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 colleges 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.
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. 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.
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.
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.
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!