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.
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
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
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.
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: 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!
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)!
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.
Welcome to the Garden Ecology Lab’s “What are the bees doing” mini-series! This series will extend through the four seasons to shed some light on where bees are in their life cycle and what they may be doing during each of the four seasons. We begin with winter, and an overview of the overwintering and nesting strategies of common groups of bees in the Pacific Northwest.
As the seasons change, where do all the bees go? Different groups of bees utilize unique strategies to survive the cold of winter. In many cases, bees require cold temperatures to develop properly, and as spring rolls around, they rely on thermal cues to determine when to start their next phase of life.
We can divide bees into four broad categories based on their strategy to nest and survive the winter. There are the Ground Nesters – who find or dig in the ground to nest and lay eggs, Cavity Nesters – who nest in hollow reeds, canes, or in people’s backyard “bee hotels”, Bumblebees – whose new-born queens burrow into leaf litter, waiting to start a colony in spring…. and then there is the oddball: the European Honey Bees, who are not native to North America, but were brought here along with European colonizers and are now key players in modern agriculture. They do things pretty differently than our native bees, so we’ll start our discussion with them.
The European Honey Bee
European honey bees (Apis mellifera) survive the winter huddling in their hive! They are an example of a social insect and many consider a honey bee hive a superorganism. Fueled by their honey stores, the colony huddles together in a mass to thermoregulate at temperatures between 33 – 36°C (91.4 – 96.8°F).1 I love these words from the American Bee Journal:
"The honey bee is a cold blooded insect; but the honey bee colony is a warm blooded creature."1
We will see that honey bees are the only bee in our landscape to overwinter socially. The rest go it alone.
Bumblebees are social bees too, living in natural cavities most often in the ground, but in winter, the members of the colony die off except for the new-born queens. These queens will fly out of the hive on her maiden voyage to mate with a male bumblebee before finding a place to settle and overwinter alone.
Queens find a safe environment often a few inches deep under leaf litter or light soil. As temperatures decrease in Fall and early Winter, the queens do not thermoregulate. Instead, they enter diapause, which is a state of arrested development. An overwintering queen appears frozen in the soil until warmer temperatures wake her again. In the late Winter or Spring she will begin looking for a site to start her own colony.
Cavity Nesting Bees
About 30% of native bees are cavity nesters who build their nests inside cavities in wood or reeds.2 These bees avoid overwintering as adults, and instead, they lay their eggs in cavities and die before the winter temperatures come.
Female cavity nesting bees forage for pollen and nectar and nesting materials in the spring or summer and make balls of pollen and nectar (often called “bee bread”) as food for their offspring!
They lay eggs on the pollen balls, and then proceed to seal off compartments, one for each of the eggs, until the cavity nest is full. These eggs will hatch into larvae that consume the bee bread as winter approaches.
Here is a video of a small carpenter bee larva eating its bee bread, magnified under a microscope!
Once the larvae finish off their food store, they may spin themselves a cocoon in which they further develop into pupae. Cavity nesters spend the winter developing from pupae to young adults in their cocoons. These developing bees go into a state called torpor to survive the winter, where the bee is inactive and its body temperature drops, but it still goes through critical physiological processes and development.
These bees must experience low Winter temperatures natural to their region to undergo proper development. Mason bees, for example, have lower survival and vital rates when exposed to warm nest temperatures that simulate predicted climate change temperatures for their region.3
Mason bees (genus: Osmia) are cavity nesters that have become well known in garden and agriculture circles in recent years, but many other groups of bees fall into this category too including leafcutter bees (family: Megachilidae), small carpenter bees (genus: Ceratina), large carpenter bees (Genus: Xylocopa),and masked bees (family: Colletidae).
A friend of the lab, Olivia Honigman, conducted a brief research project on small carpenter bees in Vermont. Here are some photos from her study that showcase a tiny cavity nesting bee, from the genus Ceratina, nesting in raspberry canes.
Ground Nesting Bees
Last but certainly not least are the ground-nesting bees which make up about 70% of native bee species! Bees from the genera Andrena, Lasioglossum, and Halictus fall into this category.4 Ground-nesters have unassuming nests that are hard to spot, but under the soil, they are putting down bee loaves and laying eggs in a compartmentalized fashion, just like cavity-nesters!
Similarly, adult ground-nesters die after they finish provisioning their nests for their offspring. In the winter, the young bees of the new generation are developing from pupae into adults in their underground nests.
Left: exposed soil revealing tiny holes- could these be bee nests? Top right: A ground-nesting bee pokes its head out of its home. Bottom right: The entrance to a ground-nesting bee’s home.Photos by Gail Langellotto.
Although their nests are modest, some of Oregon’s showstopper bees fall in the ground-nesting category, such as the metallic green sweat bees (Agapostemon).
Long-horned bees from the genera Melisoddes and Eucera also flaunt unique forms with noticeably fluffy, feathery hair on their legs they use for collecting massive volumes of pollen!
To invite these bees to your garden, leave patches of earth free from wood mulch and instead mulch with compost! To avoid disturbing ground nests, avoid tilling when possible.4
Something remarkable about nesting in the ground is that, depending on nesting depth, ground nesters are more buffered from extreme temperatures than honey bees and cavity nesters whose homes may be in the direct sun. This may be a critical difference when it comes to surviving climate change.
Changing Climatic Norms…
With climate change upon us, native bees have experienced warmer than usual winter temperatures. These conditions may be suboptimal for their development and survival and encourage bees to emerge earlier in the season. Cavity and ground nesting bees require low temperatures with which they have evolved to reach physiological benchmarks for their development, and scientists worry that there will be phenological mismatches between plants and their pollinators in which bees emerge at different times than when their optimal food sources are in bloom as plants and insects will experience novel timing of thermal queues under climate change predictions.5
As bees and other pollinators face a multitude of challenges, we should support our local bees and appreciate them while we can!
Thank you for joining us on this exploration of what bees are doing during the winter! We will release three 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!
The growing season is quickly approaching, so I reached out to the members of the Garden Ecology Lab to ask them to share three plants they’re looking forward to growing this year.
I love zinnias so much. This year I want to branch out and grow some less usual ones. Like those in the Queen Lime series and Zowie™! Yellow Flame.
This isn’t a plant as much as a technique: I really want to maximize vertical space, and grow tomatoes and squash vertically. I’m going the route of C-Bite stake clips, self described as “tinker toys for the garden.” I can attach and snap to common garden stakes and build my own structures. Up, up and away!
After watching all of the success in the Grow This! challenge last year with potatoes in grow bags, I’m inspired to grow potatoes for the first time. Really excited about this. And remember: the time to plant potatoes is St. Patrick’s Day.
The three veggies I am most looking forward to growing this season are tomatoes, peppers, and lettuce. Last season we grew over ten varieties of hot peppers and tomatoes in our hüglekultur beds. These types of beds are great for warm season plants that need just the right soil temperature. I am also looking forward to growing lettuce again next season because I eat so much salad! I got these amazing varieties of lettuce from Wild Garden seeds in Corvallis that I am super excited to try next year. To save space, I like to grow lettuce in a tower. I used chicken wire fencing, plant debris, and potting soil to create the foundation. I then used a stick to poke holes and plant the seeds. It grew into a beautiful ball of lettuce and I am so excited to try it again!
In addition to veggies, my goal for my outdoor space has always been to maximize the amount of flowers and wild space, while also reducing the amount of turf grass. During the winter, our garden looks a little unsightly with all the tarps and cardboard we use to smother the grass and weeds. In the spring, we remove the tarps and broadcast seeds all over the yard. My goal is to provide pollinators with year round foraging and improve the biodiversity on our property. One of our big projects last year was making a sunflower room in the yard. We planted American Giant sunflowers in a circle that eventually became a beautiful area for our community to hang out, surrounded by flowers and pollinators.
Elliot & I don’t have a yard to garden in so we’ve been experimenting with container gardening and a tiered planter box. The only place we can put them is on the north-facing side of our townhouse, which receives direct sunlight for a maximum two hours during the height of summer, so you can imagine our options are limited!
This year I am excited to stop experimenting and just grow some plants that have been successful: strawberries, basil, nasturtium. Although these are fairly basic selections, they have proven to produce in abundance in our tiny space! ( Abundant compared to squash and tomatoes that grow, take up a ton of space, and then get powdery mildew and die before a harvest is even possible).
Marigolds. I’m inspired to make a flower one of my goals this years as well. The timing for some summer and especially fall crops for me has been hard as I usually move in the middle of summer. One way or another, I expect to have a place to grow something over this period, and some of it will hopefully be beds of Marigolds.
Napa cabbage, cuz I need to make kimchi again and stop buying it.
Sweet potatoes, cuz I think I can do it again this year. And hey, when you strike it big, you gotta try again.
I don’t have a garden to grow in here in Corvallis, but I do have an apartment… with a north-facing balcony. While the conditions aren’t ideal, I do plan to grow a few things in small containers this year.
1) Begonias! I grew them last year, and since they thrive in the shade, I had great success. They provided such a nice pop of color to the balcony and I loved sitting out there in the morning. Plus, you can get so many different colors that even if I have multiple pots they can all bring their own fun.
2) Chard. I haven’t tried this one before… but even if the crop I grow isn’t quite enough to make a meal out of, I love chard because it’s beautiful to look at. Plus, it’s one of the few crops that might make a go of it in the shade.
3) Fiddle leaf. While I can’t eat this one either, I’ve been growing a fiddle leaf since I moved into my apartment. It lives inside with me during the winter and goes back outside during the summer. It’s easy to take care of, grows relatively quickly, and I love the way the big leaves can add texture and some height to a small gardening space.
Last June, I moved into a rental house that has a small, mostly-shaded garden bed in the backyard. I’ve helped out my parents around the garden throughout my childhood, but this is the first garden I can call my own! Last summer I worked on bringing some life into the soil (which was incredibly compacted and muted grayish-brown in color) by growing a cover crop of buckwheat that flowered and brought some bees and syrphid flies to the yard. I then tilled in the “green manure” which attracted worms, millipedes and molds into the soil! Hopefully this will pay off in the Spring, as I’ve seeded a mixture of native and nonnative wildflowers from pollinator seed mixes.
As an undergraduate student studying horticulture I am both thrifty and surrounded by opportunities to acquire plants for free! I am enrolled in a plant propagation course this Winter and will have many seedlings coming my way to plant in the Spring, and through my involvement at the Oak Creek Center for Urban Horticulture, I generally grow whatever comes my way from the rejects, cuttings and leftovers from the greenhouses there.
If the flower seeds don’t pan out, I hope to grow some of my favorite herbs: Rosemary, Thai Basil and Cilantro!
1. Prospera basil- this is a disease resistant Italian type basil that simply makes life easier in the pacific northwest! The downy mildew resistance actually comes from a thai basil parent, though I can’t detect that in the flavor profile much. Planting this, I can rest assured my basil crop won’t be destroyed by wet weather late spring.
2. Japanese trifele black tomato- My favorite heirloom tomato. This tomato is indeterminate, and has a complex flavor profile that usually comes with black tomato varieties, as well as a silky-smooth texture. It is wonderful for fresh eating and canning alike! I like to train my indeterminate tomatoes to a simple trellis constructed of fence posts, electrical conduit pipe, and twine.
3. Heliotropes- I always purchase a few heliotropes for my patio. The smell is intoxicating and I love their old fashioned charm. This is the first year I am planning on starting them from seed.
Most of my planning for this year has more to do with long-term restructuring than individual plants, but I do have a new bed of Tristar day neutral strawberries I was able to put in last fall. I’m hoping for a much extended strawberry season by adding those to the June bearers. I am encouraging more natives to spread and self-sow along the front of my property, where I put in a dry streambed a couple of years ago to catch a neighboring spring before it goes down the street. This has worked very well to provide groundwater into the summer.
I’ll be continuing the attempt to eradicate a bed of one native, Asclepias speciosa, which got away from me even though I knew it would be a spreader and was watching it. (Anyone want any? NOT recommended for small spaces). I’ve been collecting Carex, both native and non, to evaluate which are best for gardens here (durable, non-running, attractive year-round). In my vegetable garden, I will NOT be growing potatoes this year. Last year’s large crop was riddled with wireworm, so I want to give the beds a rest. I may just grow summer cover crops, and grains that can serve that purpose, except for tomatoes, which I always grow a few of.
I’m excited to grow moringa again. Moringa is a superfood, very nutrient dense, and I think the foliage is quite aesthetically pleasing. Moringa prefer warmer weather, so the plants will grow all summer and then go dormant for the fall/winter. We planted the moringa in containers so we can move them around seasonally without disturbing the roots. We have a few dormant moringa plants hanging out in the greenhouses at Oak Creek Center for Urban Horticulture that are waiting for the return of sunny weather.
Everyone at the ILC Garden is excited to grow Lagos Spinach (Celosia argentea) again. Lagos Spinach (also called Nigerian Spinach, or Efo Shoko) is in the Amaranth family and has beautiful reddish-purple leaves with a bitter taste that really adds to the flavor profile of salads, soups & stir-fries.
Lagos spinach is not quite as bitter as some of the other amaranth leaves I’ve tasted before. As you might deduce from the name, the plant is indigenous to West Africa, but they seemed to be well adapted to the soils and climate of the Willamette Valley summer. Very heat and drought tolerant!!! The plant flowers later in the season, which is an added bonus for pollinators. The lagos spinach was such a lovely addition to the garden last summer… I’ve included a picture, the Lagos spinach is nestled between the collards and sunflowers in the photo.
I also plan to try growing more watermelon this year. We only planted two watermelon plants at the ILC Garden last year, and they did not fair well. We transplanted them a bit late, so I don’t think they had enough time to reach maturity. This year I’m dedicating about 150 sqft under the high tunnel for growing watermelon!
I don’t have any plans for planting this spring, as there is very little outdoor space at my house in Corvallis, and the indoor space is currently dominated by my twin brother’s many, many succulents, and his newly indoor orange tree. But at my family’s farm, my mom has endeavored these past few pandemic years to bring back her pre-children garden that she loved to work in.
This spring she is planning on planting some different types of tomato plants, as we are a tomato loving family. She also loves to plant sunflowers every year, and we have a measuring contest on which one gets the tallest. I think this year she is going to try her hand at growing different types of peppers and squash. I know she is very excited, and loves to try to to grow many different things, so if anyone has any suggestions, she would love to hear them.
In terms of growing food for the animals, the goats love to eat any (safe) leftovers, or any overripe harvests. Anything they don’t like, the pigs are more than happy to clean up! So we don’t grow anything specific, but some favorites are sunflower seeds for the goats, and potatoes for the pigs. Included here is our goat Nutmeg and her babies from last summer, waiting for some treats!
We don’t have a vegetable garden going yet, but last year we had an amazing cover crop mix for the paddocks that were “renovated” by our pigs. The mix included amaranth, field peas, squash, sunflowers, chia, sesame, millet, sorghum, flax, a variety of cereal grains, and other things that I couldn’t identify. It was certainly the most unusual pasture forage that I’ve seen, but our cows and sheep loved it!
Let us know what you’re looking forward to growing this yearby commenting below!
The Garden Ecology Lab’s Pollinator Plant PR Campaign Presents….. Douglas Aster!
The Garden Ecology Lab is releasing a series of plant profiles of the top 10 Oregon native plants for pollinators, based on Aaron Anderson’s 2017-2019 field trials of 23 Oregon native plants. We will feature one plant per week for 10 weeks, this is week 10, which marks the end of our 10-week series! Profiles will include photos, planting information, and will highlight common pollinators of each plant.
Scientific Name: Symphyotrichum subspicatum
Life Cycle: Perennial
Growth Habit: Vigorous spreader, spreads through underground rhizomes
Bloom Duration: July-November
Hardiness Zone: 6-9
Special Traits: Drought tolerant, deer resistant
When to plant: Starts can be planted in the spring or early fall.
Douglas aster provides both nectar and pollen to its insect visitors.
Aaron’s research found three species of long-horned bees (Melissodes robustior, M. lupinus, and M. microstictus) and three species of bees from the family Halictidae (Halictus ligatus, Agapostemon texanus angelicus and A. virescens) to be associated with Douglas aster.
Other common visitors to Douglas aster include syrphid flies and northern checkerspot butterflies! Douglas aster may also be a larval host to 8 different month species1.
Douglas aster is native to Western North American with a range extending from Alaska to California. It has an impressive ability to spread and a high volume of flowers that buzz with pollinator activity throughout its long bloom season. Hosting a high abundance and diversity of bee visitors, Douglas aster is a pollinator plant superstar. It is particularly valuable as a late-season pollinator plant, able to provide both nectar and pollen to its visitors when these resources may otherwise be scarce in the landscape.
People often have strong reactions towards Douglas Aster – they either love it, or find it to be “weedy” in appearance. We hope that this highlight may help some people change their opinions about it! We in the Garden Ecology Lab love Douglas Aster for its abundant blooms in varying shades of purple and for its great capacity for supporting wildlife. In the late summer, we love watching the diversity of pollinators bouncing from one flower to the next! Some common visitors to Douglas Aster that we see at Oak Creek Center for Urban Horticulture include bumblebees, green bees, long-horned bees, small sweat bees, and butterflies, including the woodland skipper (pictured below) and the occasional grey hairstreak (Strymon melinus).
Infographics developed by LeAnn Locher, Aaron Anderson, and Gail Langellotto.
Did you know?
By mid to late summer, Douglas aster is quite the frenzied pollinator feeding ground, making the Oak Creek team’s sampling effort always a bit of a challenge. These photos are from 2 years after these plants were established, so you can see just how full these young plants can get when grown in favorable conditions!
At Oak Creek, we started all of our Douglas Aster plots with 4x 4″ pots, planted in the spring of 2020. As you can see in the photos below, they easily filled up their 1×1 meter beds! If you’re worried about Douglas Aster taking over your garden, consider starting with a single plant and observe it over the season to see how it reacts to your garden environment. Aggressive spreaders can be used to fill spaces such as borders with forest edges or along fences where low maintenance plants are key. If you want to contain your asters, consider planting some in a large pot or in an area where you can easily control the spread of their underground rhizomes. The purple flowers contrast beautifully with other late season natives, such as goldenrod and Madia.
Photos from the field
Thanks for tuning in to the last posting of our Pollinator Plant PR Campaign! We hope you try growing some of these fantastic pollinators plants.
The Garden Ecology Lab’s Pollinator Plant PR Campaign Presents….. California Poppy!
The Garden Ecology Lab is releasing a series of plant profiles of the top 10 Oregon native plants for pollinators, based on Aaron Anderson’s 2017-2019 field trials of 23 Oregon native plants. We will feature one plant per week for 10 weeks, this is week 9! Profiles will include photos, planting information, and will highlight common pollinators of each plant.
Scientific Name: Eschscholzia californica
Life Cycle: Annual/Perennial
Growth Habit: Clumping, sprawling
Bloom Duration: Early Spring to Late Summer depending on seeding date.
Hardiness Zone: 7-10
Special Traits: Drought-tolerant, deer and rabbit resistant.
When to plant: Seed in Fall for a Spring bloom, or seed in Spring for a mid-summer bloom.
California poppy only provides pollen to its insect visitors, but provides it in an abundance!
Aaron’s study found California poppy to be associated with 4 species of sweat bees: Halictus farinosus, H. tripartitus, Lasioglossum dialictus sp. 5, L. olympiae, and a bumblebee: Bombus vosnesenskii.
Other common visitors to California poppy include butterflies, specifically, acmon blue and mormon metalmark.
California poppy’s range extends from Washington to northwest Baja California and east towards Arizona and southwest New Mexico. A popular flower for roadside plantings, California poppy survives well in average to poor soil that is well-draining. It survives mild-winters as an herbaceous perennial and reseeds itself readily. California poppy is an all-around easy pollinator plant to grow, and growing it pays off, as it attracts an incredible diversity and abundance of bees with its remarkable volumes of pollen.
Infographics developed by LeAnn Locher, Aaron Anderson, and Gail Langellotto.
Did you know?
California poppy’s petals are responsive to light! In the absence of light (at night and on cloudy days) petals spiral around each other and tighten to a close. In the presence of light, cells in the petals expand in response to the plant growth hormone auxin. This mechanism opens the petals allowing pollinators to access the flower’s pollen — although in the field we watch impatient bumblebees force their way into closed California poppy flowers to get to the pollen anyways.
Photos from the field
Tune in next week for the next edition of our Pollinator Plant PR Campaign.
The Garden Ecology Lab is releasing a series of plant profiles of the top 10 Oregon native plants for pollinators, based on Aaron Anderson’s 2017-2019 field trials of 23 Oregon native plants. We will feature one plant per week for 10 weeks, this is week 8! Profiles will include photos, planting information, and will highlight common pollinators of each plant.
Scientific Name: Gilia capitata
Life Cycle: Annual
Growth Habit: Erect, clusters
Bloom Duration: May – June
Hardiness Zone: 7-10
Light requirements: full sun
Special Traits: Drought tolerant, tolerant to various soil types.
When to plant: Seeds can be sewn directly in the fall, or can be stratified indoors over the winter before planting out in the spring.
Globe Gilia provides both nectar and pollen to its insect visitors.
Gilia was found to be associated with the yellow-faced bumble bee, Bombus vosnesenskii in Aaron’s research.
Globe Gilia is also a larval host for at least one moth species, Adela singulella, but possibly four others as well.
In addition to insect visitors, Gilia is can be an occasional nectar source for hummingbirds1, which love its tubular flowers!
Globe Gilia‘s Native Range in Oregon
There are three subspecies of Gilia capitata in Oregon: Bluefield Gilia (ssp. capitata), Dune Gilia (ssp. chamissonis), and Pacific Gilia (ssp. pacifica). Dune Gilia and Pacific Gilia are considered to be rare plants in California (rare, threated, or endangered, rank 1B).
Distribution maps acquired from Oregon Flora with imagery from Google. Copyright 2022.
Globe Gilia as a pollinator plant
Globe Gilia may have only been associated with a single bee species in Aaron’s native plant research, but it is truly a powerhouse of an annual plant: it supports a highly diverse and abundant community of native bees! Gilia’s globe of flower heads provide pollinators with plenty of foraging spots to choose from, and the dense mass also allows easy access for both small and large pollinators, by acting as a nice landing pad. From their comfortable perch, butterflies and larger-bodied bees can dip their proboscis (tongue) into the nectar-rich blossoms. Smaller bees may need to crawl in to the individual flowers to access the nectaries.
Gilia is a great annual plant option to include in pollinator mixes and in meadows. It’s an easy to care for plant, requiring minimal water during the growing season. It grows up to three feet in height with lovely lavender – dark purple – blue flower heads, lacy foliage, and surprising blue pollen! The flowers contrast wonderfully with many other mid-summer blooms, such as poppies, Oregon sunshine, asters, and Clarkia.
Infographics developed by LeAnn Locher, Aaron Anderson, and Gail Langellotto.
Abundance Calculations. Bee abundance was calculated using estimated marginal means of bee visitation to each of our study plants from 5-minute observations conducted from Aaron’s 2017-2019 field seasons. Estimated marginal means (EM Means) were assigned to categorical values and averaged across years to yield the following categories: 0% = Very Low =EM mean below 0.49; 25% = Low = EM mean of 0.50 to 0.99; 50% = Moderate = EM mean of 1 to 1.49; 75% = High = EM mean of 1.50 to 1.99; and 100% = Very high = EM mean above 2.0.
Diversity Calculations. Bee diversity was based on the total sum of species collected on each of our study plants from 2017 to 2019. A Chao 2 Estimator was used to estimate total expected species richness for each plant; Chao 2 estimates were then used to create categorical values, as follows: 0% = Very Low = 9.99 or lower; 25% = Low = 10 to 14.99; 50% = Moderate = 15 to 19.99; 75% = High = 20 to 24.99; 100% = Very high = 25 or higher.
Did you know?
When you think about pollen, one color tends to come to mind: yellow. Perhaps you conjure up an image of a bumblebee in a field of clover, weighed down by some giant orange-toned pollen baskets as well. Many of us might stop there, and conclude that pollen must be either yellow or orange, as those are the predominant pollen colors we see in the plant world. The absolutely exciting news is that, like flower colors, pollen also comes in a rainbow of colors. Globe Gilia, for example, has pollen that comes in shades of blue!
A spotlight on pollen colors
As some of you may remember from my (Jen’s) 2021 field update, last summer, a few of us from the Garden Ecology lab had the wonderful opportunity to visit Jasna Guy and Lincoln Best’s exhibit ‘In Time’s Humm’ at the High Desert Museum in Bend. Part of this display was a pollen color study, showing Jasna’s recreations of pollen colors using pastels. We saw pollen in shades of yellows, oranges, red, pink, purple, white, and even green. Color can truly be found anywhere if you look closely enough! Perhaps it should be no surprise then, that even nectar may come in various colors, too… If you’re excited about pollen colors like we are, you might see if your local library has a copy of this book, and you might enjoy looking at pollen colors through the seasons, put together by the North Shropshire Beekeepers’ Association.
Now back to Globe Gilia: Photos from the field
Tune in next week for the next edition of our Pollinator Plant PR Campaign.
I’m sure many are familiar with the long treks that many pollinators make when winter begins to roll around. Monarch butterflies will travel thousands of miles to reach their final destination. Rufous hummingbirds will spend August swooping and diving in your backyards before moving Southward as September slowly drizzles it’s way into October. But not every pollinator decides to seek warmer climes as the temperature drops. Many opt to hunker down and wait out the cold weather, seeking shelter in any manner of burrow all around your gardens. This post is focused on several things that you, as caretakers of your gardens and friends of pollinators, can do to watch out for your hard working friends.
Leave the leaves
One of the most important things you can do to help overwintering pollinators is by doing nothing at all. By leaving the ground cover of leaves, sticks, and plant material you are also leaving the material that many pollinators use to make nests. Many pollinators will snuggle down into this protective layer, and be safe and sound during the colder months. By not raking up the leaves deposited by shedding trees, you are helping pollinators have a safer and more comfortable winter. If a little clean up is necessary, try not to completely remove the leaves or plant material, but instead, rake it onto beds or around shrubs so that it stays as part of the environment. Along with protecting pollinators, leaving this cover can help retain soil moisture, prevent weeds, return nutrients to the soil, and reduce waste entering landfills. So if and when possible, consider leaving the leaves.
Postpone pulling up dead stems, or moving old bark
Many pollinators will use dead stems or old bark as protection from the elements while they are overwintering. If possible, postpone pulling dead steams, or throwing out old branches, sticks or bark. Cavity dwelling pollinators will often seek shelter inside wood piles, old logs, or dead flower stalks. Several types of chrysalis’s have patterns similar to wood to blend into the environment while the pupa inside waits for spring. Butterflies that do not migrate will spend winter in varying life stages, some as eggs, some as caterpillars, some as a chrysalis, and some as adults. Therefore, it is best to leave as many forms of shelter as possible. Keep your eye on any bamboo posts in your garden, as many different types of bees will use these as bunkers during the cold. Be careful when moving or uprooting, and keep an eye out for pollinators hiding in crevices, cracks or crannies.
Leave your hummingbird feeder up
There are many different opinions on this advice. Many people will say that leaving your hummingbird feeder up during the winter will deter the hummingbirds from migrating. However, there is no easily found evidence that supports this. The Audubon Organization indicates that you can leave up your feeder for as long as you have hummingbirds, and having a feeder up as winter rolls around will not keep hummingbirds from migrating. Hummingbirds migrate due to genetics and other factors, not necessarily due to availability of food. However, not all hummingbirds migrate. Anna’s hummingbird, which can be found across the Northwest, Oregon included, is nonmigratory, and might be extra appreciative of feeders that are left up during the colder months. Adding extra sugar to keep the hummingbird food from freezing is not recommended, however, as this can dehydrate the birds. Keep the ratio of 1:4 parts sugar to water. Instead, to try and prevent freezing, you can take the feeder inside at night; hummingbirds don’t feed at night. You can also hang an incandescent bulb near the feeder, as this can generate enough heat to keep the feeder thawed.
While the three listed above are only a few steps to be taken to help overwintering pollinators, a little help can go a long way for our essential pollinator companions. They, like any of us, just want to stay warm and fed during the cold months, and I’m sure would greatly appreciate any help from you in helping them stay that way.