As a part of her Girl Scout Gold Award, Emily Shoker researched, designed and installed a
pollinator garden at the Black Bridge Trailhead along the Oxford Area Trail.
Emily Shoker is an Ambassador Girl Scout in troop 41988 and graduated from Talawanda High School in May 2023. She will be attending the University of St. Andrews in Scotland for Art History and Spanish in the fall.
The Girl Scout Gold Award is a Take Action project that must include five elements. The project must address a root cause of an issue that she feels passionate about that has a national and/or global link. Through her actions, she must demonstrate leadership while also creating sustainable and measurable impact.
A Gold Award project is something done for the public betterment, so she decided on growing a public pollinator garden, with the intent of educating her community on the incredibly positive impacts they can have. As such, there will be an evaluation linked at the bottom of this blog. Make sure to fill it out! She need feedback to earn my award. Thank you.
Emily's pollinator garden is by the Black Covered Bridge in Oxford, Ohio. This blog will cover not only the steps that I took in order to create a garden filled with native pollinator plants, but also the steps I took in order to secure a piece of public land with which to work.
What is a Pollinator Garden?
A pollinator garden is primarily a garden meant to help feed and host pollinators such as bees and butterflies. While the main purpose of a pollinator garden is to help rebuild some of the plants needed by pollinators to survive, there are ways to make this beneficial to the gardener as well! By using native plants, it takes less care to maintain the garden, and there is a lessened need for soil additives such as fertilizer. This means less work for better results.
There is an inherent need for more pollinator friendly plants, however, especially native ones. Pollinators are dying out, and not just from more natural causes such as parasites. There are three main reasons for pollinator loss.
Habitat Loss: This is one of the largest factors in declining pollinator numbers. With urban development comes both an increase in the amount of land used for agricultural uses and an increase in the amount of space taken up by paved areas. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it does impact the ability of pollinators to feed, reproduce, and maintain populations over winter.
The Planting of Non-Natives: Non-natives are things like ornamental plants. While they also aren’t suited for a different location, they also often have been sprayed against insects, which can also impact pollinator populations. Native plants specifically are suited to local pollinators, meeting more of their needs in terms of shelter and nutrition than other plants.
Pesticides: Not only may pesticides actively kill pollinators on their own, but also kill many of the plants necessary to the pollinators for survival. One particular type of insecticide is called a neonicotinoid, which is poisonous to not only the insects attempting to eat the plant but also the pollinators wishing to use it for food. Especially without designated places of growth for many pollinator plants, the killing of those that manage to appear in the wild because they look to be weeds is detrimental as well.
While it’s important to make sure that the plants necessary to support pollinators are in good health, the pollinator garden is ultimately about the pollinators. Here are a few local pollinators to look out for in a garden!
Bees: There are a few main types of bees found in the Southwestern Ohio.
Butterflies and Moths: Butterflies and moths are other groups of insects incredibly important to pollination. While Monarch butterflies are the most famous, there are several other species to look for.
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly
Birds: Birds also play an instrumental role in pollination.
Why Pollinators are Necessary
Pollinators aren’t just important because they make the flowers bloom. Pollinators ensure that almost 80% of crop plants globally produce. This means that more than 10 billion dollars worth of crops depends on pollinators to produce. Without pollinators, the world would literally starve. Pollinators play an important part in the ecosystem, ensuring that the plants who host and feed animals of all sizes reproduce. Planting pollinator gardens can help ensure the longevity of pollinator species, and can reduce the death rates of pollinators.
Emily's Journey-The Basics of Building a Pollinator Garden
When deciding to create a pollinator garden, there are several different factors to consider. The first is where to build the garden. My garden is in a public location so I needed to get permission from township committee before I could do anything. This is the important part. When creating this garden, I initially considered a spot under the City’s control, which meant there were legal permits I needed to get approved before I could start anything. There cannot be a public garden if the local government hasn’t approved it! If building a garden at home, make sure that your local ordinances allow you to have native plants in a more natural setting.
After setting up meetings with my township committee, I had a piece of land to work with. From there, I did in-depth research on native plants and attempted to come up with a list of appropriate pollinator plants to use. However, despite my best attempts, I am not a plant expert. As such, I needed to collaborate with several people, including Three Valley Conservation Trust, who has a mission to conserve natural habitats, waterways and agricultural lands in Southwestern Ohio through partnerships with people and communities, and Shademakers Nursery in Oxford in order to come up with a suitable plan. Aside from whether a plant is native or non-native, there are several other criteria to consider.
Soil: It is important to consider the type of soil in the planting space, and whether the garden will need some type of fertilizer in order to establish the plants. Because native plants are already adapted to the soil, a small amount may be enough to get the plants into the ground. I personally used a light mushroom based compost to help feed the plants while they placed roots into the ground.
Light: Lighting is going to be incredibly important, not just to the plant’s growth but also its establishment. The plants in my garden are full sun or partial sun plants, which is good because my location has full sun exposure for most of the day. If I had planted full shade plants in a full sun spot, there would be little chance of survival.
Water: With a garden, it’s important to remember to consider a plant’s water needs. While a plant that’s well established may live through a drought, a plant that’s just been placed into the ground will need more water to establish a functioning root system. Since the garden has just been planted, I go out and water mine once every two days. Some plants may require more frequent watering, especially in dry spells or if they are water plants. Here in Ohio, willow trees are native, but require a water source nearby.
Plant Specifics: One of the last things to consider is how a plant will interact with the other plants in the garden.
Color: For example, if there’s a desired color scheme, it’s important to know what color the bloom will be.
Height: It’s also important to note the height of the plant once it’s fully grown, so a short plant isn’t placed amidst others that would prohibit its growth.
Spread: Arguably more important than height, however, is spread. Despite the fact that my plants will range from three to six feet when fully grown, they will spread equally wide. It is important to be prepared for the amount of spread so there are not too many plants in the garden.
Planting Season: It’s important to know when the planting season of each plant is. In Southwestern Ohio, the frost date is usually mid-May, and it’s important not to put new plants in the ground before there’s no more frost to kill them.
Bloom Period: I staggered my blooming periods a bit, so that I wouldn’t get a bunch of blooms in the spring and have everything look dead the rest of the summer. It’s important to stagger the blooms so they can feed pollinators through the summer season instead of just for a month.
Personally, I didn’t have enough know-how to pick plants on my own. Shademakers Nursery generously gave me a consultation about my specific location, and then I received advice on which plants to put in the ground. I have a fairly small space, and so I got seven plants, which will spread.
Plants I Used
I used a variety of different plants, donated to me by Shademakers Nursery. Plants present in my garden are purple joe-pye weed, winged loosestrife, Ohio goldenrod, New England aster, and white wild indigo. I had seven plants in total for a three-foot by five-foot area. I specifically chose these plants based on the criteria previously specified, especially taking into consideration the final size of the plants because I have such a small space. I highly recommend going to a local nursery and discussing what plants are native or best for a particular place.
Joe-Pye is in the Aster family. It grows to be about six feet tall and will spread significantly. It likes any type of lighting and moist soil. It will attract all pollinators, in particular birds and bees.
Winged loosestrife grows to be about three feet tall, and also will spread significantly. It does best in full sun and moist soil. Bees are partial to this plant.
Ohio Goldenrod is also a member of the Aster family, and will grow to be about three feet tall, and will spread significantly. It likes any type of lighting and moist soil. Bees are partial to this plant.
New England Aster will grow to be about six feet tall, and will spread significantly. It likes partial shade and moist soil. Bees and butterflies are partial to this plant.
White Wild Indigo will grow to be about three feet tall but can reach six feet tall, and will spread significantly. It likes full sun and dry or moist soil. Bees are partial to this plant.
Once the plants are in the ground, it’s crucial to water the plants frequently enough so they don’t die. After a while, the plants will establish root systems in the ground, and that’s it! That’s how to build a pollinator garden! Thank you for taking the time to learn about pollinators and pollinator gardens.
Don’t forget to take a minute and fill out this short evaluation and provide some feedback for my project. Thank you.
Finally, I wanted to say thank you to the many people who have helped me on this journey. To Three Valley Conservation, thank you for assisting in the idea development and gardening information. To Shademakers Nursery, thank you both for the expertise and the incredibly generous donations. To the Talawanda Chapter of the National Honor Society, your help with planting and maintenance is well appreciated. Thank you to Troop 41988, the City of Oxford, Oxford Township, the Environmental Commission, Amy Sullivan, Girl Scouts of Western Ohio, Gateway Academic Life Coaching, and, of course, my family for being so supportive of the weird hours.