Small Plot Pollinator Project
A step-by-step project to help you and your family create your own small pollinator garden at home
Do you want to turn a patch of land in your yard into a beautiful flowerbed, a place for butterflies and bees to visit, but feel a little overwhelmed by all the work involved?
We created a multi-week small plot pollinator project to help families and individuals in starting small-plot pollinator(flower) gardens at home during late fall 2020 through spring/summer 2021. The plan consists of sequential steps that take you from planning and preparing to planting and maintaining your garden. Each activity is intended to take a small amount of time, and the instructions will provide the structure and planning needed to succeed. Materials needed will be listed for each activity. By beginning our planning in fall, we can dream of our new garden all winter. By taking on this project at the same time, we can share ideas, photos, challenges, and solutions (email to email@example.com)
If you start later, there's plenty of time to catch up! Just scroll down to see the prior steps. We'll post new steps each month from fall 2020 through summer 2021, so be sure to check back every month.
Took a peak under the boxes: grass is getting yellow and weak from lack of sunlight. This area will be ready for planting soon!
March Longer daylight hours have arrived. It's time to get growing!
If you have native plant seeds to start this spring, make sure to check the seed packet or other growing instructions to see if they require cold stratification, in which they are kept cold and damp as a necessary step for germination, often for about 30 days. This is something you may still be able to do outside, especially in areas where your snow is lingering. Otherwise, you can use your refrigerator. Many websites describe how to do this, but the illustrations here are particularly helpful. Not all native plant species need to go through this process, but many do. Once you've got your seeds germinated, it's helpful to grow them indoors for a while, or if outdoors, still protected from herbivores. Very young seedlings aren't able to produce some of the chemical and structural (e.g. hairy stems) defenses they will when they get bigger. Consider how tasty young sunflower (Helianthus) sprouts are. Rabbits agree. So this is a good month to set any trays of young seedlings in a place with good sunlight and shelter from hungry mouths.
As the snow continues to retreat this week, it is also time to consider how we'll prepare our planting areas outside next month. Will you need to remove existing materials or vegetation? If you are planning to convert a small portion of your lawn into this flower garden, you can actually get started now by layering down flattened cardboard boxes to prevent spring growth. You'll need to weight them down so they don't blow away.
Make use of what you have on hand. Charlie drilled holes in the tops and bottoms of yogurt containers to let moisture in and out.
February It's the Wednesday of the year.
The joy of winter's start has worn off, and we're still too far from spring to celebrate it just yet. But don't despair! We can give ourselves a boost now by gathering together many of the plant seeds, tools, and other supplies we need for our small pollinator plots. Using your plant list and designs from January (and perhaps new inspiration from Doug Tallamy's talk last month), start ordering some seeds! Johnny's Seeds in Maine is a great place to start, and this year they are resuming home garden orders on February 10 & 11. You'll find several other suggestions on our Where to Buy Plants page. Now is also a good time to consider what tools you'll need--will you be starting seeds indoors and need seed starting trays and potting soil? What digging tools will you need to clear grass or other plants from the area you'll be planting? Will you need some low fencing to show people where not to step while small plants are getting established? Of course, this project doesn't have to be expensive–you can create a beautiful and fulfilling pollinator garden without buying a whole lot of stuff. Make a list of tools and supplies you'll need, take inventory of what you already have or can creatively repurpose, things you can borrow from a neighbor, or things you can buy second-hand. Above all, have fun anticipating the work ahead. This month's goal is to get as organized as possible so you can dive into planting seeds or young plants when spring does get here!
January It's garden dreaming and planning season!
Using the information you already gathered about sun and shade in your plot area, explore options in plant and seed catalogues & websites (find links in Where to Buy Plants). You may want to purchase plants in person later in spring, but you can gather information about plant heights, blooming times, sun versus shade needs, and of course colors. Selecting a combination of species that includes spring, early summer, and late summer bloom times allows you to enjoy your flowers and provide resources to pollinators throughout the entire growing season. Think about placing shorter plants at the edge of your plot and taller plants behind them. One delightful winter activity is drawing a rough sketch of your plot with colored pencils or crayons. This doesn't need to be high art to help you plan: a little blob of color gives you the idea. Other considerations: native plants, costs, buying seedlings versus seed--we'll need to get any seed started next month!
December Building on what you learned about the sunlight and soil in your yard last month, it's time to decide on a location. Additional factors to consider: how far from a water source--can you stretch a hose when needed? Carrying water while establishing young plants would be harder work. Decide on the size and shape of your plot (and if you might like to expand the plot to be larger in future years, consider where there is room to grow). If the ground isn't frozen yet, you can put some markers in the ground to show the edges of your plot. Marked edges will help you in the plant-envisioning stage we'll get to dreaming about as winter really sets in.
Holiday bonus step Be sure to register for Doug Tallamy's Native Plants talk on January 28 through Cary Library. You'll have an opportunity to ask Doug questions then, or can email them to us firstname.lastname@example.org
November Take a walk around your yard on a sunny day. Notice where sun vs shade fall in your yard, and identify areas with the most sunlight. Get out a shovel an explore soil qualities (sand/clay, rocks, etc). Make sure to dig in below the grass roots, to see what's below the surface. Did you find any worms?
Some plants thrive in areas with more sunlight, while others do better in the shade. Some of the showiest flowering plants are the sun-loving ones. Is there an area in your yard with lots of sunlight where you might build your flower garden? Is your yard very shady, so you want to consider a shade garden?