Pollinator Conservation Program Digest – February 2019

Select monthly updates from our team of restoration ecologists, entomologists, plant ecologists, and researchers.

The Xerces Society manages the largest pollinator conservation program in the world. We work with farmers, gardeners, land managers, agency staff, and others to create habitat for bees, butterflies, and beneficial insects—and hundreds of thousands of acres of flower-rich habitat have been planted. We also offer certifications: Bee Better Certification for farmers and food companies who are committed to supporting pollinator conservation in agricultural lands, and Bee City USA and Bee Campus USA certifications for cities and schools dedicated to making the world safer for pollinators.

With staff based in more than a dozen states, and offering a diverse array of expertise, it can be challenging to summarize the impactful work being done by our team of restoration ecologists, entomologists, plant ecologists, and researchers. Therefore, we have compiled select pollinator conservation program updates into monthly digests. February’s featured staff member has been working on a hedgerow incorporating diverse native species in North Carolina.

Supporting Pollinators, Beneficial Insects, and Education with a Native Hedgerow

Nancy Lee Adamson, Senior Pollinator Conservation Specialist, Southeastern Region

Planting a diverse native hedgerow is a beautiful way to support pollinators and other wildlife, and to help keep our air and water clean. Hedgerows can also be easier to establish and maintain over time than a meadow planted by seed. In 2018, I had the chance to see the first season’s growth of a new hedgerow that the Xerces Society had helped to install at the Research Farm Organic Unit at North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University (NC A&T), in my hometown of Greensboro, North Carolina.

North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University Hedgerow

The hedgerow at North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University’s Research Farm Organic Unit. (Photo: Nancy Lee Adamson)

In summer 2017, in collaboration with Dr. Sanjun Gu, NC A&T Extension Specialist, Horticulture, I planned the native hedgerow to not only reduce wind along the shore of a pond, but also to support pollinators and natural enemies of pests, provide refuge for a variety of species, and host alternative prey for predators and parasitoids. To prepare for planting, John Kimes, the organic unit farm manager, tilled a 160’ by 6’ area and planted smother crops—annual cover crops planted densely to reduce weed competition—including lacy phacelia, partridge pea, tillage radish, flax, and buckwheat.

Dr. Sanjun Gu

Dr. Sanjun Gu, NC A&T Extension Specialist, Horticulture, visits the hedgerow in its early stages. (Photo: Nancy Lee Adamson)

Dr. Gu and I selected about 45 species of common native shrubs, small trees, wildflowers, and grasses—a much more diverse selection than a typical hedgerow, which was intended to enhance its educational value by showcasing a variety of native species. These species were also chosen because we thought they would flourish in this setting and grow into a beautiful display garden—about 260 plants, all told. To fit all of these species in the hedgerow, we used small plant materials, mainly tubling shrubs and trees. Tublings are long narrow pots (about 1.5 inches at the top and 7 inches long) that allow for long enough roots for woody plants to go directly into the ground. Small plants are less likely to suffer drought stress and tend to catch up in growth quickly. We also planted densely, imitating a natural forest. This technique provides less room for weeds and therefore less need for weed control.

North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University Hedgerow

William Lashley, Sushil Nyaupane, Brandon Lewis, Amy Ballard, and John Kimes assist in planting the hedgerow. (Photo: Nancy Lee Adamson)

By early spring 2018, everything came alive. Early spring blooms included viburnum, blueberry, and snowbell. By late summer 2018, many shrubs had filled out nicely and we found diverse bees, wasps, flies, and other interesting wildlife in the plantings.

North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University Hedgerow

Janae Ramos, Sadia Pollard, Amy Ballard, William Lashley, and John Kimes work on the hedgerow in summer 2018. By this point, the planting had filled out nicely, and was welcoming a wide array of invertebrates. (Photo: Nancy Lee Adamson)

We found some delightful visitors during a field day in August: a bunch of red-spotted purple caterpillars on the silky willows, and a gigantic rustic sphinx moth caterpillar on the beautyberry. If you’ve read Doug Tallamy’s book, Bringing Nature Home, you know how important woody plants are for supporting the caterpillars that birds feed to their young. I suspect fall migrating birds depend on the caterpillars found later in the season, like these on willow and beautyberry.

rustic sphinx moth caterpillar

August 2018 yielded many visitors to the NC A&T hedgerow, including this rustic sphinx moth caterpillar on beautyberry. (Photo: Nancy Lee Adamson)

Providing pollen and nectar sources throughout the year is key for attracting and supporting pollinators, and the plants in the hedgerow run the gamut in terms of bloom time. The shrubs and trees mainly bloom in the spring, and the wildflowers bloom in summer and fall. In the middle of the growing season, shrub buttonbush, which blooms in mid-summer, is a magnet for butterflies, bees, beetles, wasps, and moths. Though naturally found in wetlands, it grows well in average soils and is a magnet for butterflies, bees, beetles, wasps, and moths.

I hope that this project and these photos inspire you to plant more natives and to take time to slow down and take a closer look at the life you are supporting. Thank you for protecting natural diversity!

This work is made possible by funding from the NRCS National Technology Support Center in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Halictus ligatus

Our native plants support a lot of wildlife that can be easy to miss at first glance, like these male sweat bees hiding out on one of our native lespedezas. (Photo: Nancy Lee Adamson)

Further Reading

View a slideshow summary of the NC A&T hedgerow project; pollinator conservation resources for the southeastern U.S.; and our plant list for this project.

Learn more about the Xerces Society’s Pollinator Conservation Program.

Check out last month’s Pollinator Conservation Program Digest!

Click here to donate!Xerces’ conservation work is powered by our donors. Your tax-deductible donation will help us to protect the life that sustains us.


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