Understanding Native Bees

Understanding Native Bees

Bees are our friends, despite the occasional painful bee sting and medical concern of allergies to bee stings. Bees pollinate the plants that produce our food and, therefore, are required for our survival. There are many more species than just the honeybee, which is a species introduced to North America – native bees make up the greatest portion of our bee population.

We need to understand bees in order to appreciate them and support their survival. Most of our native bees are not aggressive and many are solitary dwellers – they do not live in colonies like the honeybee. For some in-depth information on specific bee species and their preferred habitats and food sources, read this great bulletin from the University of Maine or this article from the National Wildlife Federation.

Despite the fact that most bees are not aggressive, bees being near to our living spaces can sometime cause concern for some people. We will never completely remove bees from our outdoor spaces, nor should we want to. But if you need to keep bees somewhat distant from your living or play spaces (due to an allergy to bee stings or to reduce fearful encounters), there are preventive techniques and habitat modifications that you can adopt, such as:

  1. Remove bee food sources near your living areas.
  2. Keep garbage cans tightly closed.
  3. Remove nests from under eaves and from tree branches that are near doorways or sitting areas.
  4. Repair or cover holes in any outdoor structures – any unsealed area should be sealed with caulk, wood, or flashing.
  5. Inspect sensitive areas monthly during the active bee season to monitor for new nests.
Attract Butterflies and Moths to Your Garden

Attract Butterflies and Moths to Your Garden

The idea of supporting more wildlife in your yard can be expressed in many ways. It might be that you want to provide food for birds, attract butterflies, create safe small mammal pathways, or improve pollinator resources. Animals and insects need a variety of plants, both bare and planted areas, plant litter, and deadwood for safety, food, and different stages of growth. When it comes to ecological health and diversity, a spotless yard is not a healthy yard.

Some of the strategies you can use to meet these goals are rather broad and simple:

  1. Stop using pesticides: insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides, etc.
  2. Choose a variety of flowering plants and stagger bloom times throughout the year.
  3. Chose plants of different heights to create layers in the garden.
  4. Designate areas in your yard that you don’t mow.
  5. Make your lawn smaller or eliminate it completely.
  6. Don’t remove all your fallen leaves and yard waste – mulch with them or allow a few piles to remain in out of the way spots, such as under shrubs or corners of the garden. Butterflies and moths often overwinter in curled up fallen leaves. Insects often pupate or overwinter in hollow plant stalks.
  7. Leave some patches of earth bare of leaves and mulch for ground-nesting bees.
  8. Ensure that there is clean water nearby (without pesticide and fertilizer runoff).

If you are interested in choosing plants that will support more wildlife in your yard, please look over this list of Plants to Attract Butterflies and Moths by Doug Tallamy, entomologist, professor, and author. When you make habitat for butterflies and moths, you are also creating habitat for other beneficial insects and wildlife.

Stones & Castles

Stones & Castles

Mosaic Detail in Granite Patio

Sometimes, a work space turns into someone else’s play space. This wall is the foundation for a sugar shack, but on this particular summer afternoon, it was the princesses’ castle wall. Planning for family activities is an important part of landscape design. Sometimes people focus solely on creating specific play areas for the kids, but often, just having an interesting space is what kids need.

Paths can twist and turn, as an invitation to see what is around the corner or the future site of a surprise attack. Elevation changes offer children a chance to experience viewing the world from a different perspective. Water features are possibly a place to splash, feel the coolness, see reflections, and watch insect, amphibians, and fish throughout their life cycles. Stones of different sizes, colors, and textures can inspire thoughtful inquiry or construction.

Diverse plant choices provide a variety of heights, textures, colors, smells, and tastes. Different plant heights allow kids to feel both big and small. Big plants provide hiding places where kids can see, but not be seen. Rhododendrons and lilacs become forts on the inside, fallen tree trunks become bridges or lookouts, vines create tents. Groundcovers are a carpet from which to watch the leaves flutter or clouds race across the sky. Small plants could become troll and fairy houses, or just the place where chipmunks disappear and reappear.

Swamp milkweed with crab spider

A variety of colors can help encourage exploration and discovery. Have you even taken the time to notice what color of plants attract what type of pollinators? Blooms, fruits, and leaf colors herald the change of seasons. Different textures of plants allow kids to experience plants by sight and touch. Small, large, broad and strappy leaves can be as inspiring as the soft, velvety feel of Canadian ginger and lamb’s ear. The leathery leaves of mayapples and their flowers that can only be viewed by peeking under the umbrella-like leaves (and finding out the fruits are food for Eastern box turtles). There’s the prickly and sharp, dried purple coneflower seedhead or the smooth, silky-soft feeling of northern sea oats or the leaves of threadleaf bluestar. The rough leaves of peppermint and sage, the smooth, brittle crush of skunk cabbage, and sweet woodland phlox provide exploration through scent.

Lowbush blueberry blooms

Edible plants like blueberries, wild strawberries, thimbleberries, and beach plums, elicit sweet memories of summer; the tartnesss of cranberries, the sweet vanilla-banana flavor of paw paw and savory flavors of herbs can surprise. Children can learn how fruits, seeds, and herbs are grown and how they can be added to meals for nutrition and increased flavor. There are also teachable moments about how all plant fruits are not edible, and children can learn to appreciate the knowledge that these fruits provide food for other creatures, even if not for humans.

There are so many different ways that landscapes and plant choices provide playful, sensory, and educational opportunities for children. Unstructered play and exploration of nature through observation, touch, smell and taste, including the nature in our landscaped yards, balconies, and porches, is a great way for children to experience the world.

Gray treefrog

Death to the Butterfly – Cutting Back and Raking Up

Death to the Butterfly – Cutting Back and Raking Up

Summer has rapidly receded, and the autumn colors and cool nights herald the end of the growing season. You might be tempted to go clean up your gardens, but the fallen leaves and dead stalks of plants have great value to many birds, small mammals, and insects, including butterflies. And who doesn’t like butterflies? (Well, I do know one person.) Many people like the idea of attracting butterflies to their gardens and advocate protecting them, but fall cleanup can jeopardize these same butterflies. “How can that be?” you might ask. Below is a list that someone compiled and posted here about the strategies that butterflies use for overwintering:

  1. Fourth-stage caterpillars hibernate in rolled leaves on the ground.
  2. Third-stage caterpillars make a shelter from a rolled leaf tip in which to spend the winter.
  3. Partially-grown caterpillars hibernate at the base of the host plant.
  4. Overwinters as a caterpillar in seed pods of food plant.
  5. Overwinters as a caterpillar in silken nests below host plants on ground.
  6. Overwinters as an adult in the shelter of hollow trees, under bark or utilize seasonal outbuildings.
  7. Hibernate as adults. For protection they use hollow logs, woodpiles and loose bark.
  8. Overwinters as a young caterpillar in a hibernaculum (rolled leaf) on host plants.
  9. Caterpillars overwinter in leafy case on host plants.
  10. Overwinters as caterpillar in leaf tip shelter.

I found this information very interesting. We know that monarchs migrate, but other types of butterflies use a variety of methods that are dependent on leaf litter and dead plant material to survive through the winter into the next spring season. You can imagine how cleaning up all your leaves and carting them away can have a negative impact on the next year’s butterfly population, and the next year’s, and the next.

This article by the PennState Extension provides some simple guidelines for fall cleanup, and identifies which areas are reasonable to clean up (like your vegetable garden) and which to allow to naturalize through the winter. If you’re seeking to adopt more ecologically-friendly habits, please consider leaving most of your leaves and dead plants in place through the winter. Save the cleanup for spring instead – after the redbuds and dogwoods start to bloom. You’ll find that you have some additional free time during the fall too!

Dancing in the Moonlight

Dicentra cucullaria (Dutchman''s breeches)

Dicentra cucullaria (Dutchman”s breeches)

Nighttime in the garden is a magical place, with silverly moonlight caressing leaves and flowers as they sway in a light breeze, the flowers’  fragrance meanders then lingers with the music of nocturnal creatures. The transformation made by moonlight on plants and water and the coolness of the night made moon gardens a popular feature in hot climates. Gardeners chose plants that glowed in the moonlight or infused the air with enticing scents, adding water features that mirrored the moon and stirred silver streams and droplets here and there. Moon gardens became popular in the 1920’s and 1930’s in England and the U.S., but they were somewhat forgotten as people spent more time indoors and the great American lawn replaced flower gardens.

I’ve always had a fascination with moon gardens, though, and I recently began to wonder what native plants would be suitable for nighttime interest. Below is a partial list of North American native plants, predominantly of the Northeast, that could enchant both the moon and you with their blooms and scents. These plants also provide a host of ecological benefits to native pollinators, other insects, and wildlife. As always, choosing the right plants for your site can help decrease water use, maintenance, erosion, and the heat island effect, while providing increased beauty.

Spring: Actaea recemosa and A. pachypoda, Dicentra cucullaria and D. eximia ‘Alba’, Houstonia caerulea, Phlox divaricata and P. stolonifera, Tiarella cordifolia, Trillium grandiflorum and T.  luteum, Magnolia virginiana and M. macrophylla, Halesia monticola, H. tetraptera, and H. carolina, Cephalanthus occidentalis, Chionanthus virginicus, Cornus florida, Aronia arbutifolia and A. melanocarpa, Kalmia latifolia, Rhododendron groenlandicum.

Summer: Allium cernuum and A. tricoccum, Anemone virginiana, Aruncus dioicus, Baptista alba, Echinacea purpurea alba, Geranium maculata, Gillenia trifoliata, Hydrangea quercifolia, Koeleria macrantha, Liatris spicata alba, Maianthemum racemosum and M. stellatum, Phlox paniculata, Physostegia virginiana, Polygonatum biflorum, Rosa blanda, Lobelia cardinalis “Alba”, Ceanothus americanus, Clethra alnifolia, Itea virginiana, Rhododendron arborescent, Viburnum lantanoides, V. lentago, and V. nudum, and Viola walteri ‘Silver Gem’.

Late summer/autumn: Achillea millefolium, Actaea rubifolium, Ageratina altissima, Agrostis scabra, Amsonia tabernaemontana, Andropogon virginicus, Ascelpias verticillata, Clematis virginiana, Doellingeria umbellale, Eurybia divaricata,  Heuchera villosa, Hibiscus moscheutos, Monarda punctata, Muhlenbergia capillaris, Nymphaea odorata, Panicum virgatum, Pycnanthemum tenuifolium and P. virginianum, Sanguisorba canadensis, Symphyotrichum erecoides.

moongardentajmahalIf you are interested in reading more about moon gardens and the discovery of the gardens that existed at the Taj
Mahal in the 1600’s, read The Moonlight Garden: New Discoveries at the Taj Mahal, by Elizabeth B. Moynihan. A short history of moon gardens can be found in this post from Don Statham Design in New York.



New England Caterpillar ID

New England Caterpillar ID

Since spring is solidly here for us here in the Northeast and people are out exploring their gardens, this caterpillar identification key might come in useful: Caterpillars of the Eastern Forests. The Eastern Black Swallowtail (Papilo polygenescaterpillar in the photo was on a plant in the retail area at Garden in the Woods. Keep your eyes open, you never know what you’ll see!

The larval host pants for the Eastern Black Swallowtail include plants in the carrot and parsley (Apiaceae) family: parsley, Queen Anne’s lace, wild carrot, celery, dill, and fennel. Many of those plants are not native, and it is important to note that many of the native plants in the Apiaceae family are quite poisonous, such as poison hemlock, water hemlock, and cow parsnip. I mention this because many species need wild spaces where native plants that are not suitable for gardens or cultivated spaces can grow.

The adult host plants for nectar include: pawpaw, red clover, phlox, asclepias, asters, and thistles.