FLANAGAN, Ill. — Selecting the appropriate native grass and flower species is important when establishing a pollinator planting.
“Any size or location can attract beneficial pollinators,” said Travis Deppe, agronomy sales associate with Evergreen FS.
“But not every species will fit in your growing conditions,” he said. “If you have wetland conditions, you need grass and flower species that will tolerate wet feet.”
Promoting the health of pollinators is critical to food and the ecosystem, Deppe said during the Feed a Bee forage tour, sponsored by the Bayer Feed a Bee program and the Wildlife Society at the Salem4youth facility.
Landowners need to define the objectives for their new planting, Deppe noted. For example, in addition to attracting pollinators, someone might also want to increase the pheasant population.
“Contact a local crop specialist to work through your objectives and put together a program that is right for you,” Deppe advised.
Landowners can obtain assistance with a pollinator planting from a couple of organizations.
“Growmark has the Endure program, and with this program, there are a wide range of available flower and grass options,” Deppe said.
For the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the pollinator program fits into the Conservation Reserve Program.
“The contract lengths can be five, 10 or 15 years, and depending on the program, the cost-share payments can be up to $350 per acre,” Deppe reported.
When prepping a site for a pollinator planting, he said, NRCS recommends extensive vegetation eradication.
“Mow the area in the fall and follow that with a minimum of two herbicide applications with a few weeks in between,” he added.
“If the area is coming off a crop history with prior herbicide applications, you may not need to use as many applications as a converted lawn,” Deppe noted. “You could get down to a single application, but watch for herbicide carryover because it may not be suitable for pollinator planting scenarios.”
Since a pollinator site is different from a garden or crop field, he said, fertilization typically is not required.
“Applications of nitrogen is especially not recommended because it stimulates the growth of cool-season grasses, which is the No. 1 competitor for pollinator plants, especially in converted lawns,” Deppe said.
Frost seeding and spring seeding are the optimum times for a new planting, Deppe noted.
“You want to avoid mid- to late-summer when it gets drier,” he added.
“Many of the native species require cold stratification because they have a hard seed coating,” he explained. “The seeds need to go through a freeze-and-thaw cycle to break that hard seed coating to germinate, and that is why frost seeding is beneficial.”
Native wildflowers can be hand spread with the broadcast method or with a mechanical spreader.
“Separate the seed by light, medium and heavy weights so that you don’t have seed settling and you get an even spread,” Deppe said. “You can also use seed carriers so you can dial in your application rates.”
Another option is a no-till drill, such as a Brillion seeder that is adapted for native grasses,
“It has multiple seed boxes to separate the seed sizes,” Deppe said. “These seeders can be rented or you can have your seed custom planted.”
During the first three years of establishing a pollinator planting, there will be some weed problems because it takes some species several years to get established.
“No matter how much ground prep and work you do, you will have some weed issues,” Deppe stressed. “No prep will leave the site 100 percent weed free.”
Maintenance of the pollinator planting is required, and one option is prescribed burning.
“You can contact your local fire department to use the prescribed burning as a training day,” Deppe said.
“Mowing of the plants is not recommended because you are not letting them go to seed,” he stressed. “That’s the exact opposite of what you want.”