April 2019 flora and fauna

I want to start tracking what’s going on in my front and back gardens. This information will help me ensure there’s always something in bloom for pollinators. It will also be useful for planning future changes to my garden beds. My table format is a simplified version of the Minnesota Wildflowers What’s Blooming pages.

Phenology

Have you ever heard of phenology? I hadn’t either. It basically means what happens when in nature. There’s a lot of interest in phenology now as scientists track how climate change is affecting the timing of plant and animal activity. Unfortunately, the shifts in timing are not always in sync.

I plan to participate in PlantWatch, a community science project collecting flowering dates for selected plant species. This data will be used by researchers studying climate change in Canada. Although I only have 7 of the 22 species they’re tracking, I’ll contribute what I can.

April flowers

April 2019 was quite cold and rainy. It seemed to drag on forever. Earth Day, April 22nd, fell on Easter Monday, so we all had the day off. It turned out to be the warmest day of the month, and a perfect time to watch the first bees and butterflies in our yard.

Pussy willow catkins, bulbs, and spring ephemerals appeared on cue. The pussy willow shrubs were the star attraction for pollinators. Here’s a video of the tremendous pollinator activity on my largest pussy willow; there are mining and cellophane bees, flower flies, and a few honey bees. Oddly, I have never seen a single bee on my hepatica or bloodroot.

A few flowers bloomed in April, despite the particularly cold spring weather this year.

Bloodroot and squill in the pollinator garden. The bloodroot in my shadier back garden blooms later. All of my bloodroot plants were a gift from a neighbour.
My first Hepatica blooms. I bought these plants last year at the Rare and Unusual Plant Sale from a horticultural society table.

April pollinators

I saw the first bees, and only butterflies, on Earth Day, April 22nd.

Insects that I saw in April, mostly on the pussy willow shrubs. I am definitely going to add more pussy willows to my yard.
Unidentified small bee on a female pussy willow flower.
The bee on the left is the size of a sweat bee, but I suspect it is actually a small mining bee. The one on the right looks like a cellophane bee.
The same duo.
A flower fly on the pussy willow. That day, there were many flower flies on this shrub. I guess it was too cool for bees.

I have a lot of trouble identifying bees. My guesses for these two are based on articles on Houzz by bee expert, Heather Holm: Invite Cellophane Bees to Your Garden by Providing Patches of Bare Soil and Invite Mining Bees to Your Garden by Planting their Favourite Plants.

Work to do

It turns out that two of my earliest spring flowers are invasive, or nearly so — squill and periwinkle. The squill is easy to remove, but periwinkle is more challenging.

I actually moved squill bulbs to my pollinator garden because I thought squill and bloodroot made such a pretty combination. While it may not be on an official invasive species list for Ontario, it has spread a lot in wild spaces. Here’s an interesting article, Is Scilla siberica invasive? about squill and how plants are deemed ‘invasive’. I had an inkling that it might be after I saw a large, dense patch of it in a clearing at Mud Lake. I’m not sure what I can substitute it with that will bloom so early, at the same time as bloodroot. I’ll have to take a walk around the neighbourhood to see what other bulbs are blooming now. For ideas, I will also consult the PDF booklet Grow Me Instead, and this list of Alternative Plants for Invasive Species. These suggestions don’t always bloom at the same time though, so they won’t provide a similar flower combination.

Periwinkle is considered invasive according to Ontario’s Invading Species Awareness Program. I have successfully removed periwinkle in another part of my garden. While pulling it out, I carefully teased out the root clumps. Whenever it popped up afterward, I pinched it off. At least it is easy to spot since most other plants aren’t up yet. I will always have to battle periwinkle though because a neighbour grows it willingly.

Invasive periwinkle , in my backyard, that I need to remove.

Plant it and they will come

“Plant it and they will come” is the native plant gardeners’ rallying-cry. It emphasizes how easy it is to grow native plants, and how quickly wildlife will find them. It really is that simple.

In 2017, I turned a patch of our Ottawa, Ontario front lawn into a pollinator garden. I included many native plants, as well as other pollinator-friendly flowers. Even in its first year, the garden attracted many bees, butterflies, beneficial insects, and even hummingbirds.

Before picture from Google Street View (2015)
In its’ second year, the plants and pollinators are thriving (September 2018).

Pollinator populations are declining due to habitat loss, pesticides, and climate change. Urban gardens can provide new, safe habitats for pollinators in need. You can do it too! I’m happy to share with you what I’ve learned.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that creating this pollinator garden is one of the best decisions I ever made, and that it has changed my life. You can read about why and how I created my garden in a blog post I wrote for the Wild Pollinator Partnership. Perhaps you will be inspired to start your own pollinator garden.

More than a pollinator garden

Once I started growing native plants for pollinators, the plants began to attract other wildlife too. We now have a resident toad, rabbit, and chipmunk, as well as many bird visitors stopping by for food and water. Our lifeless yard has become a small, but fully-functioning ecosystem. The whole family is learning about the plants, insects, birds, and animals around us.

You can do it too!

For the first time, I really feel like I am making a difference for wildlife and for the health of our environment. It may be a small difference, but it is a tangible one. I can see right in front of me that I’m now providing food and shelter for hundreds of bees and butterflies, and dozens of birds. I would never have imagined that my new pollinator garden would be so full of life.

If more people, like you, turn some unused lawn into a native plant garden, the impact of these gardens will add up. Plant it and they will come; it really is that simple. My garden is living proof. Go ahead, you can do it too!