Energy Adviser: There are easy ways to support pollinators

By Clark Public Utilities Published: May 21, 2022, 6:13am

The sun is beginning to peek out for longer stretches, signaling the start of yard and garden season! Here in the Pacific Northwest, the garden planting possibilities are endless, but the options can be overwhelming. There are a wide variety of trees, shrubs, groundcovers and flowers that thrive in our mild climate, some familiar and some very exotic. With so much potential, choosing which plants to grow in our outdoor spaces can require some planning. One way to give focus to your garden design is to incorporate more native plant species. These plants have evolved and adapted to our specific climate and require less water and maintenance over time. They also provide the type of nourishment and habitat our local birds, wildlife and pollinators, including bees and butterflies, need to thrive. Clark Public Utilities’ new Pollinator Project Garden at the Orchards Operation Center location integrates more than a dozen types of native plants that bloom at different times of year. The garden was planted last fall, and customers are welcome to visit this summer and be inspired by a garden that’s both beautiful and functional. “When choosing to garden with native plants, it’s easy to think in terms of all or nothing,” said Michael O’Loughlin, Clark Public Utilities communications coordinator and Pollinator Project lead. “But the truth is that even adding in some local natives alongside your beloved hydrangea or the labor-of-love rose garden can help attract, feed and shelter the pollinators that are so critical to our ecosystem. And as a bonus, they take less time and resources to maintain.”

Local nurseries can help identify native plants that are appropriate for different purposes. Whether you’re looking for evergreens that are pretty all year, flowering shrubs that have blooms for bees and butterflies, or slow-growing species well suited for shady areas, there are native plants that fit the bill. “For gardeners who like a bright pop of color, it won’t hurt to mix in some traditional annual flowers every year,” O’Loughlin said. “Pollinators may feed from a very wide variety of plants. But when you’re replacing trees or shrubs, or adding in year-round greenery to an established garden, consider choosing native species that are beautiful (and) hearty and work hard to support wildlife in our local environment.” When incorporating native flowering plants to support pollinators, plan for a mix of open flowering species like black-eyed Susan and Douglas aster, and varieties with longer tubular flowers like penstemon. Planting ornamental varieties annually or filling in with pots and hanging baskets also provides nourishment as long as pesticides are avoided. “Many gardeners grew up using pesticides to keep bugs away, but these products will quickly make a beautiful garden poisonous for our pollinators,” O’Loughlin said. “If issues with insects do arise, there are natural ways to keep gardens healthy that won’t hurt pollinator and wildlife habitat.” Bark or other decorative ground cover is another hard habit to break, but many types of pollinators nest in soil, so bare ground in gardens is an easy way to support these species. Similar to incorporating native plants, these strategies don’t require an all-or-nothing approach, and combining even small areas of bare soil in gardens is a step toward supporting pollinators.

There are a variety of local and online resources for gardeners interested in learning more about easy ways to create healthy habitats for birds, pollinators and wildlife. And taking just one step toward making your home garden a safe place for these critical species is a step in the right direction. More information about the Clark Public Utilities Pollinator Project is available at clarkpublicutilities.com/pollinators. Energy Adviser is written by Clark Public Utilities. Send questions to ecod@clarkpud.com or to Energy Adviser, c/o Clark Public Utilities, P.O. Box 8900, Vancouver, WA 98668.

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