Garden Talk: August 26, 2010

From NGA Editors

Putting Bees Out to Pasture

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We've all heard of putting the cows out to pasture, but how about bees? In an effort to encourage populations of native bees that can take on pollinating duties as the number of honeybees decline, entomologist James Cane with the USDA Agricultural Research Service has been conducting research into the establishment of "bee pastures."

Unlike cow pastures full of grasses, bee pastures are filled with wildflowers that provide nectar and pollen. Cane has investigated which early-flowering native annuals are best at bolstering the populations of blue orchard bees, a native California species that can be used to help meet the pollination needs of the acres of almond orchards in that state. He has identified five native plant species- Chinese houses (pictured), baby blue eyes, tansy phacelia and California bluebell- that are ideal for bee pastures. They are favored food sources for blue orchard bees, easy to grow, bloom at the same time as the almond trees and flourish in the same soil and climate as the nut trees.

The way pasturing works is the bees are moved from a winter storage area to the pasture in the spring, where they mate and lay eggs. The next spring, some of the new generation of bees are taken to orchards to pollinate the almond trees, while most are returned to the pasture. According to Cane, bee populations could increase by as much as five-fold in a year in a well-managed pasture. He estimates that a mere 10 square yards of flower-containing pasture could produce enough bees by the second year to pollinate three acres of almond trees.

Cane also suggests that this same "bee pasturing" approach might be developed for crops such as apples, pears and cherries in the Pacific Northwest that are also pollinated by blue orchard bees.

For more information on this research, go to: Bee Pastures.

Gardening for Monarch Butterflies

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Soon millions of monarch butterflies will begin their annual journey, flying thousands of miles from eastern North America to overwintering sites high in the mountains of central Mexico. (Monarchs west of the Continental Divide winter in California.) We can help these beautiful creatures as they begin their long journey by filling our gardens with nectar-rich plants to fuel their long flight.

Flowers such as asters, heleniums, goldenrod and 'Autumn Joy' sedum will provide sustenance not only to visiting monarchs, but will nourish a host of other butterfly species as well. We can also help monarchs throughout the season by planting various species of milkweed plants, on which the caterpillar stage of these butterflies feeds.

The Monarch Watch Waystations Program was created to help gardeners help the butterflies. Started by University of Kansas ecology professor Chip Taylor with the goal of creating, conserving and protecting monarch habitats, it aims to establish more than 10,000 "monarch waystations" across the country with plantings of milkweed and nectar plants. This will help offset the drastic loss of monarch habitat due to development, widespread use of agricultural herbicides and monarch-unfriendly roadside management practices.

An easy way to provide this vital habitat is with a Waystation Seed Kit containing six packets of milkweed seeds and six packets of additional nectar plant seeds, along with instructions on creating a monarch waystation, available from Monarch Watch for $16.

For more information on the Monarch Waystation Program or to order a Waystation Kit, go to: Monarch Watch. For a nectar-rich, butterfly-friendly fall garden design, go to: Butterfly Gardening in Fall.

Save Energy with Solar Lights

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One way to help save energy is to use solar fixtures for outdoor lighting. But in the past, many solar fixtures gave off such dim light that they were not very effective in the landscape. Now from Gardener's Supply Company comes the Superbright Solar Spotlight. According to the company, these lights, which come on automatically at dusk, are brighter than any other solar landscape light on the market, giving off 18 times more light than competing models. The high-gain solar panel powers the light for 12 hours or more, the anodized aluminum housing is weather-tight, and high capacity batteries keep the lights shining even after a spell of cloudy weather. The Superbright Solar spotlight is available for $79.95; a dual spotlight model is available for $89.95.

For more information on these solar lights, go to:Gardener's Supply.

Improve Your Gardening with a Coach

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While reading about gardening is a great way to increase your knowledge, there is nothing like having an experienced gardener actually out in the garden with you, giving advice first-hand. Some beginners may be lucky enough to have a parent, grandparent, friend or neighbor to pass on tips and techniques.

Those who don't, but who value that personal touch, can now hire a "garden coach." This new profession has been growing in popularity in recent years as experienced plant professionals offer a variety of on-site services to clients, including advice on landscape design and planning, soil building, garden maintenance, and diagnosis and treatment of plant problems. Some coaches specialize in a particular area, while others can help with a wide range of garden questions.

How to find a garden coach in your area? Recently, garden coach Susan Harris of Takoma Park, Maryland started an on-line directory of garden coaches that includes more than 100 listings in 38 states and 4 foreign countries.

For more information on this service, go to: Garden Coach Directory.

 
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