Monday, October 7, 2013

Consult Insects Before You Garden

I'm taking Master Naturalist training, and last week, one of the topics was botany. Let me just say that what I've learned about botany is that there's an awful lot I don't know about botany. But during the class, talk turned to native plants, which is a topic I've thought a lot about. In my very teeny tiny front yard, I've been trying to add native plants to the mix. This hasn't been easy, because where I live, native plants generally aren't found at the big box gardening stores - you have to go searching for them. And when you find them, they are quite pricey. However, native plants have their own merits, the most delightful one being that insects love them. Once you have native plants in your yard, you'll start to notice that fewer insects visit those exotic, colorful annuals. Insects have an entirely different way of seeing flowers, which includes detecting ultraviolet designs on the blooms. These UV markings act as a landing strip of sorts, helping pollinators find their way.

What I hadn't realized is that if you want to help the pollinators, you should consult them before purchasing your next plant. This was the advice given during my training, so I went to Home Depot for mulch this weekend and decided to test the theory. There were numerous plants offered for sale in the outdoor "fall color" section. Many were quite colorful, but I didn't see any that were attracting any insects. I started to wonder if the store somehow discourages insects from congregating in the plants when I spotted Joe Pye Weed.

Joe Pye Weed is native where I live and the name stuck in my head after that botany lesson. And I found the insects! All of the bees and flies and other unidentified flying critters that were ignoring the petunias and mums were partying in the flats of Joe Pye Weed. Each plant was literally crawling and buzzing with activity. So I brought a pot of Joe home and planted one in my yard. Hopefully, it will take off, the way the purple coneflowers did. Planting for pollinators may not lead to quite as exotic varieties of plants as you are used to, or give you exactly the color palette you were aiming for. But it is nice to know that you are making the insects happy, one bug at a time.

  Joe Pye Weed

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