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Saturday, September 21, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Gardening: Start next season’s pollinator meadow now

A bumble bee forages among Cleome plants in a home garden on 14th Avenue in Spokane in July 2010. Planting a pollinator meadow begins in the spring and will take a year to establish a field that will attract important insects and animals. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
A bumble bee forages among Cleome plants in a home garden on 14th Avenue in Spokane in July 2010. Planting a pollinator meadow begins in the spring and will take a year to establish a field that will attract important insects and animals. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

Planting pollinator meadows that support important insects and animals is gaining interest. Spring is a great time to plan your pollinator meadow for next year. You read that right, planning a sustainable pollinator meadow will take a year.

Pollinators include the familiar honey bee and a host of other native bees, flies, hummingbirds, moths, butterflies, beetles and wasps. According to the Xerces Society, over 85 percent of the world’s flowering plants, including more than two-thirds of the world’s crop species require the services of pollinators. Unfortunately, pollinators are struggling because of introduced diseases, loss of habitat and the use of insecticides.

The first step to developing a pollinator garden or meadow is to stop using any kind of insecticide, conventional or organic, on your property. This is essential; insecticides will kill any insect they come into contact with.

Start this spring by choosing a sunny, reasonably level site that isn’t covered with a lot of noxious weeds. Mow the area close to the ground and remove the trimmings. Lightly till the area to open up the ground and expose weed seed. Once the grass and weeds start coming back up either spray them out with a non-selective herbicide like glyphosate or lay a large dark tarp over the area. Leave the tarp in place for the summer to kill the weeds and grass with heat and darkness. If you are spraying, do this repeatedly into the fall to kill any existing vegetation.

While you are waiting for the weeds to die, research and gather good-quality seed mixes from Northwest suppliers and be prepared to pay a fair price. A half-pound of seed can run $25 and up. The trade-off is you won’t be buying pounds of it. Locally, Plants of the Wild in Tekoa and Rainier Seed and Landmark Seed in Spokane carry regional sourced mixes.

After controlling the weeds, plan to seed your meadow in late October into early November. Many native flower seeds need the winter cold to scarify their seed coats. Spread the seed using a handheld whirlybird spreader or a broadcast spreader behind an ATV or lawn tractor. Mix the seed with sand or cornmeal to improve dispersion. Divide the seed in half and spread in right angle patterns. Roll the area with a lawn roller to get the seed in close contact with the soil. You are done for this year.

Next spring as plants begin to emerge, be aggressive about removing weeds that come up in your new planting. Weeds will come up faster than the flower seeds. Learn to tell the diference between a weed and a seedling. This will mean hand pulling or the judicious and carefully targeted use of an herbicide.

Install a simple watering system to your meadow and water once a week through the next two summers. Most native wildflowers are drought tolerant, but they will be stronger with some extra water. In the future, mow the meadow each spring to disperse the seed heads still standing.

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