Plant Goldenrods and Asters to Support Pollinators in Late Summer
According to the National Wildlife Federation, native asters like New England (Aster novae-angliae), New York (Symphyotrichum novi-belgii), smooth (Aster laevis), white wood (Aster divaricatus) and other woodland asters support the entire life cycles of over 110 species of butterflies and moths, so it you want a pollinator garden, these are must-haves. And the good news is that it’s ragweed rather then goldenrod that causes so many allergies in late summer, so plant away!
Goldenrods such as zig-zag (Solidago flexicaulis), showy (Solidago speciosa), seaside (Solidago sempervirens), and anise-scented (Solidago odora) species are the top champions of supporting the entire life cycles of butterflies and moths in New England, supporting 110 species in eastern MA.
More good news is that there are asters and goldenrods that do well in shady and dry conditions, so don’t worry if you’ve not much sun – so get out there and help pollinators by planting the plants they depend upon for their very existence.
What plants are best for native bees?
Obviously they like goldenrods and asters as pictured above, but even better are native roses, like Carolina (Rosa caroliniana), Virginia (Rosa virginiana), swamp rose (Rosa palustris) and shining (Rosa nitida), plus flowering raspberry (Rubus odorous). As always, before purchasing plants, know your site’s cultural conditions – like sun/shade, soil texture and drainage – and select the best species for your conditions so your investment has the best chance of thriving.
Birds and other animals will thank you for providing habit – like food, shelter and nesting sites – that looks so satisfying to you!
Check out our progress on the turf-to-habitat project in Seekonk, MA, like it if you like it and subscribe it you want to know more about native plant design and consulting in SE MA.
WHY NOT TURN YOU LAWN INTO A CERTIFIED HABITAT GARDEN FOR BUTTERFLIES, BEES, BIRDS?
We’re helping a homeowner in Seekonk, MA fulfill her dream of turning most of her lawn into pollinator habitat. Collaborating through the iterative design, installation, and maintenance phases, the client herself has gotten earth under her fingernails and dirtied the knees of her jeans every step of the way.
In the 2020 season we designed and installed two crescent-shaped ornamental landscape beds for MA native trees, shrubs and perennials. In the spring of 2021 we’re expanding upon last year’s work by tying in a larger portion of the back yard lawn. Because we have time on our side before the arrival of native plant meadow kits from the Native Plant Trust, we’re using the sheet composting aka lasagna method of turning lawn into garden beds.
Using flags and garden hoses, we laid out the shape of the new planting area, tweaked it, then committed to it by laying down two layers of heavy cardboard that came from local bicycle and appliance stores. The cardboard keeps sunlight from the grass to keep it from growing.
On top of the cardboard we’ll be laying down high quality drip irrigation hoses, aka pipes, that will tie into the existing lawn irrigation system. The pop-up sprinkler heads of the zone where this section of pollinator bed is going were removed and capped to preserve water, water pressure, and associated financial costs. Continue reading
Pollinate New England Program in Wellesley Shows You How to Plan and Plant a Pollinator Garden
The Wellesley Natural Resources Commission hosted a live Pollinate New England program (pre-Covid) on the importance of using native plants to support New England’s bees, insects and other pollinators. Watch this video of the program to learn the actual steps of creating a pollinator habitat garden.
Learn how to design and create a pollinator garden
You’ll learn how to attract native butterflies and moths, birds and bees to your garden and
- put the right native plants in the right places
- design the spacing of your plants to maximize their potential, have good looks and reduce weeds
- get your pollinator plants established with organic gardening practices, proper watering and care
- use ecological mulching materials and learn their benefits, such as retaining soil moisture, moderating soil temperature, and reducing weeds
The goal of Pollinate New England is to teach and encourage homeowners to plant diverse, systemic pesticide-free native plants that support a wide variety of pollinators throughout their life cycles. It’s an initiate of the Native Plant Trust (formerly New England Wild Flower Society), which received an IMLS grant to create a network of pollinator gardens, collaborating with twelve partners throughout six states, supported by a suite of in-person and distance programs and resources.
A monarch butterfly, Danaus plexippus, feeds on the nectar of white snakeroot flowers, Ageratina altissima, during its southern migration in a Sharon, MA garden on September 26, 2019. This pair of natives co-evolved since the retreat of the last ice age, and they depend on one another, and the entire web of life, for their continued existence.
September 26th was like a dream to me. I looked out the kitchen window while doing the dishes, and there were several monarchs in my gardens, all at one time. I’d seen one or two here and there this season, but never a parade of several at a time, like that day. I dropped the dishes and dashed out with my camera.
Later, on arriving at a Sharon, MA client’s gardens, Monarchs flew up every time I turned a corner on the mowed paths that snake around many beds where clouds of white snakeroot are now in bloom. I counted at least two dozen monarchs at least twice, and twice saw four monarchs on one snakeroot. It was like living and working in a dream where the monarchs have recovered and are robust in numbers again. It wasn’t a dream, but it was a remarkable parade of flight and feed that I shall not forget. Of course there were other native butterflies, like spangled frittilaries, and native bees, like Bombus sp., and other native plants in bloom.
THE BEST PLANTS FOR POLLINATORS: We can all make a difference in our yards, our gardens, our landscapes, our containers, one plant at a time, by design. Please join me doing so! These are the native plants that support the entire life cycle of the most butterfly and moth species:
Trees and shrubs:
- Oak trees – Quercus sp. such as white, red, pin, black, bear
- Willow trees – Salix sp.
- Black cherry trees – Prunus serotina
- Goldenrods – Solidago sp. such as blue-stem (axillary), seaside, bog, white, showy, downy, zigzag
- Asters – Symphyotrichum, Oclemena, and Aster sp. like New England, tartarian, heart-leaved, large-leaved, purple-stem, bushy, small white
- Milkweeds – Asclepias sp. like common, butterfly weed, swamp, poke, butterfly, clasping, green
Have fun, and let me know if you need a hand!
If you care about your chickadees, what does this range of numbers mean: 350 to 570? My environmental and social justice pal Ellen Schoenfeld-Beeks let us know at her “Why We Need a Garden Revolution” talk at the Unitarian Church of Sharon, MA on May 3rd. The answer is, 350 to 570 is the number of caterpillars one pair of chickadees needs every day to nurture their chicks from hatching to fledging. That’s just one pair of one kind of bird! Ellen inspired us to think and be mindful about every plant and practice in our gardens, and whether and how each helps or harms the natural systems that support all living things.
Ellen, who manages the church’s extensive gardens, showed examples of native plants at the church’s gardens and at her own home through the seasons, and how they support or harm our native pollinators, wildlife and local ecosystem at large. She even talked about plants she introduced to her gardens on purpose, only to find out years later that they were actually exotic invasive look-alikes of native plants. For example, she thought she was planting yellow marsh marigolds (Caltha palustris), but they turned out to be fig buttercups (Ranunculus ficaria, or, Ficaria verna), which are on the MA list of plants that are prohibited from sale.
After about three years they had spread like a spring carpet of yellow, in part because they aggressively reproduce by three different mechanisms. Once she realized her error, Ellen took responsibility and removed them by hand, an intensive but organic gardening practice. It took three seasons to bring their numbers to a reasonably manageable level.
Ellen also reminded us that one of the Unitarian Universalist Church’s guiding principles is respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part. She urged us to think carefully and learn about the impact of each of our plantings, as every plant in our landscapes matters, and your landscape supports, or doesn’t, those chickadees who need all those caterpillars every day to raise their young.
The design of her home garden, also in Sharon, features primarily native plants with mowed and gravel paths that sweep around her layered ornamental planting beds and stone walls, leaving the visitor wondering with curiosity what lies just past the next curve. Each of her beds have themed names, such as Mountain Laurel Hill, the Meadow and Old Rose Garden. Some of her favorite native plants are mountain laurel, Kalmia latifolia – obviously – with an area named just for them; apothecary rose, Rosa gallica, which though not a native has been cultivated by people since the MIddle Ages; and various goldenrods, which support at least 115 species of butterflies and moths.
Help Massachusetts communities and wildlife thrive by joining me at the annual Grow Native Massachusetts Plant Sale. You’ll find over 2,000 plants covering 120 varieties, and I (and other experts) can help you make smart selections for the particular conditions of your planting area. Just look for me in a blue volunteer apron from 8-11. Shop early for best selection.
From 9-2:30 at the UMass Waltham Field Station at 240 Beaver Street, Waltham 02452, you may find:
- Perennials sorted by sun, shade and part-shade, and all types of soil conditions
- A large selection of evergreen and deciduous ferns
- Grasses and sedges, both cool and warm season
- Trees and shrubs at small sizes so you can take home in your car. Native trees and shrubs do the most to increase biodiversity and to enhance the wildlife value of your landscapes.
AND new for this year: sweet goldenrod (Solidago odora), bluestem goldenrod (Solidago caesia) and spotted beebalm (Monarda punctata)—custom grown just for this sale, as these are top native herbaceous plants for supporting the entire life cycles of our butterfly and moth pollinator friends, and a whole lot of bees’, too.
All plants are native to the eastern United States—the majority indigenous to New England
Learn more: https://www.grownativemass.org/programs/plantsale
Download a list of the species available at the 2019 Native Plant Sale