Why should I plant native plants?
While bees, butterflies and many other pollinators love the blooms from non-northeast native plants, it's not just about providing food. Butterflies and moths can only reproduce on specific native plants. If these plants are missing from the ecosystem they can't exist. Additionally, native plants provide a better source of nectar and pollen for our pollinators. Plants and pollinators grew up together in the same ecosystem over millions of years and they are dependent upon each other for survival.
Pollination is required for blooming plants to produce seeds, which spread via the wind, rainwater, birds, and other animals. When tempting invasive plants are available, our native plants may lose out on reproduction. Ironically, pollinators may fail to pollinate the plants that they need not only for food, but also for overwintering, laying eggs, and feeding emerging caterpillars in the spring.
To learn more:
Why Native Plants Matter, Audubon
Tallamy's Hub, Dr. Doug Tallamy
I have some non-native plants. Should I remove them all?
I'm excited to get started or improve my garden, but I'm overwhelmed.
Regardless of the size or state of your garden, going completely native and pesticide-free all at once can seem overwhelming. Start with small steps:
Choose one small area of your garden to work with at a time.
Take time to explore what you have in your garden. Look for natives you may already be growing. Identify invasive plants that you can remove to give native plants more space to grow.
Be patient. Making changes can take a full year or more as you work through the different seasons—and that's ok.
Plant it and they will come. Whether you choose a small patch to add some groupings of native pollinator-friendly plants, add a few containers or choose to de-lawn and smother a section to be ready for planting in six months, every step will count.
I have allergies. Will a pollinator garden make them worse?
Here's some good news. Pollinator plants are pollinated by pollinators. That means that the pollen stays in the flower until physically touched or removed by a pollinator. The pollen on pollinator plants is heavy and sticky and it stays put unless disturbed. The pollen is not airborne. Allergies are fueled by plants and trees that use wind to move pollen and these are not pollinator plants. Here's a great example. Goldenrod, one of our most beautiful and beneficial native flowers, has been maligned for years as an allergen. It is not. It is pollinated by pollinators. Unfortunately for Goldenrod it blooms at the same time as Ragweed. Ragweed is wind pollinated and is a major cause of allergic reactions. So, go ahead and plant and enjoy your pollinator garden! Just stay away from wind pollinated flowers - none of which are pollinator plants.
Read more about how selecting native, pollinator-friendly plants can reduce the amount of allergens in your garden.
Landscape Plant Selection Criteria for the Allergic Patient, American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology
OPALS Allergy Plant Scale, Allergy-Free Gardening
Significant Allergens for Westchester County, NY in Fall, Pollen Library
What about lawns?
You have several options for providing pollinator habit and keeping some lawn for recreation.
Add or replace grass with blooming clover, which is durable, adds nitrogen to the soil, and requires less water and mowing. Clover blooms are an important first food for bees foraging in early spring.
For lawns that see less traffic, consider replacing it with an eco- and pollinator-friendly ground cover.
Find a few border areas where you will remove lawn and replace it with a few groupings of native pollinator-friendly plants.
Add containers to a stoop, patio or other non-grassy area. See our Good for Containers list in our Quick Start Guide.
Add pollinator friendly shrubs, trees or vines along fences or as a centerpiece to your lawn. Pollinator-Pathway.org has several resources lists:
How can I get rid of pests?
One of the benefits of a native garden is native plants tend to work well to balance the types of insects in your garden. Once you have a healthy range of native plants, you will find you have fewer pest issues.
Remember, pesticides kill beneficial insects - like butterflies, bees, green lacewing, and ladybugs - as well as pests. Attracting beneficial insects that prey on pests is an effective way to control pest populations without pesticides. Plant some favorite native plants or use other non-toxic remedies to keep your garden pollinator-friendly.
What should I do with leaves in the fall?
Our top recommendation is NOTHING! Leaving the leaves in place has a number of benefits:
Provides nutrients for the soil and plants as the leaves slowly break down
Keeps valuable topsoil and nutrients in place by allowing rain and snow melt to slowly trickle into soil rather than wash it away.
Provides insulation and frost protection in the fall during final growth cycle and in spring for tender plant shoots
Keeps habitat intact for a wide range of pollinator and beneficial insect life.
Reduces the workload for you!
NOTE: Keep sidewalks and patios clear of leaves as wet leaves can be a slipping hazard for your family and other residents.
Another option is to use leaves as mulch for planted beds. Some gardeners like to shred leaves before using as mulch to keep leaves in place and help them break down into nutrients faster. While this is an option, consider that shredding can destroy fragile insect life, like chrysalises, eggs and live insects.
Will "leaving the leaves" destroy my grass?
Yes - if you leave them as is they will smother your lawn. An easy solution is to mulch mow the leaves directly into the lawn. It is easy, improves the health of your soil, reduces landfill waste, and uses nature's fertilizer. Tell your landscaper not to blow but to mulch mow instead.
I'm worried about ticks - should I avoid creating a pollinator habitat?
Ticks are a growing problem. Regardless of the management method you use, you must always spray your clothes to repel ticks when outdoors, check yourself for ticks after being outdoors, and follow other CDC guidelines to prevent tick bites. That is a must for where we live.
The good news is that you can help pollinators and control ticks at the same time. Some plants actually attract and nurture ticks (invasive Japanese Barberry bush) while some plants repel ticks ( America Beautyberry, Fleabane daisies, Mountain Mint, Garlic, Lavender, Sage, Mint and Dill). So rip out the Barberry bushes and plant more of the repellent plants. Additionally, your lawn areas should be mowed. This makes sense since in a natural pollinator friendly landscape the lawn is only used for the activity/socializing/traffic areas in the garden.
Another benefit of a pollinator habitat is that you are automatically creating a diverse ecosystem that will attract beneficial insects, birds, and animals that will find the ticks quite tasty. Did you know that Opossum eat 5,000 ticks in a season? A healthy ecosystem will keep ticks in balance.
Finally, there are tick management products that are not toxic to pollinators (or you, your family and your pets). Try Tick boxes and garlic oil (used at the Royal Gardens in England!). If you want to use natural repellents on you and and your family there are a number of options.
Will the deer eat my pollinator plants?!
We have an overpopulation of deer and that is playing havoc with our ecosystem. Lack of predators (except for cars) and loss of their habitat is placing great stress on the deer. And that is placing great stress on our woodlands and gardens. Deer often prefer native plants because they evolved over millions of years with them. They are part of a deer's normal diet. That is usually not a problem until the population of deer expands beyond the carrying capacity of the ecosystem.
A hungry, starving deer with eat anything - even plants that claim they are deer proof. When deer are not starving they tend to avoid plants that are deer resistant. There are a number of things you can do to deter deer:
Try natural deer repellent sprays or pellets in your gardens
Install a deer fence
Purchase sonic/ultrasonic deer repellents for your gardens and woodlands
Use motion sensitive water spray devices
Use something that makes noise when disturbed
Purchase plants that are deer resistant
Plant deer resistant plants around plants that are deer delectable to fool the deer into skipping over the tasty plants
How do I manage my hungry groundhogs and rabbit?!
Don't despair. Here are some tips to deter groundhogs harmlessly. In addition you can plant plants they hate around plants they love. Examples of hated plants are Fleabane (native), garlic, and lavender. Finally, you can plant plants they don't eat - try to choose natives from this list.
Here are humane and easy tips for deterring rabbits. All but the last (trapping and releasing in a rural area) are valid solutions for us.
Finally, ultrasonic devices have settings for ultrasonic sounds that deter groundhogs and rabbits. Good luck!