Creating a yard that attracts pollinators like bees and butterflies doesn't always require a lot of extra work, says a pollinator-friendly group in Andover. Often, it actually means doing less. For example, pollinators are pretty happy when homeowners let mowing go, when they let dandelions go to seed and let the clover bloom.
"They are the first food for some of our pollinators," said Kim Billings, of Oak Grove, a member of the Andover Pollinator Awareness Project. "We need bumblebees to pollinate our tomatoes, so if you want tomatoes, then [it] would behoove you to leave some of the dandelions in the spring so they have something to eat."
The group, made up of master gardeners and concerned citizens, started organizing this spring and since then has been distributing information at local farmers markets, teaching classes on pollinator-friendly plants and hosting discussions. This Saturday, they'll hold their first tour of pollinator-friendly gardens.
Billings, a hobby beekeeper and master gardener, likes to impress upon people the role that pollinators play in food production. "What would apple pie be without the apples or your morning without its coffee?" she said.
When teaching classes, she likes to encourage gardeners to let some things be.
"A 'pristine garden' is really a misnomer," she said. "The garden that's healthy is the one that's got a really healthy ecosystem. It's got healthy soil. If you see some chewings on some of your hosta leaves, it's OK. Tolerate that. That's actually the sign of a healthy ecosystem going on in your yard and garden. Sometimes, people need to understand that when you see a bug on your vegetable plants that the first line of defense isn't to spray it and kill it.
"A lot of critters, a lot of things are struggling because we have just scoured everything so clean," said Cheryl Seeman, of Andover.
"Everybody wants to get rid of the bugs," said Jeorgette Knoll, of Andover, whose yard will be featured on the tour. "They want to spray them. They don't understand their value."
Pesticides, project members warn, can severely affect pollinators as well as beneficial predator bugs that keep garden pests in check.
Knoll lives in the woods and has a shade garden with plantings of bee balm and turtlehead flowers. Next to plants like zigzag goldenrod, obedient plants and pulmonaria, she has a low-mow lawn of clover, creeping charlie, and various fescues.
Seeman's yard is also a stop on the tour. Over the years, she has nurtured patches of pollinator-friendly plants like joe pye weed and anise hyssop. "It's easier gardening," she said, "a lot easier."
"I think there's just a rising interest among the public," said Andover Mayor Julie Trude, who just signed a proclamation to make the community a "bee-safe" city, one of the first communities in Minnesota to do so.
During the recession, said Trude, the city tried to look for areas that didn't need to be mowed in city parks to save money, something that ended up being good for pollinators. Most Andover city parks that are bigger than an acre now have areas with natural grasses and flowers that aren't mowed, she said.
Disappearing habitat is one of the things experts point to as a cause for pollinator decline, in addition to pesticide use and disease. The tour will suggest ways to build up habitat, said organizers.
Seeman said that for her that means incorporating native plants by planting them or letting them appear naturally. "Birds can give you a lot of gifts flying over," she said.
"If a section's growing," she said, "I just kind of let that borderline keep moving outward because I want that big, huge swath." Those large sections of habitat make it less work for pollinators to flit from flower to flower.
Since she's created a pollinator-friendly yard, more of her neighbors have done the same. "So now, we've created a corridor," she said.
"Corridors are really important," said Jim Myers, referring to areas of wildlife habitat in proximity. "That's becoming more and more obvious."
During the tour, Myers, who raises bees in his Andover backyard, is showing off a lot edged with woods and that extends out into a pond area. In addition to the bees, chickens wander the grounds, hiding among the native plants.
Myers has created a list of top 10 pollinator-friendly suggestions, such as planting flowers that bloom at different times of year, in cycles, to provide continuous pollen and nectar sources or leaving patches of bare ground moistened, as that's how bees, butterflies, moths and other pollinators drink.
During the tour, they will sell copies of the book "Pollinators of Native Plants," by Heather Holm.
During the offseason, volunteers hope to hold classes, and, next year, said organizers, they plan to make June "pollinator month," with a kickoff party, speakers and educational programs.
Liz Rolfsmeier is a Twin Cities freelance writer.