Part of the invisible beauty that runs through pollinator gardens is the spirit of reciprocity. We gardeners, who have been given so much, shout out with our flowers, “Come! Eat, drink, live! and be merry,” calling in bees and butterflies, from near and far. And one of the most important considerations in our beautiful pollinator gardens is to try to provide food for as long as possible: pollen and nectar, from early spring to late fall. Now to make sure we have a long bloom time, with a handful of species blooming all the time, we need a sense of which and how many flowers will bloom when. Oof -my brain is starting to feel complicated. If you are like me, a task like this requires a little planning.
Thinking About Planting Seeds
There is no better time than November to start thinking, planning, and ordering seeds for next spring’s garden. Why seeds? Well, for me, I need to order seeds because I want a huge, crazy ton of plants (and I don’t think I’m alone in this!), and I don’t want to spend very much money.
While plants are typically $4 – $13 or more a piece (plus the crazy shipping costs!), a seed packet of 200-1000 seeds/future plants is $3 – $5 !! And that is why I begin thinking about seeds in November. But that’s so early! The aromatic aster is still blooming! Why November?! The Cold Treatment is why.
Many seeds require something called a “cold treatment” in order to germinate. A future post will discuss how to do a cold treatment, but just quickly here: for a cold treatment you get a little bag, label it, put some damp sand or vermiculite in the bag, mix your seeds with the sand, and then, depending on the species, you refrigerate it for typically 1 to 3 months. Then you get it out and plant your seeds. This mimics winter and breaks the dormancy of the seeds so they are ready to germinate. Without it, germination rates can be lousy, or even Zero!
So, working the timetable backwards, if we want to start planting our home-grown plants out in about mid to late April, we should probably start our cold-treated seeds about March 1st, let’s say. Many wonderful, awesome species require a 60 day cold treatment, so to make that March 1st deadline, they need to go into cold treatment about January 1! Hmm! So Here We Are, Late-November, trying to figure out bloom times and garden designs and seeds orders. No problem. We’re right on time.
The Beautiful Spreadsheet!
In a previous spring post about Planting a Pollinator Garden: The Quick Start Guide, I mentioned how useful a spreadsheet can be for determining where gaps are in your garden’s blooming, but in the spring, I did not want to blind you with the full glory of the spreadsheet, because it is truly most useful now, for fall planning.
Here is an example of a garden spreadsheet for a “quick pollinator garden” which has a number of species in bloom throughout the season. It was created simply by cutting and pasting the desired species from the larger Flowering Times spreadsheet, which is linked further on, and then organizing them by bloom time.
Using a spreadsheet like this is an adaptation of a planning technique shown in Planting: A New Perspective by Piet Oudolf and Noel Kingsbury, a really useful book by two extraordinary gardeners. And looking at the spreadsheet above, we see that in this garden there will be about 6 or 7 species in bloom through summer, but that the spring looks like it could use some additions to increase species diversity.
I’ve found this type of flowering time spreadsheet really useful for visualizing the garden over time: which species will bloom when, how long the garden’s bloom time will be, and how biodiverse the flowers are at any moment, spring through fall. And understanding and planning your garden in time means that the insects who come to your garden can stay possibly their whole lives (what a nice thought), and you can enjoy abundant insects and flowers all gardening season long.
The Big Flowering Times Spreadsheet!
Above is a section of the Flowering Times spreadsheet you can link to and/or download to help with planning. It is a compilation of many species’ bloom times, plus a little extra planting information. The Flowering times shown are based on my Mid-west experience and info from mid-western nurseries, so bloom times will need altering to match your local bloom times. And many species are listed, but by no means, are all species included -feel free to add them! And if you see any ways you’d like to make the main document better, please let me know, and I can make you an editor of the Flowering Times spreadsheet. Many hands make light work, or maybe many hands just make work more fun.
So! To check out your planned garden’s bloom time situation, you can just find all the species you’ve got your heart set on, cut and paste them into a new spreadsheet, organize them by bloom time, and voila! A way to see what will be blooming when. Good for pollinators, but great for garden design: for co-ordinating flower combinations, plant arrangements, and so on. I know I’ve spent a lot of time over the last few years, staring back and forth, from my helpful spreadsheet to my garden map, trying to visualize what each month will look like. And on that note, I guess I better get back to it.
What is your favorite native? and why? Always looking for recommendations this time of year!
Planting: A New Perspective, by Piet Oudolf and Noel Kingsbury