Becca Ohman, Gardens Director of the renowned Garvan Woodland Gardens in Hot Springs, gives her top tips for creating a sanctuary for nature’s little helper.
Provide a refuge for butterflies, bees and other pollinators
The plight of bees and endangered butterflies should not be underestimated, but by providing a healthy garden rich in biodiversity you encourage the presence of pollinators, other beneficial insects and creatures. Follow these simple steps to encourage a diversity in your home garden.
First, choose plants that give a variety of different colors and sizes to attract as wide a variety of insects as possible.
Second, create areas that offer both sun and shade; different pollinators have different preferences for habitat.
Finally, provide “host plants,” especially for butterflies. As you select the host plants, consider the whole life cycle of the butterfly and provide food for caterpillars as well as the adult butterflies. Native plants and their naturalized cousins are especially attractive to butterflies and beneficials. Examples include butterfly weed, Echinacea or coneflowers, and rudbeckia.
Every creature plays a role
There are many other beneficial creatures for our home gardens. The greater the biodiversity of your garden, the healthier and more attractive it will be to pollinators and other creatures. Beneficial insects such as ladybugs and ground beetles are natural predators of pest insects that can damage your garden. Limiting the use of chemical pesticides and herbicides maintains the natural balance of your garden and allows these beneficials to do their job. Other animals like frogs, lizards and birds are also incredibly helpful to your garden’s health. Their natural beauty and interest add to their practical role in insect control.
Planning the layout of a garden
There are many factors to consider when planning the layout of your garden. However, they can be simplified into a few basic elements:
• Orientation — the direction your garden faces, and more particular, how much sun your garden receives — plays a critical role in its success. For butterfly gardens and gardens that attract other pollinators you need a minimum of six hours of sunlight.
• A good soil mixture provides the foundation for plant health. Use a mixture that is high in organic matter, such as compost.
• Create a garden that is beautiful to you and helpful to the beneficial creatures by selecting plants that provide year-round interest, habitat and nutrition. Do this by first selecting foundation or anchor plants such as ornamental grasses and evergreen shrubs to provide the backbone of your garden. Next, select plants that provide a variety of height, color and texture (size of the leaf and size of the blooms.) Place taller plants to the back and shorter plants at the front. As you become more familiar with your garden design, play with these heights to provide movement and character.
• Home gardens are easily personalized to express your interests, favorite colors or plants. Have fun, and remember as your garden matures that moving plants around or adding plants to your collection adds to your enjoyment.
Garden to-do list
• Find natural alternatives for chemical herbicides and pesticides.
• Select non-invasive varieties of plants.
• Regularly take care of housekeeping items such as cleaning birdbaths and adding decals to your windows to keep birds from colliding with them.
• Build bat houses to add another layer of biodiversity to your home and to reduce pest insects like mosquitoes.