Other’s opinion: Starting a small pollinator garden a big help

Published 8:42 pm Tuesday, September 6, 2022

The Free Press, Mankato

Public awareness of the plight of pollinators and the need for creating habitat for them has steadily grown during the past decade.

When the seemingly ubiquitous monarch butterfly was recently placed on the endangered species list for the first time by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the urgency of declining pollinator and insect populations hit home.

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The native population of monarchs has shrunk at least 22% over the past decade, according to IUCN.

The plants that monarchs and other bugs need are rapidly disappearing because of land development and widespread spraying of weed killer on farm fields.

The good news is that more people understand the need for more habitat and can pitch in to help.

Even small plots of the flowers and plants pollinators need can be added to most anyone’s yard.

For monarchs, milkweed is vital as the females lay eggs on them. While all nine milkweed species help, the USDA says that swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) and common milkweed (A. syriaca) are preferred by monarchs.

And fall is a great time to seed a pollinator garden, according to the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum.

The public is clearly interested in doing what they can to install pollinator gardens or prairie gardens of any size.

At the recent Hummingbird Hurrah event in Henderson, gardening expert and host of KSTP TV’s “Get Growing with Larry Pfarr” did presentations and answered questions focused on plants that will attract hummingbirds, bees and butterflies.

“The interest in pollinator gardens has surged in the last five years and the interest in prairie gardens has surged in the last three years,” Pfarr told The Free Press.

He said prairie gardens, which attract a wide range of visitors, are very low maintenance when established. But starting them takes time and effort. He said people wanting a pollinator garden need to do a little homework to make sure they are using flowers that actually attract birds and bugs.

The Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources is also accepting applications for a program aiming to increase habitat for at-risk pollinators.

Lawns to Legumes projects take place in residential settings across the state. Anyone who lives in Minnesota and has an area for outdoor planting can apply to be reimbursed for up to $350 in costs associated with establishing new pollinator habitat in their yards.

BWSR provides participants with cost-share funding, workshops, coaching and gardening resources. Recipients are required to contribute a 25 percent match in the form of purchasing materials, hiring contractors or as in-kind time spent planting and maintaining their projects.

Applications will be accepted through Jan. 18. Apply online at Blue Thumb’s website. For more information on Lawns to Legumes, visit BWSR’s website: bwsr.state.mn.us/l2l.

Much work needs to be done on a broader scale to reduce the amount of pesticides that harm bees and other pollinators, as well as increasing prairie plants and flowers on more land, including in road ditches.

But everyone who has a plot of land can help by planting beneficial plants, which not only help the bugs but are a pleasing addition to the landscape.