Plant seeds, plugs or potted plants. Plant something.
In Illinois, we have eliminated most of the natural or native habitat. We have replaced the native ecosystems in places with lawns and crop fields. They are green and growing but do not feed or support all the insects, birds and animals that live here. The pollinators need flowering plants for nectar and pollen. The birds and other animals also benefit.
If the flowers are left to go to seed, they will have food, and the seeds may start new plants in your bed naturally. Plants that will stay in the ground and come back again next year (perennials) are best, because they will also help with soil erosion.
But the butterflies and bees can also use annuals like the open-faced zinnias for feeding. We also tend to like all the bright colors they come in. They are also very easy to start from seed and a good plant for a young gardener to work with. They are very forgiving in how they are handled and transplanted.
Where and how to plant more flowers? We can start putting some of the flowering plants back into our lawns by adding the Dutch clover back into turf mixes.
We can put cover crops on our bare agricultural fields.
Pollinator mixes can also be used when we are planting conservation acres.
Roadside wildflower plantings beautify our environment and help to feed the pollinators.
A diverse mix of flowers need to be planted. We need to have things blooming during all the warm season months, early spring through late fall.
Choose flowers with a range of shapes, sizes and colors. Include native plants in your planting.
The majority of plants I use are natives, but I also can’t resist some annuals for extra color and herbs. Some good herbs to use are: anise hyssop, basils, borage, catnip, dill, fennel, lavender, mints and sages.
Some of my favorite prairie plants that do well in field and garden settings are golden alexander, penstemon, wild indigo or Baptisia, purple coneflower, pale purple coneflower, beebalm or Monarda, butterfly weed (a milkweed), blazing star or Liatris, coreopsis, mountain mint, joe pye weed, goldenrod and asters.
A cool little plant that many of you may not know is lousewort or wood betony (Pedcularis canadensis). It is an early-blooming plant that is low growing and that bumblebees love. It is a hemiparasite and needs a grass planted next to it. When planting the forbs, plant more than one of each plant if you can. Plant in clumps and swaths.
Don’t forget the woodies. Trees provide a lot of pollen, a good protein source for bees in the spring. Some of the best tall trees are willows, maples, tulip trees, basswoods or lindens and Prunus genus with all the spring flowering fruit trees. Some small or understory ones are redbud, dogwood, serviceberry and witch hazel.
Come and visit the University of Illinois Pollinatarium most Saturdays from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. For information about scheduling a visit, please email Lesley Deem at email@example.com or go to our website at pollinatarium.illinois.edu and submit a visit-request form.