Native pollinators are all the buzz with bees and butterflies, but they also benefit a large abundance of wildlife. Using a mixture of native grasses and wildflowers (forbs) can be a fun and enjoyable conservation effort. You can have a positive effect on pollinators by planting a small wildflower garden. If you’re more ambitious, go all out with a habitat restoration project on a landscape level.
When considering a pollinator planting diversity is king. Wildflowers are not the only component in a great seed mix. Native grasses are a very important ingredient when creating structural diversity. The mix should include a minimum of six wildflower species (10-12 is best) with two species per bloom period (spring, summer, and fall), two milkweed species, and four native grass species. This will insure adequate foraging for nectar loving insects during the growing season and structural integrity within the planting. Milkweed is the limiting factor when managing for monarch butterflies. The milkweed plant is the only host species a monarch butterfly can lay its eggs on. Although milkweed provides the monarch butterfly with a host plant it is not enough to fulfill the monarch’s need for nectar.
Monarch butterflies need an abundance of forage to produce enough energy to complete reproduction. The young monarch butterflies that hatch in summer are dependent on nectar to fuel their long migratory flight as they leave Michigan in route to Mexico. There are several milkweed species available. Milkweed provides a wide range of shapes, sizes, and colors to pollinator plantings, but most importantly they provide the monarch butterfly with a host plant for reproduction. Native grasses should be used sparingly as to not overcrowd the wildflowers. When choosing grasses for a pollinator planting it is a good idea to include several species that grow from spring to fall. A mixture of Canada or Virginia wild rye, Indian grass, big bluestem, little bluestem, and prairie June grass will provide a good starting point. Native grasses provide structural stability to the wildflowers and offer great escape cover for small animals and insects.
When purchasing your conservation seed mixture make sure to have a list of soils found on your property. To ensure that the seed mix is compatible with the climate and soils found in Michigan, shop local or ask seed vendors for Great Lakes genotypes. For more information stop into the conservation district or give us a call.
Kurt Wolf, Farm Bill Biologist serving Saginaw, Gratiot & Clinton