After volunteering at the Mequon Nature Preserve for a few years, I became very interested in the plight of Wisconsin wildlife and pollinators. In response, I began to transform my 1.4 acre yard from what was primarily lawn with about 20 large trees into something very different. Year by year, I added native shrubs, wildflowers, and fruit trees, as well as expanded my vegetable garden to include native flowers. I was guided by my friends at the Mequon Nature Preserve as well as the staff of Johnson's Nursery. In addition, I received some assistance and encouragement from members of Wild Ones.
Small area by small area, I transformed the yard to include: wildflower borders and a meadow, beds of native shrubs, apple, cherry, and pear trees, and native flowers throughout my organic vegetable garden. The results have been the beautification of the yard as well as a haven for butterflies - especially Monarchs, bees, birds, and wildlife. Visitors to our yard have included ducks, hawks, wild turkeys, and many songbirds, as well as chipmunks, coyotes, deer, raccoons, rabbits, squirrels, weasels, and woodchucks. During the months of May through October we derive a great deal of pleasure enjoy our homegrown park.
Let's Get Started
Creating your own homegrown park by planting one or more pollinator beds can be accomplished in a few steps.
First, decide how large you want your park to be and how many pollinator beds you wish to include. Your park can consist of one or more of the following plants: native trees, shrubs, perennials (including wildflowers), and grasses. Adding only trees or shrubs is relatively easy – choose your location, select the plants you want, dig holes, and plant. A combination of trees, shrubs, perennial flowers, and/or grasses requires more steps. The pollinator bed I will describe is actually part of my vegetable garden, but the steps I followed to create it are the same as for my other pollinator beds. This bed is 6 feet by 25 feet.
Second, consider how much money, time, and physical labor you wish to invest. Options range from designing, preparing the bed, choosing and transporting the plants, and planting on your own to having a nursery or landscape designer do every step for you. I chose to receive advice from a nursery and the Mequon Nature Preserve staff and then do the remaining steps myself.
Third, choose the location. If you decide to “shrink your lawn,” remove the grass. Start by cutting it very short, then cover the bed with a black tarp or plastic, and then leave the bed covered a few weeks. Uncover, then remove the top 2 inches of sod with either a spade or rototiller. Next, cover the bed with newspaper and cardboard to reduce weed growth in the future. Obtain some topsoil and a few bags of compost from a garden center, mix them and spread the mixture over the bed.
Fourth, choose which natives to plant. My bed includes butterfly weed, blue vervain, Joe Pye Weed, prairie smoke, and yellow coneflowers, which, when combined, will attract a wide range of birds and pollinators. These plants are easy to find at a local nursery specializing in native perennials. I did the planting myself and then added mulch for weed control. Other beds in our yard feature a mixture of trees, shrubs, perennials, and grasses.
Some good pollinator choices include trees - cherry, dogwood, maple, and oak; shrubs – blackberry, chokeberry, elderberry, serviceberry, sumac, and viburnum; perennials – aster, bee balm, butterfly weed, hyssop, liatris, lupine, milkweed (attracts Monarch butterflies), coneflowers, sunflowers, vervain and wildflowers; and grasses – bluestem and prairie dropseed.
Your efforts will be amply rewarded by the beauty of your bed and the increase in birds, butterflies, and pollinator bees in your garden.. Our family and neighbors enjoy connecting with nature by walking through our homegrown park. We also enjoy late afternoon entertainment provided by monarch butterflies, hummingbirds, bumble bees, honey bees, and songbirds..
The Mequon Nature Preserve provides pamphlets with more detailed information concerning how to create a pollinator bed.