We have now entered the time of harvest, when the leaves change, the air becomes crisp, and the wonderful smells of autumn fill the air. This is also the time when critters begin stockpiling food and many plants begin to go into their dormant state, preparing to hunker down for the winter months ahead. It has been about five months since I posted about my native plant porch experiment so I thought I would offer an update and some changes that I made and will be making this year for those interested in trying it on their own porch or deck.
This spring and fall I added many new native plant babies to the porch from native plant kits that I purchased on our website. I purchased the Shade Kit and the Birds/Pollinator Kit so that I would have a variety of plants along the edges of my porch and further back in the shade. As a bonus during the crazy times that is 2020, the plant kits were shipped directly to my home. I then researched all the plants that I received to see what would do well in what kind of pots and in which areas of my porch. I also researched plant toxicity regarding pets since I have two cats that spend time on the porch and like to try to munch plants. That was a good plan because there were some that I found out are toxic to cats and dogs, such as, pepper plants and foxglove beardtongue. These I placed in areas where they are not accessible to my nosey boys. Another fun thing I added was metal plant ID tags. These are weather resistant and will help me come spring to know what I planted in each pot. Because I'm such a plant nerd I included both the common name and the scientific name for each plant on the tag because one, if you don't use it you lose it and two, sometimes different varieties of a plant are called the same thing and you need the scientific name to get exactly the plant that you want. On the reverse side I wrote the type of care it needs so I don't forget.
I did receive a few pollinator visitors this year, though not as many as I would have liked. However, this is just the second year and hopefully they and more will be back next year. I was visited by a few honey, mason, and bumble bees, and various tiny bee and fly species. I believe I had at least one butterfly, but I was hoping for more. I must wonder if the height of being on the second floor played into that, but like I said I did have pollinators, just not all the ones I was hoping for. How can I forget the little jumping spider that went for my face? I had lots of flowers, peppers, and strawberries though and I didn't have to worry about deer, rabbits, or groundhogs. I didn't seem to have any issues with the many birds though I wouldn't have minded sharing. I also had plenty to share with my bearded dragon which made him happy and it saved me money at the store.
The time for over-wintering is very near. I plan on following the same steps as last year with one exception. This year I will not pile nearly as many leaves on top of the plants as I did last year. I will still put a lot around them and between the pots for insulation. I over did it last year on top and that affected the new spring growth, both in form and timing. Who better to get advice on plants from than mother nature? In your yard are there mountains of leaves on the flower beds and yard in general, no, there is a thin sometimes thick layer. It is not the tops of the plants that need protecting so much as it is the roots. If the roots make it through the winter, you should have growth in the spring. Plus, I will still be providing habitat for hibernating insects as well. As for the peppers, those are going on the landing outside my front door away from the cats and the Christmas cactus and shamrock will be enjoying the indoors as well.
So that is my Porch Pollinator Habitat Experiment update. I hope that some of you have found my little experiment useful. Who says you can't have a native plant oasis when you don't have a yard? With a little extra work and research, it can be done. Start planning for spring this winter. Even though our plant kits are not available yet you can still purchase packets of native seed mixes! Good luck and have fun creating your own porch garden!
As always, every little thing we do affects something else, even half a world away. Now more than ever we can see what an impact just a little action can make. Stay safe, stay healthy, wear your masks, practice social distancing, and happy planting.
Blog Author: Kelly Parker, Stormwater Specialist II