Quick Start - Step by Step

Every Plant Counts

Whether you have an acre or a balcony, every garden can make an impact. The most important thing you can do is start!

Feeling overwhelmed? Start small. This quick start design guide provides complete garden plans for small and easy pollinator gardens . Here is more design information.

Finding a Spot for Your Pollinator Garden

Plan and plant small sections for planting in stages to learn as you go and keep your project manageable.

  1. Pick and measure your space. Allow for about 12-18" of space between each plant. Some larger varieties may need more.

  2. Note the amount of sun. "Full sun" is 6+ hours of direct per day, "partial shade" is about 2-6 hrs, and "shade" is dappled sun or less than 2 hours of direct light.

  3. You can create a 'sun map' to determine how much sun yoou have and when.

  4. Assess the moisture level of your soil. You will need to water even drought tolerant plants a little during very dry spells.

TIP: De-lawning a section of grass is an ecological way to create space and reduce future watering and mowing needs. Container gardening works well for patio and balcony pollinator gardens.

Prepare your soil without work

No need to struggle or dig - go from dirt to soil using these easy and lazy techniques. Tilling and turning the soil is actually one of the worst things you can do for soil health and the environment. Did you know that turning and tilling soil releases carbon back into the atmosphere and destroys healthy soil? So sit back, relax and learn the secret of super easy planting site preparation and humus creation - and reduce your carbon footprint at the same time.

Clear the area of any weeds or plants you want to remove, by hand or by smothering grass or weeds for larger areas.

Methods timed to when you need the garden ready for planting:

If you want to start preparing the bed in the fall for spring planting

Create a 'lasagna' garden to work over winter while you....well...do nothing.

Try this step-by-step approach with pictures.

If you want to start in the spring

The Lasagna method will also work or try Solarization to kill a very weedy new area

If you want to create a bed and plant immediately

Use cardboard and plant directly

Solarize and use cardboard to plant immediately

Maintain Healthy Soil the Lazy Way

Know you are helping the earth by not tilling and keep growing healthy, productive and carbon sequestering soil!

Test your soil

A garden soil test will speed you along by taking the guess work out of what your garden soil is all about and what plants will be best suited for your soil. Remember to check the additional organic matter test. This add a little cost but is well worth it.

The test will tell you how much organic matter you have, the PH of your soil, its chemical composition, etc. This ensures you select the right plant for your conditions, and that means happy plants. Happy plants mean carefree and successful gardening for you. We are lucky to have a Cornell Extension here is Westchester. The test is inexpensive and well worth the time and money. You will receive recommendations on what to add to the soil as part of the report. We don't recommend following those in most cases as these recommendations are based on farming requirements. Native plants are fine with what you have - you just need to mach the plants to the soil.

Choosing Plants Suited to Your Space

Many online and local sources sell well-designed native pollinator plant packs or seed mixes based on light and water needs. For a list of these, contact this gardener for her private source list.

  1. How big does this plant get? What will be its height and spread (side-to-side)?

  2. Does this plant need sun or shade?

  3. Will I need to water it regularly or does it like drier conditions?

TIP: We tend to think first of flowering perennials, but many low-maintenance native shrubs and trees provide excellent food and habitat for pollinators!

TIP: View a beginner's quick start list by bloom time, light requirements and size.

Prepping and Planting Your New Plants and/or Seeds

Prep your space so you're ready to sow seeds or get young plants in the ground at the best time.

  1. Add mulch (i.e. store-bought, free woods chips from a local tree company or even leaf litter) to help your plants roots to stay cool and retain water. Mulch also breaks down over time and becomes nutrients for your plants.

  2. A little compost goes a long way, but a big benefit to planting native pollinator plants is that they are "designed" to live here and don't need special soil or fertilizer.

  3. If using container gardening, calculate the amount of soil you'll need to have on hand, and then fill with soil as you plant.

  4. Water immediately and regularly to establish new plants and ensure seeds will germinate. Don't let the soil around newly planted seedlings dry out completely.

Boosting Pollinator Friendliness

Every plant counts, but there are a few things to make your pollinator garden extra inviting for pollinators when possible.

  1. Add at least 3 of each type of plant if planting plugs or seedlings. It's recommended to create swaths or patches of each plants together in odd numbers (3-9 of each plant). The groupings help pollinators find the plants they need more easily.

  2. Try to go for 2-3 different types of plants at a minimum.

  3. Look at a bloom-chart to choose plants that will bloom at different times to keep your pollinator buffet open all growing season.

  4. Leave perennial plants in place when they die off fall or winter weather to help pollinators over-winter and offer seeds or berries for birds.

  5. Do not apply pesticides. Native plants tend to be well-suited to cope with native pests. Pesticides are harmful to all insects - including pollinators - as well as our water supply and environment.

Boosting Pollinator and Wildlife Value

Here's a few links to get you started. Some native trees, shrubs and plants provide extra value to pollinators and wildlife. For example, native oak trees support over 535 species of butterflies and moths, native willows and cherries support of over 450, and native birch trees support over 400 moths and butterflies. Native dogwood trees support 117 species of butterflies and moths, while the exotic Kousa Dogwood tree support zero. Plant choices matter.