These past few months have been filled with great news, for so many members of the Garden Ecology Lab team. In this post, I wanted to take a moment to celebrate their great work and accomplishments.
Aaron Anderson successfully defended his dissertation in February 2022, entitled Evaluating the Attractiveness of Pacific Northwest Native Plants to Insects and Gardeners, and graduated with his Ph.D. in horticulture. In September 2022, Aaron also published two chapters of his dissertation. This first is an Extension publication, geared towards gardeners: ‘Native Plant Picks for Bees‘. The second is the scientific paper that formed the basis of the Extension publication: ‘The Bee Fauna Associated with Pacific Northwest (USA) Native Plants for Gardens‘. Aaron is now working with the Xerces Society, as Pesticide Program Specialist.
Jen Hayes successfully advanced to Ph.D. candidacy in June 2022, by passing her comprehensive exam. The comprehensive exam (also known as ‘comps’) is perhaps the most difficult part of the Ph.D. journey. In Jen’s case, it involved a 3-hour long oral exam with her graduate committee (Drs. Lauren Gwin, Jim Rivers, Andony Melathopolous, Ryan Contreras, and Gail Langellotto), who took turns asking a series of questions on topics ranging from wild bee biology, native plant ecology, and ornamental plant breeding. Jen also prepared and defended a review paper focused on the process and impacts of breeding native plants to produce native cultivars. Jen also recently completed the prestigious ‘Bee Course’ offered by the American Museum of Natural History, at the Southwestern Research Station in Portal, AZ.
Signe Danler was promoted to Senior Instructor I, after thorough review of her accomplishments by the Department of Horticulture and the College of Agricultural Sciences. Signe manages the Certificate of Home Horticulture online course series, and also develops and provides online short courses to support Master Gardener training efforts across the state. Over the course of her career at OSU, she has created three new online classes (Sustainable Landscape Management, Sustainable Landscape Design, and Gardening with Native Plants), and has updated and revised an additional nine classes. Her efforts have grown revenue, so that her position is now fully funded, and also contributes to the operating expenses of the Garden Ecology Lab.
Mallory Mead received two prestigious scholarships! First, she received the Garden Club of America’s Mary T. Carothers Summer Environmental Studies Scholarship, to support her work on the Clarkia Project. Mallory also won a Scholar’s Award from the American Society for Horticultural Science, in recognition of her scholastic achievement.
LeAnn Locher led teams of Extension professionals that received two awards from the Association for Communication Excellence. LeAnn and team earned a Silver in the category of ‘Social Media Campaign (Organic)’, for a series of social media posts (and supporting peer-reviewed web materials) focused on supporting gardeners through extreme heat events. One web post was focused on identifying and preventing heat stress in plants. Another was focused on helping bees during a heat wave. A third post focused on helping hydrangeas through the heat wave. LeAnn and team also earned a Bronze in the category of ‘Social Media (Single Item)’ for a social media post (and supporting peer-reviewed web article) focused on stopping the spread of jumping worms during plant sales and trades. LeAnn conceived of the campaign, and designed the visuals and outreach strategy. She worked closely with other team members to quickly develop peer-reviewed web articles that could support the social media posts. LeAnn’s excellence in communications and outreach was also recognized via her receipt of the 2021 Oscar Hagg Extension Communication Award.
Svea Bruslind received a 2022 Art-Sci Student Fellowship to support her ‘Bee’s Eye View’ project. This fellowship will allow Svea to display her work in her first-ever art exhibition! Gail is serving as Svea’s scientific mentor for this fellowship. We are beyond honored that Jasna Guy is serving as Svea’s artistic mentor!
Tyler Spofford graduated from our lab group in 2021, and was soon thereafter hired as the new SNAP-Ed Gardening Program Coordinator, working with our colleagues in the College of Public Health. In this role, Tyler will continue to build out the gardening resources in Food Hero, and will also help administer and manage the Seed to Supper program at OSU. You might remember that Tyler completed his undergraduate thesis research on containerized gardening in the Garden Ecology Lab.
Help me congratulate this amazing team of scientists, educators, communicators! I am lucky to work with such a great team.
We have been seeing syrphid flies (family: Syrphidae) in great abundance this summer over at the Garden Ecology lab’s research garden, so much so, that our field research team has begun to call it the year of the syrphids! These bee-mimicking, skittish pollinators have particularly loved the native and cultivar yarrow we have planted in our plots. Although their abundance has recently dipped–likely because Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is done with its first round of bloom–we still see them buzzing around.
Syrphid flies, also known as flower flies or hover flies are a common visitor of gardens. You may see them buzzing around bright flowers or fighting mid air. They are important pollinators and feed off of nectar and pollen in their adult stage. Additionally, in their larval form, they are great at reducing aphid populations, but are extremely susceptible to pesticides.
The life cycle1 of syrphids start with the adults laying eggs in leaves of infested plants. After about three days, they hatch into their voracious, blind, larval stage.
The larvae feast on small pests like aphids, leafhoppers, scales, and thrips. The larvae do this by moving along plants, lifting their heads to try and seize and pierce their prey with their triple-pointed dart inside their mouth2. After slurping their prey dry, they will discard the exoskeleton.
Larvae will develop through a few instars and after 1 to 3 weeks will go into a pupal stage on the host plant or on the soil. After two weeks, an adult emerges.
In the pacific northwest, our common syrphid is Scaeva pyrastri. It is unique in that rather than overwintering as a larvae, S. Pyrastri overwinters as an adult. Three to seven generations occur in a year, with possibility for the higher counts depending on the region and species. Another species, originally native to Europe, the drone fly (Eristalis tenax3) is named after male honey bees because it is mimics them so well. Other mimics in Syrphidae lay their eggs in the nests of bumblebees or social wasps, where the larvae eat dead bees and detritus.
Their quick movements and bee-like appearance can make syrphid flies hard to identify.
To identify a flying insect as a syrphid, look for a single pair of wings. Flies (Order: diptera) do not have a second pair of wings like bees. Instead they have a vestige of hind wings called halteres that look like little nubs beneath their wings. These act like gyroscopes to help the fly balance during unique in-flight maneuvers. Also look for large, forward facing compound eyes typical of any dipterans. In our lab, we’ve see a wide range of size and different colors. Syrphids can be anywhere from a tenth of an inch to half an inch long, and have black or brown bodies with white or yellow spots and stripes. Fun fact: most hover fly mouths are extendable ‘sponges’ that mop up nectar and pollen.
Flower flies are extremely important to pest control and pollination, 40% of syrphid species larvae feast on the previously mentioned prey, and each larvae can eat up to 400 aphids during development!
Unfortunately, the larvae of syrphids are similar to many other species so are hard to identify. However, they are usually on pest infested plants and may be seen near adult syrphids. Look for their typical ‘stretching’ behavior while they are on the hunt. If you have a pest problem, avoid using pesticides or insecticides! These kill the syrphids that can help with pests. Instead, promoting syrphids or other pest eaters like ladybugs and lacewings by providing a variety of insectary plants can help you in the long run.
As previously mentioned, yarrow (Achillea millefolium) has been our most successful syrphid-attracting plant in our lab this year. Syrphid flower preference varies based on the subfamily, according to studies. The subfamily Eristalinae is attracted to white flowers, Pipizinae prefer white and yellow, and Syrphinae is more general. Link to an article going more in depth on syrphid flower preference here4.
Not coincidentally, native yarrow is primarily white, while our cultivars are yellow and pink. Observationally, syrphids visit yellow yarrow at a similar rate as they do the native, while our pink cultivar saw next to no syrphid visitors. We recommend planting yarrow as well as a variety of native flowering plants to support these pollinators. Leave leaf litter and debris around flowering plants, too. These provide protected overwintering sites which syrphids rely on7.
Currently, no syrphid species are on the U.S. Endangered Species Act lists, but like many insects, this underappreciated pollinator is understudied and biodiversity of this group is not well tracked. In Britain, however, some hoverflies have been placed on their Biodiversity Action Plan.6
Whether syrphids are endangered or not, we can help biodiversity by promoting native pollinators and planting native plants in our yards and gardens.
We are entering the heart of summer, with blue skies, rising temperatures, blooming flowers, and growing gardens. As some of us are taking this time to relax in the bounty of our gardens and in whatever shade we can find, our pollinator counterparts are in the middle of their busiest season. The pollinators are out in full force, and it seems almost impossible to turn around in a garden without spotting a new butterfly, bee, or beetle. So for those among us who want to engage even further with the friends visiting our gardens around this time of year, we have the perfect game for you: Pollinator Bingo!
Our Pollinator Bingo-or should we say BEEngo- is a healthy mix between Bingo and a scavenger hunt!
Here’s how to play:
- Select the Bingo Card you will use
- Download it, or print it out, and get it ready to be filled out
- Keep your eyes open for these visitors in a garden. When you spot a pollinator on your Bingo card, mark that pollinators square.
- Once you fill an entire row (horizontal, vertical or diagonal) you’ve won your BEEngo!
- Extra Credit Challenge: Try to black out the entire card!
We hope you have fun playing Pollinator Bingo outside, exploring and enjoying the natural world in some way. Good luck BEEngo players!
Below, we included some pollinator spotlights, so you can get to know some of the species on your Bingo card a little better!
Pollinator Bingo Spotlight List:
- Tribe Eucerini, Longhorned bee
Eucerini, also known as long-horned bees, are favorites among our lab members. They are the most diverse tribe in the family Apidae, with over 32 genera. These bees are solitary and ground-nesting. What makes them distinct and a lab favorite are the long antennae the males are known for and from which they get their common name. The females are also recognizable, as they have long hairs, known as scopae, on their hind legs, giving them the appearance of wearing very thick pants.
2. Species Papilio machaon oregonia, Oregon Swallowtail butterfly
As with any in the Swallowtail family, Papilio machaon oregonia, or the Oregon Swallowtail, is big, beautiful, and eye-catching. It was officially named Oregon’s state insect on July 16, 1979. It is native to the northwest and is only found in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and sections of British Columbia. For the purposes of Pollinator Bingo, any Swallowtail will count for its space. Keep an eye out for the Oregon Swallowtail and others, and see how many different species you can find!
3. Family Syrphidae, Flower Fly
Hoverflies, flower flies, and syrphid flies are all different names for the flies within the family Syrphidae. Syrphid flies come in a wide variety of sizes and colors, with some that resemble wasps and others that look nearly identical to bees. Most syrphids, however, can be found with some kind of striping on their abdomen. Syrphids are essential to any garden as they help with pest control and pollination. Some people are surprised that flies are pollinators too, but hopefully, this list can illustrate the wide variety of pollinators out there!
4. Species Trichodes ornatus, Ornate Checkered beetle
Trichodes ornatus, or the Ornate Checkered beetle, is an interesting species, as during the early stages of its life, instead of pollinating, it feeds on pollinators. These beetles will lay their eggs on plants such as yarrow, sagebrush, and asters. When these eggs hatch, the larvae attach themselves to a visiting bee, usually a leafcutter bee. They will then be transported to the bee’s nest, where they will eat the provisions left there for the host larvae before eating the host larvae and burrowing into nearby cells to do the same. As an adult, the Ornate Checkered beetle will feed on pollen but will not miss an opportunity to snack on other visiting pollinators when foraging for pollen.
5. Species Calypte Anna, Anna’s hummingbird
Calypte Anna or Anna’s hummingbird should be a familiar sight for many of us. This rambunctious bird is a permanent resident along the Pacific Coast, staying year-round through winters instead of engaging in migration as other species of hummingbirds are known to do. Males of Anna’s hummingbird are pretty talkative, often vocalizing with a buzzy song. The males have a brilliant red head with a green body, and the females have similar green plumage, but without the red coloration on their face and neck.
Summer is the main active season for many bee species. After a wet spring in Western Oregon, the sun is out and our world is in bloom!
So what are summer bees up to right now? The main events of the season are…
- Foraging for nectar and pollen
- Finding mates and laying eggs
- Excavating, finding and building nests for offspring.
Adult bees also experience predation by spiders and birds during this time. This Crab Spider caught a female long horned bee in its jaws!
So who exactly is out and about in your garden at this time of year?
Bumblebees and honeybees visibly dominate the landscape throughout the summer, but lean in closer to your flowering plants and you’ll find the smaller sweat bees (family: Halictidae), long horned bees (genera: Melissodes and Eucera), leafcutter bees (genus: Megachile) and small carpenter bees (genus: Ceratina). Although there are many others amid the vast diversity of bee species science is only beginning to understand, these are some common garden visitors. We’ll go through each group and their summer activities.
Notice the two adomenal segments beneath the yellow stripe of this male yellow-faced bumblebee (Bombus vosnesenskii). Photo by Jen Hayes.
Bumblebees: By summertime, most queens have established colonies of workers who do the foraging for the hive, so we see less large queen bumblebees and more smaller workers as the season progresses. Later in the season, queens lay male eggs as well as eggs for the next generation of queens. Male bumblebees take to the landscape in mid to later summer, recognizable by their additional segments on their abdomen, long antennae, and by the fact that they don’t carry pollen like females do. Males do not have stingers, so if you can confidently identify male bumblebees, they are fun to play with while they’re waiting around for new queens with which to mate. You’ll find them sipping on nectar-rich plants like lavender, herbs, asters and heal-all.
Honeybees: Summer is prime time for honeybees! Worker populations are at their peaks; pollen and nectar are flowing. As hive population size rises and available hive space remains static, honeybees may organize a swarm. In this process, the current queen lays new queen eggs and part of the colony joins her to lift off and leave the colony in search of a new cavity to make their home. Swarming is considered a form of colony-level reproduction supporting the idea that honey bee colonies are super organisms. Swarming is common in spring and early summer. Beekeepers add new boxes to hives so prevent their colonies from swarming.
Late summer is mating season for honey bees. Males and new queen eggs are laid and emerge to mate with individuals from other colonies. Honeybees mate in the air at heights ranging between 15 and 60 m1.
A halictid dear to our hearts at the Garden Ecology Lab is the metallic green bee (genus: Agapostemon). While females provision nests in the soil, you can find males resting in congregations on flowers in the evening time and early morning!
Sweat bees are one of the most common groups of “small” bees you’ll find in your garden. They forage on a wide variety of plants and come in a wide range of sizes, but most have striped abdomens, and all carry pollen on their hind legs and nest in soil.
Long Horned bees
Long horned bees are most active on our research plots in the mid to late summer. I love this group because they are so easy to recognize. Males have antennae that are way longer than other bees’ relative to their bodies. The females, who bear antenna of normal lengths, are still easy to spot because they have long feathery scopa (or hairs) on their hind legs for collecting pollen that they absolutely pack with pollen while foraging.
Long horned bees are sometimes referred to as “sunflower bees” for their love of foraging on sunflowers.
Long horned bees nest in the soil2, so when you see them take it as a reminder to leave some uncovered, undisturbed soil in your garden for these bees to persist!
Small Carpenter bees
When I point out small carpenter bees (genus: Ceratina), most of my friends can’t believe they are bees. They think they are some kind of flying ant. Their bodies are sleek, and often shimmer with a green or blue reflective gleam.
Small carpenter bees are considered wood excavators as they dig out the pith from dry plant canes for their nests. Ceratina are a unique group in terms of their parenting style. Unlike other solitary bee mothers, Ceratina mothers guard their offspring even after their offspring have developed into adults. Mothers stick around as long as they can until Winter falls.2
Leafcutter bees (genus: Megachile), as their names suggest cut leaves from their host plants! They use these bits of leaves to line their ground and cavity nests, to waterproof and protect their offspring.
Leafcutter bees are from the bee family Megachilidae, a family known for creative nest building. Bees in this family were supposedly able to expand their ranges due to their flexibility in nesting site and material. They’ve been found nesting in wood, porous stones, stems, galls, and even snail shells filling these various cavities with leaves, mud, plant resins, pebbles, straw and even petals2. The fascinating nest building behavior we’ve gotten to witness in the field is petal cutting of Farewell-to-Spring (Clarkia amoena) blooms.
Thank you for joining us on this exploration of some of Oregon’s summer bees and what they are currently doing! We will release one more blog post in this series. Be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss the next in the series!
1: Landscape Analysis of Drone Congregation Areas of the Honey Bee, Apis mellifera by Galindo-Cardona et. al, 2012. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3635128/
2: The Solitary Bees by Bryan N. Danforth, Robert L. Minckley, and John L. Neff. 2019.
My name is Devon Johnson, and I am a senior undergraduate crawling ever so gradually towards a degree in Biology with an option in Ecology. I’ve lived in a few different places, but my love of natural sciences bloomed in Oregon. I recently joined the bee team to help at Oak Creek as a field and lab tech. This is my first research related job and I have quickly learned a host of bee and plant knowledge I never knew I wanted!
I volunteer at Chintimini Wildlife Center every Thursday, where I get to see wildlife get nursed to health. We mainly get birds, so I love hearing the quirky calls and chirps, and most importantly, see the personalities of each patient. The experience has wholly made me a bird fan, and I love learning and talking about them. (Bird facts are the best!).
I took a biodiversity class one year, which solidified my dream to get involved in conservation biology. I’ve learned about wonderful conservation projects, such as the Y2Y (Yellowstone to Yukon) project, that inspire me to continue my studies to grasp as much as I can about the wonderful world we live in. Biology is so entrancing, and as I absorb information about fungi this summer through a class I realize that I am right at home within it.
While I will continue to become more knowledgeable about pollinators, data collection, and native plants this summer, my current favorite fact that I didn’t know about the bee family Apidae (bumblebees, honey bees) is that they keep the pollen they are collecting in a “pollen basket” called corbicula, or corbiculae for plural.
Let me say it again- pollen… basket.
I appreciate everything that the Oak Creek Team has taught me so far, the team has been so welcoming, and am glad to be here!
Happy pollinator week and first official week of summer! ☀️🐝🦋
Pollinator week is an annual celebration in June to emphasize the importance of pollinators and their health, started by the Pollinator Partnership. To celebrate pollinator week, we’re going to share some information with you about a few of our favorite pollinators and a few others deserving recognition. June is also Pride Month, so we are going to start with a fun fact connecting pollinators and Pride! 🌈
Did you know there are pollinators named after drag queens? A new genus of soldier flies were discovered in Australia 2020 and given names that are indicative of their metallic and rainbow-colored bodies! Among Opaluma fabulosa, O. iridescens, O. opulens, O. sapphira and O. unicornis are O. rupaul, named after the drag queen RuPaul, and O. ednae, named after the Australian drag queen Dame Edna.
Soldier flies belong to the Stratiomyidae family, which include many flower-visiting flies! Many adult soldier flies visit flowers for nectar and subsequently transfer pollen on their bodies as they travel from one bloom to the next. Six of these seven Opaluma species were impacted by the Australian bushfires in 2019 and 2020; their recent taxonomic identification will allow them to be monitored in recovery efforts following the fires. The full citation for these stunning soldier flies can be found here.
To stay on the theme of iridescence, next we will share some information about my (Jen’s) favorite pollinators: Orchid bees! Orchid bees are in the same family as bumblebees and honey bees (Apidae) but are found within their own tribe, Euglossini. Within Euglossini, there are only five genera: Algae, Euglossa, Eulaema, Eufriesa, and Exaraete. Only one species of orchid bee is found in the United States (Euglossa dilemma), with the majority being found in Central and South America.
Not all orchid bees are iridescent– bees from the genus Eulaema are the exception, which are more similar in appearance to bumblebees than they are to the metallic members of Euglossini. I find orchid bees to be mesmerizing, not only because of their novel color forms, but also their unique adaptations. Some orchid bees’ tongues (proboscises) are more than 1.5 times their body length in order to access nectar located in long, tubular flowers! These bees often fly with their proboscis tucked under their body, and it may look like a small tail as it trails past their abdomen.
Euglossa have highly modified tibias on their hind legs. Male members of Euglossa species have a “pouch” on their tibia, used to collect and store floral fragrances from flowers in the form of essential oils. These oils are later used to attract potential mates. I like to think Euglossine males would be excellent candle makers.
Mallory’s favorite pollinators are long-horned bees, in particular those from the genus Melissodes, which are highly abundant in the latter half of our field season! Mallory loves long-horned bees because they have many traits that make them easily identifiable in the field. Males have elongated antennal segments which are indicative of their common name ‘long-horned’. They often have interesting colored eyes as well- some of the specimens we collect have green, blue or grayish eyes that contrast greatly with their often blond-colored hair (scopa). Her favorite trait, however, is the scopa on their hind legs. When full of pollen, long-horned females often look like they have ‘pollen pants’ on, in contrast to the neat and tidy pollen baskets seen on bumblebees! Svea thinks their pollen pants make long-horned bees look like they’re wearing a pair of western-style chaps. Melissodes primarily pollinate species from the Asteraceae, with specialization occurring on asters, daisies, and sunflowers. Sometimes Melissodes are called ‘sunflower bees’.
Svea’s favorite pollinator is Anna’s hummingbird (Calpyte anna). C. anna is one of seven hummingbird species native to Oregon. Svea enjoys watching Anna’s hummingbird as a pastime at her parents’ house: they have a small, active community of hummingbirds that are very vocal and can be seen fighting over their nectar sources (including their butterfly bush and hummingbird feeder).
Svea also mentioned that the males are particularly pretty, though it requires a particular angle of light to make their iridescent copper-red colored throats glow. The ‘Anna’ in Anna’s hummingbird comes from the French Duchess of Rivoli, Anna Masséna, who was part of the court of France’s last empress (Eugénie de Montijo, 1853-1870). Anna’s hummingbirds are important pollinators in California, where they feed from coastal chaparral flora that share a similar phenology (breeding and feeding patterns) with the pollinator.
Nicole is another member of the lab whose favorite pollinator is a hummingbird! Nicole’s favorite pollinator is the Rufous hummingbird Selasphorus rufus. The USDA Forest Service describes the Rufous hummingbird as “small but feisty long-distance migrant[s]”. They are small in size and feisty in their protection of their feeding territories, they have been known to chase off other hummingbirds, large insects, and even people! Some of their preferred host plants include morning glory (Ipomoea arborescens), ocotillo (Foquieria spp.), shrimp plant (Justicia spp.) and red-colored blooms from the mint family, such as Salvia elegans and Stachys coccinea. Nicole loves the Rufous hummingbird because she regularly saw them while she was growing up. They could regularly be seen foraging and defending their territory in her parent’s yard.
Cara’s favorite pollinator is the Western Tiger Swallowtail Papilio rutulus. This magnificent butterfly can be commonly found at Cara’s research plantings of butterfly bush (Buddleja spp.), and can also be spotted basking on yarrow or slowly fluttering along the hedgerows at Oak Creek Center for Urban Horticulture. Despite the name ‘butterfly bush’, Cara has found butterflies to be infrequent visitors of Buddleja, though of the few butterfly visitors they receive, the Western Tiger Swallowtail is the most common. Cara additionally grew up seeing swallowtails every summer, which is why they are her favorite pollinator! To read more about this swallowtail, check out Lucas’s Pollinator of the Week Post.
Let us know who your favorite pollinators are!
Pruning can feel like one of the most intimidating parts of caring for a garden—that’s why we released our #PruneBetter series. This series of social media posts covered a wide array of common garden favorites: blueberries, hydrangea, apple trees, and more! If you missed any of the posts this year, they are all still accessible via searching #PruneBetter on Instagram or Facebook.
Our team worked hard behind the scenes to present you with science-backed and accessible content. This series started with LeAnn Locher (Master Gardener Outreach Coordinator), who envisioned utilizing OSU’s social media platforms to not only link to educational content, but to present it directly. Both Instagram and Facebook allow our team to connect directly with Master Gardeners, students, faculty, and the public from one platform. Her idea presented a fun challenge: a series of 10-second videos, each conveying and/or demonstrating a pruning tip.
The #PruneBetter team also consisted of our invaluable background researcher, Mallory Mead (member of the Garden Ecology Lab). She sourced and compiled information—Mallory also helped ensure our posts were timely (AKA posting about a particular plant during its prime pruning window).
Content creation was headed by Nicole Bell (graduate student in the GEL). I (hi, it’s me) wrote captions for the posts, but admittedly—the hardest part was trying to figure out what to put in those 10 second videos! One of my favorite parts was getting to work with my parents: Bernadine Strik (professor emeritus in Horticulture, and mom) for the blueberry content, and Neil Bell (community horticulturist for OSU extension, and dad) for most of the video content. They were the ones who inspired me to pursue a career in horticulture, so it was fulfilling and fun to show them and incorporate them into just a bit of what I’m working on.
What, exactly, does a day of planning and creating #PruneBetter content look like? Step 1: use Mallory’s background research to create an idea for videos (up to nine 10-second segments, for posts) stories (videos up to 30 seconds, and sometimes before and after photos), and the caption. Step 2: select and travel to pruning site. These sites varied from the OSU Lewis Brown Horticulture Farm, the home garden of Nicole’s parents, and gardens generously offered up for example by OSU Master Gardeners. Step 3: shoot content. Let me just say… 10 seconds goes by quickly when you’re talking! Although one of the most challenging parts of creating video content for our social media platforms, it was also a great learning experience. What information do we really need to include? What visual is most valuable to show or demonstrate? Step 4: choose the best of our material, and post! Posts included the slide of videos, the caption with supplemental information, and our stories (one of my favorite parts about creating this series was making the weekly quiz).
Throughout the #PruneBetter campaign, we were surprised and amazed at the amount of engagement and support from the community. We loved seeing your shares, comments, and messages—it means a lot. Gardening can feel like a never-ending sea of tasks, but I think it is made better with community, accessible knowledge, and (at least) knowing you’re not in the work alone! We’re not done yet—keep an eye out for more content in June (hello, apple thinning!) and beyond. As long as there is something to prune, we’ll be waiting to find and share all the ways we can #PruneBetter.
To access the supplemental resources included in the posts this year, see below.
Tree pruning with the pros: https://extension.oregonstate.edu/collection/pruning-pros
Figs (video): https://youtu.be/0jKXn4wByz4
Pacific Power “Small Trees for Small Places” booklet: https://www.pacificpower.net/…/PP_SmallTrees_Booklet.pdf
To access the posts made earlier this year, go to Instagram or Facebook and search the hashtag #PruneBetter.
A short story about grass
Lawns are perhaps one of the most controversial spaces when it comes to improving landscapes for wildlife. When I was in college, I threw myself head first into becoming more “green”, which for me meant being the best environmental and eco-friendly entomologist I could be. That meant changing not only my own habits, but those of my parents who, fortunately for me and maybe less fortunately for them, lived only thirty minutes away from my university.
It started with composting. After we got over the discussion about how to properly care for an indoor bin to avoid fruit flies AND my mom saw how much deliciously rich soil her dear friend yielded from her own bin, composting was a hit. My mom still tells me how amazed she is by how quickly the pile reduces every spring. I’m still surprised as to how easy of a practice it was for them to adopt.
The topics that came next were bees, buying local, what organic means, reusable everything, why you should check the insulation on the house before even thinking about buying solar panels, and then, after I took two landscape design courses, we approached the topic of grass. For this talk, which actually spanned months, I came prepared with books, quotations, and 3 or 4 finely detailed maps with elaborate plans for turning my parent’s yard into a pollinator sanctuary.
I began with dropping hints that this talk was coming. I would casually add “lawns should be like area rugs, not wall to wall carpeting” into a conversation, or post graphics like the one at the beginning of this blog on Facebook, and tag my parents in it. I even gave my dad Noah’s Garden: Restoring the Ecology of our Own Backyards by Sara Stein for Father’s Day. I knew this was a change that would take a lot more time than the compost.
Truthfully, I started with my mom. She’s the outdoor gardener, my dad is the houseplant guy. And, as anyone who has ever been a child knowns, there’s always one parent or guardian you go to first for the more difficult requests. For the most part, my mom was excited to see me become a budding naturalist. Around the house or on hikes I would point out plants I now knew the names of, and together we would assess the basal leaves of new garden growth, trying to figure out what in the world did she plant next to the lupine in the garden last year. When I got my wisdom teeth removed, she and the nurse patiently waited while I explained how to identify the red oak next to the car from other common oaks planted as street trees. I made it my mission to make my mom a budding naturalist, too.
When my landscape design class ended, I took my mom on a tour of her property, pointing out all of the potential diversity their landscape could support if they turned it into something beyond grass. I described the changes I recommended, I explained the benefits of the rain gardens, the swales, the terraced lowbush blueberries for the front yard, the beautiful meadow that would grow in the seasonal wet spot in the backyard and enhance the firefly populations we see glowing in the summer. I explained that though the initial transition would take a lot of work, the result would be significantly less maintenance for them, and they would sit atop the ecological design of my dreams. And there would be so much less lawn, err grass for them to mow.
Nearly 10 years later, I am reluctant to report that the quantity of grass covering my parents’ landscape remains relatively similar. The problem with my plan? I went too big. If mom was not ready to completely transform 3.5 acres, then dad certainly would not be either. Though they both appreciated and complemented my thoughtfulness and the rigor behind my design work when I reviewed it with them, my bold idea of turning the yard into a part pick your own blueberry farm and part pollinator paradise certainly scared them from asking my opinion on any further garden projects for a while.
I refused to let this setback alter my new found passion for increasing the value of my childhood home (to wildlife). I continue to share information with my parents, but in small doses rather than in huge design plans. My mom happily adds native plants we pick out together to her gardens and excitedly reports back about the bees she sees visiting them. They’ve added a small planting of mint outside the kitchen to keep the ants at bay, and when it comes to the lawn, they don’t mind leaving the dandelions and other wildflowers (“weeds”) for wildlife to snack on in the spring. And they’re not afraid of asking my advice on new plants or yard projects, though they don’t always utilize it.
Perhaps the most important result of my collegiate mission for Making the Hayes Family Eco-Conscious was helping my parents to see their yard differently, to help them see the potential that exists underneath all of the grass. I hope part two of this blog post might make you do just the same.
No mow May & reimagining our yards
No mow may is an initiative that started in the United Kingdom and has since spread to numerous other countries. To participate is relatively simple: don’t mow your lawn for the month of May. The goals of the initiative include increasing forage for pollinators and other wildlife, and creating awareness about the negative ecological impact of intensively managed lawns.
The practice of reducing mowing to promote diversity is supported by research. A meta-analysis of studies from North America and Europe found that both plant diversity and invertebrate diversity is higher in urban lawns with a lower mowing intensity. This increase in diversity was true regardless of mowing height or frequency, and the authors also found that weeds and invertebrate pests occurred in higher quantities with intensive mowing in many Northern regions.
In 2020, a study in Appleton, Wisconsin found that yards that went unmown in the month of May had more diverse flora, more abundant flora, 3x greater bee species richness (total number of species), and 5x greater bee abundance than regularly mown green spaces. Though the results of this study cannot entirely be attributed to No Mow May, it does highlight the potential for areas traditionally covered in lawn to be used as spaces for pollinator conservation.
In terms of surface area, the largest irrigated crop in the United States is lawn. Our idyllic front and backyard monocultures have been cultivated as such to meet the dominant neat and tidy aesthetic. This aesthetic has been so deeply wound into our culture that untidy yards are accused of being a sign of disrespect to one’s neighbors. The impact is such that if you choose to maintain a yard outside of this aesthetic, you have defend yourself against your neighbors with signage.
Perhaps some of this discomfort with weedy yards is due to misinformation- common wildflowers like dandelions, goldenrod, and even sneezeweed have poor reputations because they are thought to cause seasonal allergies. Insect-pollinated plants, which all three of these happen to be, actually shed very little pollen into the air. These plants have co-evolved with their insect pollinators, such that insect-collected pollen grains are actually often larger and/or heavier than those of wind-pollinated plants, and as a result, their pollen cannot easily drift into our respiratory tracts. Many tree species and grasses (which we in the Willamette Valley know all too well about) are more likely to be the culprit for seasonal pollen allergens.
Whether it’s the allergens, the HOA, city standards, your landlord, your own personal preference, or societal pressures that encourage you to keep your yard tidy, there are many small ways in which to increase the productivity and diversity in your landscape. One option is No Mow May- committing to the whole month, or even part of it, to increase the availability of flora to early emerging invertebrates. Reducing mowing frequency is another option, or mowing around weeds like hedge nettle, creeping Charlie, heal-all and others that you may find some insects foraging on. Or perhaps you can replace a small section of lawn a native plant garden, or butterfly garden, or plant some giant sunflowers for the birds.
I have compiled a few resources related to No Mow May below, in addition to some more “neighborly” ways you can begin changing your own yard’s aesthetic. If you decide to go No Mow May, we’d love to hear about your experience!
“A weed is a flower in the wrong place” – Ian Emberson
Plantlife: No Mow May
Bee City USA: No Mow May
PennState Extension: Neighborly Natural Landscaping in Residential Areas
Buzzing and Beautiful: Designing Pollinator Gardens with OSU Extension
OSU Extension: Enhancing Urban and Suburban Landscapes to Protect Pollinators
A Tribute To The Monarch Butterfly: How to Turn Your Backyard Into a Butterfly Friendly Habitat
Fine Gardening: Defining the New American Cottage Garden (my personal favorite aesthetic!)
It’s early spring and the trees have begun leafing out. Colorful flowers are springing from the ground, and the landscape is slowly coming to life with insect activity. In this post, I’ll highlight some of Oregon’s ubiquitous spring bees, what they are up to, and how to easily recognize them.
Queen bumblebees are emerging from their winter burrows under leaf litter and forest duff. They zoom by with boisterous buzzes. Queen bumblebees are sturdy and furry, and can power through wind, rain and cold better than any other type of bee. Queens are much bigger than the workers that will come once the queens find nest sites and begin laying eggs. For now, they work alone, preparing to lay their first set of worker eggs.
If you see (or hear) any queen bumblebees this spring as they scan the sparsely blooming landscape, they are most likely looking for a proper nest site, finding nectar to energize this search, or, if one has already found her nest, she may be collecting pollen to feed her developing worker offspring.
Mason bees (Osmia lignaria) are a cherished Oregon spring bee active from March to early June. Look closely in a bee hotel for a chance to observe mason bees in action!
Male mason bees emerge first from their pupal cocoons. You might see them patrolling bee hotels waiting for a female to chase down. When the females emerge a little later, they mate and then begin their work provisioning nests with pollen balls and eggs. An individual female has a short lifespan living only about 20 days, but in this time, she may provision anywhere from 2 to 7 nest holes each containing many offspring cells.1 Quite the busy bee!
Andrena is a genus of mining bees that are some of the earliest risers when it comes to spring emergence. They are a diverse group of small, furry, ground-nesting bees that are only active for a few weeks out of the year. Andrena are solitary bees, but can be seen foraging and mating in droves on early blooming fruit trees like cherry, apple and pear. Last spring, I watched hundreds swarm this cherry tree to collect nectar and mate.
Spring Bee Quick ID:
Now, let’s identify some of the bees you may see out and about on sunny spring days when the wind is low. We’ll start with the most conspicuous group – the bumblebees. Bumblebees are the biggest and the loudest bees on the landscape, covered in a thick coat of fuzz. Here’s how to recognize the 3 most common species of bumblebees you’ll see in the Willamette Valley in early spring.
Bombus vosnesenskii or the “yellow-faced bumblebee” is by far the most common bumblebee in this region. It is recognized by the yellow fuzz on its face and yellow band near the distal end of its abdomen.
Bombus melanopygus, the “black-tailed bumble bee” is another of the earliest Bombus species to emerge. You can identify this bee by the orange band in the middle section of its abdomen!
Bombus mixtus, the “fuzzy-horned bumblebee”, tends to emerge a little later than the previous two species, and has orange hair on its lowest abdominal segments.
Mason bees can be recognized by their deep iridescent blue-green color, that sparkles in the sun. Males are distinguished from females by their small size and the yellow mustaches found on the front of their faces. Females lack the yellow tufts and are larger than the males but smaller than a honey bee. They carry pollen on the underside of their abdomen which is a trait unique to their bee family, Megachilidae.
Andrena are a diverse group that are tricky to identify. They can be distinguished from other small, furry bees by the presence of velvety hairs between their eyes and the middle of their face called “facial fovea”.2
Pollen on Andrena bee. Photo by © vespidmacro, some rights reserved (CC-BY-NC)
They also carry pollen on their hind legs and on hairs between their abdomen and thorax, which distinguish them from bees in the Megachilidae family.
We hope this little guide will help you experience the native bees in your landscape this spring that make the pollen go round.
Thank you for joining us on this exploration of Oregon’s spring bees and what they are currently doing! We will release two more blog posts in this series, one for each of the four seasons. Blogs will be posted during their prospective seasons, so be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss the next in the series!
What… is it already time to think about spring cleaning?! It might still be winter, but spring will be here faster than we know it. Some quick cleaning is a great way to take care of a garden that we enjoy during the year!
If you’re wondering where to start, this blog post could be a way to jumpstart your cleaning. Here’s 5 tips on things to clean in the garden.
- Bird feeders.
It’s a great feeling to see all types of birds using and enjoying your bird feeder. While they’re great, bird feeders can actually pose a major threat to bird health: excrement that is on the feeder perch can pass from bird to bird, spreading Salmonella and other diseases. Even if you don’t see dead birds around your bird feeder, birds that use your feeder could still be passing disease elsewhere, after they use it. Luckily, it’s a simple fix! How to clean a bird feeder: It’s best to clean your bird feeder regularly, say in between fills. Ideally, take it inside and wash it with soap and water. Then, soak it in a bleach solution (9:1 water to bleach) for 10 minutes. Rinse again to rid the feeder of any bleach solution. Make sure to wash your hands after touching the feeder! For more information, check out this link.
- Bird baths.
Bird baths: Algae isn’t fun to look at, but did you know it’s also dangerous for birds? Luckily, there’s simple fixes to keep bird baths clean and fresh for visitors! The easiest way to help keep your bird bath clean is to wash it out regularly (sometimes even every day, especially in the summer).
There are two other mixing solution options for doing a deep clean of your bird bath: vinegar or hydrogen peroxide. Each mixture is nine parts water and one part vinegar or hydrogen peroxide. Use a scrub brush to fully clean the bath and then ensure no cleaning mixture remains. Refill with water, and you’re good to go!
For more information, check out this link.
- Gardening tools.
Tools help us take great care of the garden… let’s show the same level of care to our gardening tools! Cleaning gardening tools helps to extend their lifespan and can also help prevent the spread of disease.
How to clean gardening tools: Different options exist to clean gardening tools. For those tools that have metal, you can fill a 5 gallon bucket with sand and about a quart of car motor oil. After you’re done using the tools for the day, dip them in the sand and oil mixture. This mix helps to both clean the blade and coat it in a thin layer of oil. If you want to do a deep clean, you can wipe off any tools with a damp rag and some alcohol. If there’s sap or other buildup on your tools, try using sandpaper to get rid of it. Sandpaper is also a great way to refresh the wooden handle on tools (if you want to add a layer of oil after sanding wood, try mineral oil as a finish)!
For more information, check out this link.
- Debris from diseased plants. Did you find black spot on any roses last year? How about other diseases on plants in the garden? Remove those diseased leaves or other debris from infected plants to prevent the spread of disease.
- Stepping stones/moss slipping hazard. Moss is great! But if you have too much of it on your walkways, it can be a slipping hazard. Use your best judgment – if you’re worried about it being a potential hazard, it’s rather easy to select where you want to remove it on pathways/pavers. Mix a solution of bleach with water (up to 15% bleach) and use a scrub brush to agitate and remove the areas of concern.