Pollinators & Gardens

IMG_0102      Contributing author is Dr. Marnie Rout

Questions submitted by Harmony Students are answered here:
How do we get rid of weeds?

 There are several things you can do to reduce the ‘weeds’ in your gardens. First, it is important to identify the plants that you are targeting as weeds – what is a weed to one person can be a wildflower to another. The safest methods to remove unwanted vegetation in your future pollinator habitat are non-chemical treatments. These include hand pulling, covering the vegetation with cardboard and mulch, or solarizing with dark plastic sheeting. By learning to identify the plants, you can spot weedy or invasive species before they set seeds into your restored pollinator habitat.

Students below plan what is going into their garden.

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How do we remove the roots of the greenbrier vine?

Greenbrier, Smilax bona-nox, is native to the area. It plays a vital role in establishing vegetation in many areas where barren soils exist, and more than a dozen bird species use the berries as forage. However, it can be problematic for gardens – and those tending the garden. If you want to keep a well-established greenbrier root from regenerating new growth, you will have to exert some energy to remove the root physically – dig it up. This can be rather destructive, so be prepared to fill the void created when removing larger root/stumps. Another option is to cut the foliage back, then paint the exposed stump with herbicide (glyphosphate), but extreme caution needs to be used with this approach so you do not contaminate the surrounding soils or create pesticide drift (where it blows onto nearby plants).

What is the best food for our bluebirds to eat?

In Texas, the Eastern Bluebird, Sialia sialis, is an insectivorous (eats insects) bird often found in small groups, fields or open woods, perched on wires or fences. From the perch, they can be spotted hunting insects. As cavity nesters, they easily adopt human-made nest boxes, given the correct size hole for entry (1.5 inch diameter). By providing a nesting box and supplementing their diets with dried meal worms, you can easily entice them to take up residence in your garden.

How often should we water our seeds?

The type of seeds you are trying to germinate are important to determine the watering needs. Whether starting seeds indoors or sowing directly into soils outside, you will need to closely monitor your soil moisture to prevent your seeds from drying out, and to make sure they don’t get flooded. A good habit for indoor germination is to check seedlings daily, watering weekly is expected, as a general rule. Outdoors, you will need to pay attention to many factors, including rainfall and temperature, so installing a rain gauge nearby your garden can assist. Be prepared to supplement water weekly to seeds sown in winter and early spring.

What can we do to attract night birds?

The short answer is to this is to provide nesting boxes for the birds you are trying to attract. There are two main groups of birds in North America that are active during night -owls and night jars. Birds in the night jar group are not as easy to attract, given their exclusive night foraging of insects and near-ground roosting requirements – that means human activity makes it unlikely to find them. Owls hunt almost exclusively at night, and there are 4 species common to the East Texas region. Smaller owl species, like the Eastern Screech Owl (Otus asio), are insectivorous, but they can also consume small rodents. Eastern Screech Owls have been known to take up residence in nest boxes designed for wood ducks. This can be accomplished if you mount a nest box 10-15 feet above the ground in a mature tree. Squirrels are also likely to take up residence in this situation, so be sure to monitor and clean the box annually.

How do we attract anoles?

Anolis, or anoles are a genus of lizard with more that 300 species known. The Green Anole, (Anolis carolinensis), is a tree dwelling lizard native to the Southeastern USA, and can change body color to yellow, brown, gray, or any mixture of these colors. This is known as crypto camouflage, and allows an organism to blend into the environment so they are less likely to become prey. To attract these native lizards, provide places like fencing, walls or branches where the sun shines in your garden, so they can sun bathe. You can make sure they have ample habitat to hunt their prey – spiders and insects – by keeping your garden free of chemical pesticides and herbicides and allowing them ample shrubbery and brush to use as cover so they can hunt.

Can I bring seed from the garden on my land and plant it into the pollinator garden? Collecting native seeds is a great idea! It is always wise to know what plant you are collecting seeds from before you sow them into your pollinator habitat. Wild seed collection from native areas and cultivated gardens can be a fun way to learn about plants.

Can I bring reptiles from my yard at home to live in the school habitat?

While this might seem like an easy way to jump start your pollinator habitat, it is not a good idea to relocate most organisms from the location where you have found them. With higher organisms, like insects and animals, it is important to keep in mind that they have chosen the location where you have found them, so relocating them will likely disrupt their families, their homes, and their means for sustaining themselves. A better approach is to build the habitat to attract these organisms in your school habitat, to ensure that you are not disrupting the natural processes that are happening in your own back yard. If you build it for them, they will come.

pollinator habitat 2x  Dr. Rout has supplied this Power Point on Pollinators.