soils.  The pictures seen here are arranged in the approximate order of bloom (not all are pictured).

A successful pollinator mix needs to provide flowering throughout the  season.  Pollinators attracted to this mix include moths and butterflies, bees, wasps, bugs, and even birds.  I have seen orioles work over a row of shell-leaf penstemon seeking nectar.

Our mix will likely change from year to year depending on growing conditions at the farm.  Think of it as wildflower terroir.  We often talk about drought “years” but the growing season is really more complex than that.  Fall rain is needed to jump start spring blooming flowers like shell-leaf penstemon.  A dry spell may hamper flower development or quantity in sunflowers. Extreme heat might decrease seed quantity and quality as it ripens. Several days of rain can reduce the number of pollinators visiting a given flower.  All of these variables will contribute to the relative abundance and diversity of flowering species in a given year.

Exemplifying the notion that every growing season will yield some variation in species and relative composition of the mix, the grasses we have this year are limited to little bluestem,  sideoats grama, and big bluestem.  In this case the weather isn’t to blame; we harvested a fair amount of grass seed last year but we need to overseed several areas and expand our production plots.

So, here it is.  The base mix has 20+ species.

Western yarrow, Achillea millefolium

Shell-leaf penstemon, Penstemon grandiflorus

Slender beardtongue, Penstemon gracilis

Prairie larkspur, Delphinium virescens

Narrow-leaf coneflower, Echinacea angustifolia

Black-eyed Susan, Rudbeckia hirta

Leadplant (prairie shoestrings), Amorpha canescens

Prairie clover, white & purple, Dalea candida, D. purpurea

Hairy goldenaster, Heterotheca villosa

Upright prairie coneflower, Ratibida columnifera

Yellow flax (annual/biennial), Linum sulcatum, L. rigidum

Evening primrose (annual/biennial), Oenothera biennis

Hoary vervain, Verbena stricta

Dotted blazing star, Liatris punctata

Roundhead bush clover, Lespedeza capitata

Prairie goldenrod, Solidago missouriensis

Showy goldenrod, Solidago speciosa

Stiff goldenrod, Solidago rigida

Sweet everlasting  (annual/biennial), Pseudognaphalium obtusifolium

White sage, Artemisia ludoviciana (if I can remember where I stored the seed)

Heath aster, Aster ericoides

 

Up to 10 species can be added to the base mix depending on the buyer’s local planting conditions.  The base mix should work on a wide variety of sites and features lower growing plants that should not flop or become leggy.  The optional species are a different story.  Some of them are too aggressive for a residential setting, or require special growing conditions, or may be out of scale with and overpower the surrounding landscape.  Here are this year’s optional add-in species for upland to average sites:

Common milkweed, Asclepias syriaca – notoriously aggressive but I’ve made good pickles from very young seed pods.  All milkweeds are host plants for monarch caterpillars.

Thistle, Cirsium plattensis, C. flodmanii, C. altissimum depending on the site. Fear not the spine!  These are some of the best plants for pollinators in our region.

Stiff sunflower, Helianthus pauciflorus – rambunctious plant, not for confined spaces

Narrow-leaf beardtongue, Penstemon angustifoli –  best in very dry site and well-drained.

Prairie Rose, Rosa arkansana, definitely a rambler in the home landscape but few native forbs can beat its fall color and persistent winter fruit.

Compass plant, Silphium laciniatumflower stalk bolts up to 7′ but the leaf rosette lingers around 2′

Prairie spiderwort, Tradescantia occidentalis, found in the sandhills

 

And for damp to flood-prone sites:

Swamp milkweed, Asclepias incarnata

Sullivan’s milkweed, Asclepias sullivantii – not your average milkweed, this one is fairly finicky about soil and site.  Reserved for relatively moist, undisturbed sites.

Boneset, Eupatorium perfoliatum

Great blue lobelia, Lobelia siphilitica

Golden glow, Rudbeckia laciniata – big plant, will probably lodge (lay down) in a residential setting

We plan to have demonstration sites  around Lincoln and will evaluate how the base mix performs in various urban conditions.  The mix is still being tested for purity and viability so it isn’t available yet but we should have it in time for spring planting.

What do you think?  Post here or on our Facebook page!

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3 Responses to Pollinator Mix 2014

  1. Hi Alison,
    That sounds like a nice assortment of seeds. I grow a number of these plants, but I’ve not tried any of them from seeds. I wonder what would happen if I planted some between some of the plants I have now in order to have less dirt showing. I don’t know if the new seedlings would get enough sun, though.

    By the way, a mutual friend of Jill’s and mine, Jo, gave me a clump of Golden Glow, also called Outhouse flowers. I have it next to a fence, and I tie it up to it so it won’t fall. I also try to cut the stems back a bit in the spring so they thicken up a bit. I also grow both common and swamp milkweed, but have to keep the milkweed from spreading to far.

  2. Marie Krohn says:

    I enjoyed your interesting post about the pollinator mix. Will the flowers it produces attract bees?
    (Mom

    • Alison says:

      Yes Mom, it will attract bees. Unfortunately they are declining in numbers and diversity along with many butterflies and grassland nesting birds. And, viruses carried by honey bees now afflict native bees which lack the defenses to ward off disease.

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