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Frugal Pollinator-Friendly Gardening: How to Get Great Results on a Budget

Updated: Jun 15, 2022

One of the many virtues of gardening is patience. Have you heard the saying, “First year it sleeps, second year it creeps, and third year it leaps”? This is a general rule of thumb when talking about establishing perennials, trees and shrubs in your garden. I remind myself often of this phrase as I impatiently anticipate a lush garden within the first season of planting. I’ve found some tips and tricks to help establish a pollinator garden quickly and for less money by utilizing some underused or spreading perennials, and speeding along the fullness by dividing plants.


WHAT IS A POLLINATOR GARDEN?

As a basic reminder, the key to pollinator gardens is to have a variety of plants that provide a valuable source of nectar or pollen at varying times of the year. You can even hone your plant selection by researching plants that are favored by specific caterpillars or species of insects in order to provide “host plants” or nesting/overwintering. A pollinator friendly garden can’t be too small or too big - regardless of the space’s size, I try to make sure that it is packed with plants within reason. If you’re starting a garden this year with limited resources, then it is best to start in a small space and build the garden out each year as you acquire more plants. This allows you to plant densely to provide larvae adequate protection during the growing season and to offer overwintering habitat. A denser garden also shades the ground to provide micro-habitats and suppress weeds. It's important that you avoid using chemicals/pesticides in your pollinator garden.



WAYS TO EXPAND YOUR GARDEN


Seeds

It’s important to remember that pollinators and plants have formed a symbiotic relationship that benefit both parties (mutualism) – the insect or animal gets its fill of food, and the plant is pollinated for fruit and seed production to occur. With pollination comes seeds - and this is a great opportunity to leave seedheads for birds in the winter or to allow seeds to self-sow in your garden. I try to collect seeds from my annuals (zinnias, calendula, nasturtium, etc) and save them to sow in spring the following year. One plant can produce hundreds of seeds! I can’t think of a better (or cheaper) way to bulk up a pollinator garden and spread the love to neighbors and friends than by sharing seeds. I try to sow in seedling trays so I can keep an eye on watering and avoid loss from rabbits and crows. I’ll transplant the starts in the garden once they’re large enough to hold their own and establish quickly. I will also take the time to mention the importance of seed saving because of sexual reproduction (which happens when a flower is cross-pollinated). Sexual reproduction is a powerful means of plant propagation – it ensures diversity and new genes – this is ever so important for the survival and future success of our gardens and pollinators. Start your own revolution by saving seeds, sharing seeds, and germinating seeds!

Division

This means of propagation is the quickest way to beef up your garden! There are many plants that grow and reproduce asexually via rhizomes (underground runners), bulbs/tubers/corms, and through a clumping habit. Each year a plant can put on more and more growth and will eventually benefit from division. Overcrowded plants compete for water, nutrients and space and can lead to limited airflow and increased susceptibility to disease and dieback. Dividing plants can give you numerous individuals of the same species which is beneficial in a pollinator garden. Most pollinators focus on one color and shape bloom to pollinate at a time before switching to another type of plant. Planting “en masse”, or groups, allows pollinators to efficiently obtain food without burning too much energy hopscotching along the garden for one specific flower.


  • Spring Division of Fall-Blooming Plants: It’s easier to divide these plants in the spring since there’s only small newly emerging leaves and the plant can bounce back quickly from transplanting since the roots are stored with energy and cool, rainy weather is in the forecast before summer comes.


  • Fall Division of Spring/Summer-Blooming Plants: Time division to occur 4-6 weeks before the ground freezes to allow for the plant’s roots to become established ahead of time. This is a great time to divide those plants that form bulbs, and another perk of dividing at this time? - there’s not much other garden work going on 😊.


  • General Guidelines: Divide plants on a cloudy day, not in the hot afternoon sun, so plants experience less stress from the heat. Thoroughly water the transplanting site and water in your newly planted divisions. Treat these newly divided plants as if they were new plants in your garden, as it may take a few weeks for them to become established.


PLANTS

Now that we’ve got our methods of how we can expand our garden from year to year, let’s take a look at some plants to include in a pollinator-friendly garden!


PERENNIALS

These are the plants that come back each year with increased vigor and size.



Agastache 'Blue Fortune"
Agastache 'Blue Fortune"

Agastache (Hummingbird Mint, Anise Hyssop): This plant is in the mint family and provides fragrant foliage and colorful blooms. Because of the fragrance, it has excellent resistance to browsing deer and rabbits. Highly attractive to bees – often referred to as a “honey plant” in reference to the support it provides to apiaries. Skippers, fritillaries, and hummingbirds visit these plants. Division is the best means of propagation.


Currently at Painters:

4” pots of Anise Hyssop, Agastache Apricot Sprite are $3.50 OR $33/Flat of 10

6” pots of Agastache Blue Boa and Blue Fortune are available for $5.00.