I don’t know about you, but I have found this year’s gardening season to be very frustrating. First, we had way too much rain and now we have cracks in the ground because it is so parched. Even the weeds have given up. Earlier this summer, the Delaware County Master Gardeners posted the perfect cartoon on its Facebook page. In the half of the cartoon labeled “spring,” it depicts a stick figure vowing to keep the garden tidy, staked, pruned and weeded. In the other half, the caption is, “reality in late summer,” and the stick figure is overcome with vegetation, lamenting the heat and the mess, and promising to do better next year. I can relate! But, for gardeners and outdoor enthusiasts, hope springs eternal.
Several of our staff are already pondering and plotting for next year’s growing season, both at home and for work. If you were able to visit us at the Delaware County Fair, you may have noticed that our conservation area underwent a significant transformation, focusing on native plants that are beneficial to pollinators. Several varieties of milkweed were planted along with compass plant, cup flower, herbs, bee balm, coneflowers, blazing stars, rattlesnake master, and more.
There are many reasons to plant natives. First, natives are beautiful, and their beauty is not just “skin deep.” According to the Tallgrass Prairie Center at the University of Northern Iowa, “Hidden deep underground, the massive root systems of prairie plants often extend deeper into the soil than the stems that rise above it.”
To see a jaw-dropping photo of a preserved compass plant’s stems and roots, visit our website at soilandwater.co.delaware.oh.us and click on the pollinator post. These incredible roots hold our precious topsoil in place, preventing soil erosion and sediment transport into our streams and lakes.
Native plants are suited to our weather. They can tolerate our cold winters, our hot summers, and need very little maintenance once established. When we began our fair park project, we had plenty of rain on regular intervals, which helped our new, young plants flourish. As fair week approached and the weather turned hot and dry, we needed to water to keep our plants growing. Depending on the weather next summer, we may still need to water, but by the third growing season, our native plants should be thriving and require very little care.
Native plants provide a smorgasbord for all kinds of pollinators, as well as important shelter from severe weather and predators. Choosing a diverse mix of flowering plants that bloom at different times throughout the spring, summer, and fall will have the most impact. The University of New Hampshire has an excellent publication which includes a time line of pollinator friendly wildflowers at https://extension.unh.edu/resources/files/Resource005973_Rep8387.pdf. I particularly like that the bloom times for each plant are shown in the color of the flower.
Please keep in mind that your vegetative buffet may be visited by caterpillar stage of many desirable butterflies. This means some of your plants may look a bit shabby. Right now, our new milkweeds at the fair are mere stems due to feasting by monarch caterpillars. You can help pollinators throughout Ohio by collecting common milkweed pods.
Delaware Soil and Water Conservation District is again serving as a collection site as part of the Ohio Pollinator Habitat Initiative. Please check our website for details. We will be collecting mature pods through Oct. 31 at our office at 557 A Sunbury Road in Delaware.
Bonnie Dailey is deputy director of the Delaware Soil & Water Conservation District. For information, go to www.soilandwater.co.delaware.oh.us.