With minimal care, wildflowers provide pollinator oasis

Monarch butterflies are one of the many pollinators you can attract to your garden.

It's National Pollinator Week - a great time to join the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge. I added my garden to the tally - have you?

Fall-blooming asters.
It goes without saying that if you want a pollinator-friendly garden, you can't use pesticides and herbicides in your garden. Applying a generic chemical to the whole garden will wipe out all the good bugs that your garden needs to flourish.

But chances are, you already know all that. So I called Mike Lizotte (a.k.a "The Seed Man") from American Meadows, to learn about attracting pollinators to the garden using wildflowers. You may think of wildflowers as being part of a large meadow, but Lizotte explains that a wildflower garden could fit in a small 12" pot.

"You could have one asclepias plant that could feed plenty of insects. One or two host plants will make a huge difference," he said. "That's the beauty of it. You can still find solutions for you and still make a difference. Don't get discouraged."

Lizotte feels that the topic of pollinators is especially popular now due to the exposure monarch butterflies have received in the news. However, he said these stories often do not point people in the direction of how to help the monarchs regain their population.

"We've been a great source for people," he said, referring to the more than 30 years of experience in educating and learning that American Meadows supplies through their online tutorials.

This year, the most popular mixes for sale through American Meadows has been the Pollinator Wildflower Seed Mix, the Honey Bee Wildflower Seed Mix, and the Monarch Butterfly Annual Wildflower Seed Collection. "[Sales of] these have surged in the past 24 months," he said. The Northeast Mix and the Southeast Mix are great solutions, too," he said. Seeds range in price, depending on how ambitious you are with your property. "There's a nice array of solutions for helping people help pollinators," he said.

Sow it now, reap rewards later

When new gardeners purchase blooming coneflowers from the store, for example, they may be unaware that the plant is already older. "Most of the time, consumers don't know its a two- to three-year-old plant," he said. The American Meadows website explains what gardeners can expect when starting a wildflower garden.

Milkweed seeds are shown here in
this file photo.
Patience is key when sowing a wildflower garden - taking almost three years to get established - but once it has, Lizotte said the perennials could bloom for the next 20 to 30 years.

"The care of wildflowers is quite minimal," he said. The big advantage to planting wildflowers is allowing Mother Nature to do the watering and care, he said. "You sow the seed and there's no need for fertilizer." American Meadows offers native and non-native (but not aggressive) seeds which "allows the consumer to go in the direction they want," he said.

What's his favorite to grow?

"I've done really well with milkweed [asclepias]," he said. "We've been really fortunate. We have a lot of milkweed plants and we collect the seeds and spread them that way," he said. "I have a young daughter, and she loves zinnias. It's great for butterflies. It's a quick, easy annual. They're fantastic. They are filled with butterflies all summer."

Click here to find out which pollinator-friendly plants I grow in my garden.

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