Help foster beneficial bugs with these seeds that attract pollinators
It was more than 30 years ago that I converted to gardening organically. It was a lot easier than I thought it would be. When I stopped using chemicals in the garden, nature did a pretty good job of creating a balance. The birds, bees, moths, caterpillars and other pollinators can visit the garden and do their job without concern.
When I made the switch to organics, it felt so good to know that my young children could also play safely in the garden and my neighbors downstream also would be fine.
The key to a green thumb comes in the form of compost. Fill planting holes and garden beds with this natural soil amendment, and the plants will have everything they need. When they do, they will outgrow most pests or diseases. Feed the soil — not the plant — and you'll reap the rewards.
Gardening was easier in a way back when I converted the garden to a natural habitat. There were more pollinators. Vine crops like cucumbers, squash and especially zucchini would be so abundant, they were given away to anyone interested. Now I get questions all the time asking why these crops are scarce. It's often due to a lack of pollinators. Honeybees have been in the news for years, but there are lots of native insects that are also in decline. As gardeners it behooves us to plant a wide variety of cultivars that will bring these good bugs into the garden.
I thought about how I could help others create a garden oasis for the insects. That's how the Save The Planet collection of seeds came to be. It's 10 packets filled with a wide variety of pollinator-friendly seeds bundled together to save gardeners money and the hassle of trying to find what they needed to help the pollinators.
These plants might in fact help save the world, because without pollinators food would be scarce.
I write often about Tithonia (Mexican sunflower) 'Torch.' It's my No. 1 plant for pollinators. It grows six to 16 feet tall and is filled with three-inch orange flowers that will be covered with butterflies, moths, native bees, honeybees and hummingbirds that can't resist the blooms. The seeds can be started indoors or sown directly in the garden right before the last expected frost.
There are four different types of milkweed included in the collection: common, swamp, showy and butterfly weed. Milkweed is the only host plant for monarch butterflies, another species in decline. Besides helping the monarch, these plants also attract a wide range of good bugs.
Monarchs and other pollinators also need a food source beside the host plant. The monarchs feed up before making the journey to Mexico. The Monarch Butterfly Mix will provide the butterfly and other insects with what they need.
The Wildflowers Pollinator Honey Bee Mix is filled with nectar- and pollen-rich annual and perennial flowers that will provide forage for honey bees all season long.
Zinnias are always best planted directly in the garden instead of started from flats. 'Zinnia Cut and Come Again Mixed Colors' is easy to grow and will provide flowers for pollinators and is a great cut flower for the gardener, too.
Just as easy to grow and planted the same way as zinnias is the annual cosmos 'Dazzler.' Pretty purple flowers dance in the summer breeze and can often self sow to produce flowers for years.
The trick to growing sunflower 'Mammoth Greystripe' and other varieties of sunflowers is protecting the young seedlings from rabbits and other critters. Once they are past that tender stage, most varmints ignore them. The plants resent being transplanted so they can either be started in the garden or in something like CowPots. Those are fibrous containers made of cow manure. They are filled with planting mix, then the seed and after sprouting are sunk into the soil. As the pot fades away, it releases its nutrients. The plant will reach eight to 12 feet with heads more than a foot across. Not only are they a great pollinator plant, the seeds are great for wildlife, too.
You can make a difference by choosing plants and a way of gardening that helps the environment, as well as your own garden.
Doug Oster is editor of Everybody Gardens, a website operated by 535Media, LLC. Reach him at 412-965-3278 or firstname.lastname@example.org. See other stories, videos, blogs, tips and more at everybodygardens.com.
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