Providing for Pollinators: The Efforts of a Conservation Neighbor

We have a 5,000 square foot patch of property along the driveway that serves our house and three of our neighbors. This was an unsightly weed patch that needed to be mowed two to three times a year. I planted seven Oregon White Oaks (Quercus garryana) in 2007, but I always wanted this to be a wildflower meadow.

weed patch © J. Paul
5000 sq.ft. weed patch
weed control & oaks © J. Paul
First season of weed control and planting of Oregon White Oaks

After reading an article about the Xerces Society Conservation Campaign, “Bring Back the Pollinators,” I was ready to do my part. It seemed easy; all I had to do was:

  1. Grow a flower-rich foraging area.
  2. Protect suitable host plants for nests where pollinators can lay their eggs.
  3. Avoid pesticides.
  4. Spread the word about the importance of pollinators and their habitat.

As one of the Directors of the Benton Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) Board, I knew there were a lot of resources I could draw upon to start my restoration project. [Note: You don’t have to be a Director of the SWCD in order to take advantage of their services and resources–they are available to all County residents.] I was told that site preparation is one of the most important, and often inadequately addressed, components of project success. It is also a process that may require more than one season of effort to reduce competition from invasive, noxious, or undesirable nonnative plants prior to planting. My project site was 100% weeds. For two growing seasons – 18 months – I worked on ridding the site of weeds before I could plant any pollinator-friendly plants. I received help on the project site preparation from another BSWCD Board Director. He also provided over 200 Spiraea douglasii cuttings and helped push them into the ground to form the start of the hedgerow along the creek side of the site. Over 90% of these cuttings rooted and are doing well today.

Planting began in the fall of 2013 with a diverse array of nectar- and pollen-rich flowers that bloom during as much of the year as possible. I focused on early spring (especially February through April) and autumn bloomers that would be around after the main blackberry nectar flow ceased in the Willamette Valley. Weed control was very easy this past summer, but the recent rains have encouraged the weed seeds to sprout. Weed eradication takes time, but diligence and persistence pay off with fewer weeds each year, so I will have to keep up with weed control efforts on a regular basis. View my Meadow Plant List and Bloom Time table for more information about what I chose to plant.

Once the flower-rich foraging area was started, it was time to turn my attention toward providing nest habitat for the native pollinators–bees, butterflies, moths, flies, and beetles. I have had a mason bee block on my garage for several years, but that nest block is quite a distance from my project area.

stick pile © J. Paul
Stick pile, dry stacked rocks, and log cookie

I decided to build a structure that would house more than just solitary bees and wasps. It would be a bug bed and breakfast. I had several old 1” x 12” fence boards and used them to build a series of shelves and cubby holes. After the structure was complete, I filled the cubby holes with all natural materials found in and around our area. Starting with a stick pile on the ground under the structure that could provide a place for butterflies to perch, roost, or even hibernate, I then dry stacked river rocks and dried artichoke flowers above them. There were pieces of cedar shingles left over from the roof, so I filled another space with them.

 

mason bricks © J. Paul
Shingles, bricks, pine cones, nest box

Four large bricks full of holes, purchased from Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore, were placed in one of the openings with Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) and western white pine (Pinus monticola) cones. I cut two log “cookies” and painted one bright yellow and the other white. These represented the sun and the moon. Kneeling Angelica (Angelica genuflexa) stems, 12 inches long with the chambered node in the center, were cut and inserted in various sizes of ABS pipe. The six-inch deep hollow chambers provide nesting sites for the solitary bees and wasps.

 

sun log cookie © J. Paul
Log cookie and ABS pipe filled with Kneeling Angelica

There are three mason bee blocks ready for occupancy this spring and still a few more cubicles to fill up. These will provide a variety of textures for both nesting and hiding places.

As the neighbors drove by they became very curious about what I was doing, so I took advantage of the situation to implement Step 4 of “Bring Back the Pollinators”–Spread the word. After learning what my objective was, one neighbor, while out playing golf, found a fallen limb that had long string lichen (Usnea longissima, Old Man’s Beard) attached and offered it for the project. Another neighbor built a series of bark shingles that he attached to one end of the structure.

lichen © J. Paul
Neighbors’ contributions of Old Man’s Beard and bark shingles
certifications © J. Paul
Bug Bed and Breakfast with certifications

This past year we applied for and received certification of our 10 acres under the National Wildlife Federation’s Backyard Wildlife Habitat program. We were one of the many hundreds of certifications that helped Benton County become the first County in Oregon to achieve certification as a Community Wildlife Habitat. Our site has also been certified as a Pollinator Habitat by the Xerces Society Conservation Campaign. 

So why are pollinators important?

BnB © J. Paul
Bug Bed and Breakfast
  • Approximately one in three mouthfuls of food and drink that humans consume require the presence of a pollinator.
  • Pollinators are a keystone species group; the survival of a large number of other species depends upon them. They are essential to the reproductive cycle of most flowering plants, supporting plant populations that animals and birds rely on for food and shelter.
  • Pollinators are also indicator species. The viability of pollinator populations provides a snapshot of the health of the ecosystem. As the insects that many plants require for adequate pollination disappear, the effect on the health and viability of crops and native plant communities can be disastrous.
  • Pollinators help keep plant communities healthy and productive; when the pollinators are lost, bushes and trees may continue to flower and look normal for many years. By the time someone notices that they are not reproducing, it may well be too late to reintroduce a pollinator and preserve the ecosystem.

I hope that by reading this you are inspired to give pollinators a helping hand by planting natives on your property. It doesn’t have to be a large area; just take a corner of your backyard and start there. “Spread the word!”

Some Useful Links

Benton SWCD’s Native Plant Database

Xerces Society Website

Monarch Watch, a blog and resource hub

National Wildlife Federation’s Garden for Wildlife webpage