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Bring nature home with a native pollinator garden

(Left to right) Jack-In-The-Pulpit, Skunk Cabbage, Stinging Nettle, Trillium, Calandine Poppy, Phlox, and Duchman's Breeches. Credit: Danielle Gyger

LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) – As we dig in this spring and let our green thumbs get to work, consider a native plant garden to celebrate the natural history of our great state.

When we plant a turf grass yard, we eliminate sources of food and habitats for pollinators. On the other hand, native plants are adapted to the local environment which means they require much less care once they become established. This means less weeding, less watering, and you don’t have to replant year after year. In fact, many natives only require care every few years, depending on the species.

Remember, even if you can’t grow a garden even a few containers on your patio or balcony can provide nectar and pollen for pollinators.

Michigan native plants attract birds, bees, butterflies, and other pollinators which are responsible for more than 1/3 of the global food supply, according to Potter Park Zoo.

“If you plant a more diverse garden with flowering native plants, it will keep pests away by supplying homes for pest-eating insects, and feed pollinators all spring, summer, and fall,” says Lansing Resident Danielle Gyger.

The Rusty Patched Bumble Bee is listed as an endangered species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Bumblebees are among the most important pollinators of crops such as blueberries, cranberries, and clover and almost the only insect pollinators of tomatoes. The economic value of pollination services provided by native insects is estimated at $3 billion per year in the United States.

As pollinators, the Rusty Patched Bumble Bee contributes to our food security and the healthy functioning of our ecosystems. Help them out with lupines, asters, bee balm, native prairie plants, and spring ephemerals in your yard.

Bumblebees are keystone species in most ecosystems where they are necessary for native wildflower reproduction as well as creating seeds and fruits that feed wildlife as diverse as grizzly bears and songbirds.

Credit: Wild Ones Lansing

Beyond bees, native insects are also specialists that are adapted to feed on the native plants they evolved with. These insects are also an important source of protein for birds, according to Wild Ones Lansing. Native plants even provide birds with other sources of food such as seeds, nuts, and berries that help birds get through the winter when insects are less plentiful.

Hummingbirds return to Michigan as early as April 15th and putting out feeders can help them survive until there are flowers to provide the real thing. Plant a variety of native plants to supply them with flower nectar all season long.

A native plant garden can also attract butterflies. Your garden can help boost monarch butterfly populations by planting milkweeds that benefit the iconic butterfly’s numbers, according to research from Michigan State University.

“Monarch butterflies scout young milkweed to lay their eggs,” said Nate Haan, MSU postdoctoral research associate in entomology.

The two easiest ways to help monarchs are to plant milkweeds to support the egg and caterpillar stages of monarchs, and plant flowers or flowering trees and shrubs to provide nectar for adult butterflies.

Michigan native plants help native wildlife and our local economy so, in addition to creating a better ecosystem in your yard, patio, or balcony consider volunteering your gardening skills at the Potter Park Zoo as well as checking out local suppliers for all your native tree, shrub, or seed needs. Happy Planting!

Credit: Horrocks