Establishing a Pollinator Habitat From Seed

flower pic
The 2015 Farm Progress Show offered visitors a chance to pose as Feed a Bee flowers. We’d love to see the progress from your Feed a Bee seed packet planting – share photos using #FeedABee.
More than 250,000 people received seeds through the Feed a Bee initiative in 2015. Establishing a pollinator garden from seed, whether in a pot or directly in the ground, is a fun project that proves you don’t have to be a beekeeper to help bees!

What to Expect When You Plant Pollinator Seeds

In addition to the gardens surrounding the Bayer Bee Care Center, several other pollinator habitats have been established from seeds at Bayer’s Research Triangle Park site in North Carolina. Establishing pollinator patches from seeds is a simple, inexpensive method for providing year-round, long-term foraging for bees and other pollinators.

What can you expect from a packet of seeds? On this page, we are following one of our Bayer pollinator patches through the seasons to show what is possible.

seasonal development
Check back as we chronicle the seasonal development of a Bayer pollinator patch, shown in the photos above as it was being seeded in September 2015. This one-acre area, near new construction, slopes down toward a small pond.
slop wildflower mix
Above is the seed mix specially formulated by Ernst Seeds for slopes in the Piedmont area of North Carolina.
When choosing a seed mix for your pollinator patch, consider the area where it will be planted. Is it full sun, or partial shade, for example? Seed mixes are specially formulated to work in sites with different requirements. At our Bayer site, we planted seeds in an approximately one-acre sloped area of the site near some new construction. Often the first thought for planting a sloped area is turf grass, but establishing a pollinator habitat is a great alternative for low-maintenance, erosion control.

Ernst Conservation Seeds, a Bayer Feed a Bee partner, provided the seeds and the guidance for planting the sloping area. “This mix was formulated to provide good slope stabilization,” says Mark B. Fiely, horticulturist, Ernst Conservation Seeds. “In part stabilization comes from the deep roots of warm-season grasses anchoring the soil. It also comes from rosettes and leaves of wildflowers cushioning the soil against droplet impact, and foliage from grasses and flowers intercepting rain droplets to reduce the force of droplet impact upon the soil.”

The flowers in the Ernst mix will provide early, mid- and late-season nectar sources for pollinators, and the mix was specially designed to include Butterfly Milkweed, for the benefit of Monarch butterflies.

“The first growing season should see a limited number of species in bloom, perhaps only the black-eyed susan,” Mark notes. “The second season will see greater diversity, a trend that will continue until perhaps year five to seven. As plant diversity passes to some particular point, the native pollinator diversity will escalate. So too will bird diversity and populations that visit the meadow.”

Mark hopes the mix will be attractive for employees working on the campus. “When Dotted Mint and Licorice Scented Goldenrod are in bloom, their perfume will enhance the atmosphere around those walking nearby,” Mark says. “Coupled with the sight and sound of the birds and insects, this meadow should provide an excellent multi-sensory experience.”

Mark’s Tips for Planting a Pollinator Area:

  1. Control all pre-existing vegetation.
  2. Get good seed-to-soil contact.
  3. For areas of significant slope, use erosion control fabric or bonded fiber matrix to control erosion during establishment.
  4. If feasible, use a weed eater to trim the meadow to 8 inches whenever growth reaches 18 to 24 inches during the first growing season. Cease trimming in mid-September.
  5. Budget for spot control of problem weeds as they develop.

Pollinator Patches: Opening Eyes to a New Kind of Beauty

roadside pollinator patch
Pollinator patches can challenge our ideal of a well-maintained landscape, but they can generate a new level of excitement for seeing what pollinators and wildlife are foraging and making a home within them.
The Bayer Bee Care Center, located at our Research Triangle Park site in North Carolina, is surrounded by two acres of pollinator plantings for its bees. Several additional pollinator habitats have been established in areas around the headquarters site.

Establishing pollinator habitats at a site that typically features a neatly manicured landscape can be a challenge. “We get questions from employees about what we’re doing,” notes Stephanie Darnell, pollinator safety scientist at Bayer. “Pollinator gardens are beautiful, but when we see them adjacent to a highly maintained area, such as alongside a golf course or in front of a professional workplace, it challenges the norm.”
pollinator patch sign
Good signage at the site of a pollinator patch can help to educate, answer questions and manage expectations.
Good signage at the site of a pollinator patch can answer questions and help to educate. For example, while it might be more esthetically pleasing to mow an area of wildflowers or perennials once they have stopped blooming, the dead flowers and stalks provide re-seeding for the following season as well as a great habitat for birds and pollinators. “Our dried black-eyed susans attract about six yellow finches that love to sit on them,” Stephanie says. “And leaving the stems of our red hot poker plants provides potential nesting sites for solitary bees. Once people realize what’s going on in an area, they are very supportive, and begin to adjust their expectations and to enjoy the diversity.”

Pointers for Planting From Seed

Lance Walheim
Garden expert Lance Walheim, author of Roses for Dummies, Landscaping for Dummies and more, says good timing and soil preparation are key when planting wildflower seeds.
Wildflower seed mixes for establishing a pollinator garden include both annuals and perennials and a mix of flowers that will bloom at different times of the year. Thus a pollinator patch is not a short-lived experiment, but rather a long-term source of forage for pollinators. Lance Walheim offers some great pointers for the timing and preparation needed for a fall planting of wildflower seeds. Or watch his video about planting seeds in pots.

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