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Omaha Magazine

Planting Native Gardens for Pollinators

Jun 21, 2019 02:28PM ● By Patrick McGee

Many beautiful homes have beautiful yards, and many beautiful yards have gardens. Breathtaking gardens look natural and maintained. One secret is low-maintenance plant selection. Scott Evans, horticulture program coordinator with the University of NebraskaLincoln Extension, advises property owners try using native plants when planting a low-maintenance garden.

A native garden provides low maintenance along with other benefits. Evans says pollinators such as bees, flies, moths, butterflies are adapted to native plants, so they will thrive in native gardens. UNL Extension offers a Pollinator Habitat Certification for individuals who want to learn more about this subject. Evans says many people want to help conserve these insects. “It is a holistic approach to conservation of our beneficial insects,” he says.

Pollinators are important economically because they pollinate many food crops. Unfortunately, according to the website, these populations have become threatened due to causes such as habitat destruction, pesticide use, inadequate nutrition, and disease. Establishing a native garden can help solve the problem.

A native garden that benefits pollinators should have plants that bloom throughout the three growing seasons: spring, summer, and fall, says Evans. “A lot of our native plants are not in mainstream horticulture,” he says. Most popular landscape plants bloom only in summer. A native garden will produce blooms when most other gardens are already done. 

Beneficial pollinators need to spread the wealth of blooms across the three seasons because different types of pollinators are active during different times of the year. Evans advises planting blooming plants in groups of at least three to make them more attractive to pollinators.

Native spring bloomers include indigo, columbine, redbud, snowdrop, and pasqueflower. Summer options are abundant, says Evans. They include single-bloom coneflowers, spiderwort, Solomon’s seal, and liatrice. Evans says that double-bloom varieties of coneflowers are not ideal because many native insects may not be able to reach the nectar. Evans recommends planting goldenrod, Joe Pye weed, and fall-blooming aster in the year’s final season. There are many more options available, and searching websites or visiting a garden store will provide an abundance of suggestions.

These native plants are acclimated to Nebraska’s harsh winters and up-and-down weather during growing seasons. They don’t typically require watering once they are established, and they also do not require fertilization. Most native plants are perennials, so they will come back annually. Because most popular landscape plants require constant care and maintenance, native plants will save a homeowner time and money.

Native gardens geared toward beneficial insects should not be cleaned up much in the fall. The dead foliage provides overwintering habitat for those that remain through the cold months. There are close to 4,000 species of native bees in North America, says Evans. Of those, 1,200 species are tunnel nesting, which means they nest in hollowed-out tubes and stems. Leaving dead foliage is therefore crucial to their habitat.

The other 2,800 species of bees are ground nesting, meaning they require spare soil exposed in order to thrive. “Leave bare soil in a sunny locationground nesting bees prefer that,” says Evans. “And watch your watering because you don’t want to drown them out.”

Beneficial insects need water as well as shelter. Evans advises providing a pie pan filled with pea gravel just covered with water in your garden in a discrete location. The pea gravel will make the water less inhabitable to mosquito larvae and will make it easier for insects to climb on and use. A water feature, like a birdbath, is designed for larger animals. “Think of something the size of a bumblebee,” says Evans, noting that these insects can’t swim.

Evans says there are 75-80 total certified native gardens across the state. They are mostly on homeowners’ private properties. The garden surrounding the Butterfly Pavilion at the Henry Doorly Zoo, the one at the Sarpy County Fairgrounds, and the Hope Garden near 165th and Center streets are all native, Pollinator Habitat Certified gardens.

A native garden has the look of a natural and well-maintained garden while actually being low-maintenance. By establishing a native garden, a gardener provides pollinators with the essential food, water, and habitat they need to survive.   

Visit for more information about the Pollinator Habitat Certification application.

This article was printed in the July/August 2019 edition of OmahaHome. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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