Garden Notes: Pollinators needed

Deadhead your chives, or be faced with tenacious crops.

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The spring solstice approaches, the summit of the earthly year. The roots from the seed, the chick from the egg, the graduate from the infant: None are assured results. They bravely dare to grow with solstice energy charging their life forces. Go forth and succeed.

No Mow May

May has passed, but I was pleased to read the No Mow May mention in the M.V. Agricultural Society’s May 19 newsletter. No Mow May is a pollinator support program that is gathering momentum both here in the U.S. and in Europe. The idea is to give early emerging insects everything possible, within homeowners’ power, for a successful start to the growing season.

It is not only “no farms, no food” but also “no pollinators, no food.”

From Modern Farmer: “Since its start in 2019, No Mow May has grown in popularity—and especially so this year. [Plantlife, a British conservation charity, launched the movement.] It grew roots in the U.S. a couple of years ago when the city council in Appleton, Wis., suspended its mowing activities in May 2020. Now the effort is supported by organizations such as Bee City USA, an arm of the nonprofit Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. Bee City USA works to help communities protect local pollinators, including more than 3,600 species of bees native to America.”

The USDA points out, “Pollinators, who after a long, cold winter are on the hunt for food in early spring, are responsible for one in every three bites of food.” Leaving your lawn and its early flowering weeds — the buttercups, erigeron, blue-eyed grass, prunella, clovers, and alsikes, and the garden escapees such as spiderwort and bugle, for the pollinators and thus the birds too, is an easy and caring avenue to an eco-garden.

“That [awareness] is extremely essential to our survival. And based on international research, up to 40 percent of pollinator species on Earth may be at risk of extinction in the coming years from habitat loss,” says Laura Rost, Bee City USA co-ordinator.

The war against insect life cannot continue, or we do not, either. However, it is not only flowering perennial and annual lawn weeds; flowering of grasses is a source of pollen, as those with pollen allergy know, only too well!

From the Beekeeping Year calendar of Spikenard Farm Honeybee Sanctuary: “When you think about [pollinator] forage, you may not immediately consider grasses, but if left unmowed, grasses can give plentiful pollen. Try leaving areas of grass to go to seed before mowing. Cultivated grasses, like rye and corn, can also be experienced humming with pollinator activity when they are in full bloom.

“Clover is another important plant for the household of nature. It provides pollen and nectar, and also helps with soil development when used as a cover crop. Crimson clover (April-May), white Dutch clover (May-July), and red clover (June-September) are three … Red clover is especially attractive to bumblebees, hummingbirds, and butterflies.”

We photographed the pink erigeron, but could not snap clumps of the lovely wildflower blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium spp.) in my unmown lawn; overcast kept the nickel-size flowers closed. According to the Native Plant Trust, New England is home to six species of this smallest iris.

Wikipedia tells us, “Sisyrinchium is a large genus of annual to perennial flowering plants in the family Iridaceae. Native to the New World, the species are known as blue-eyed grasses and, though not true grasses and in varieties with flower colors other than blue, are monocots. Several species in the Eastern United States are threatened or endangered.”

Wild blue-eyed grass in the lawn transplants well (it is a tiny rhizome) if done carefully, and works well in the front of the bed. Selected, named cultivars are available in garden centers. Look for ‘Lucerne,’ and site in rock gardens, eco-gardens, dry beds, and among other plants of short stature.

In the garden

The pollen storm continues. Oak, autumn olive, weed honeysuckles, grasses, and every flowering thing under the solstice sun: All are following their program to brave the odds and charge their life force into growth.

Despite dearth of real rain, there have been showers, enough to keep growth moving along and enough to keep moisture-loving, nocturnal earwigs, snails, and slugs happy.

Rake up and remove vegetable garden debris, which aids these despoilers of seedlings. Dusting with limestone, diatomaceous earth, and borax are offered as deterrents; the latter two may be injurious to pollinators. Neem oil sprays are effective too. If possible, upsize seedlings into bigger modules before setting out into the soil.

Roses, peonies, irises of all sorts, ornamental alliums (chives too), and oriental poppies are all sources of joy, colorful beds, and bouquets. Foxgloves are reliable biennial bloomers and reseeders, as long as garden beds are not mulched. Mulching interrupts the reseeding cycle of the dustlike seeds.

Culinary chives are active reseeders, and prove tenacious to remove once seedlings germinate, so deadhead these standbys as soon as flowerheads go by. The greenery may be cut right down too, producing tender, fresh blades for cookery.

Early planted basil may be trying to flower; keep these in good leaf by deadheading regularly; cilantro and dill likewise, although you may also wish to encourage self-sowing of these easy growers.

Leafhoppers and caterpillar lookalikes rose sawfly larvae are active, and are not controlled by Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), being non-lepidopteran. Try horticultural and neem oils and insecticidal soap on them, repeatedly. However, inchworms that are probably winter moth larvae are also hungrily chewing now; Bt controls them. Begin regular Bt program on cole crops: cabbages, mustard greens, rapini, broccoli, kale, and more in the Brassica group, fed upon by cabbage butterflies.

“Chelsea chop” perennials to force bushier growth, retard bloom time, or minimize need for staking; also reduces bloom size slightly. Subjects are phlox, monarda, Montauk daisies, salvias, asters, and much more. Do not try this on peonies, irises, daylilies, or lilium. Take note of perennials needing division, for when bloom has finished.