Planting for Pollinators: 5 paths to neighbor-to-neighbor connections

Two people carry trays of plants down a city sidewalk

Minnesota pollinators face a daunting array of challenges. Habitat loss, pesticides, pathogens, pollutants and the effects of climate change all affect declining native pollinator populations. At times, addressing these challenges can seem overwhelming. The pandemic has also drawn time and attention away from these topics, requiring us to regain momentum to protect these species.

The Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR) strives to address major conservation challenges in Minnesota. In recent years, we’ve found innovative ways to make progress by partnering with gardeners, pollinator and wildlife enthusiasts, and environmental nonprofits. BWSR’s Lawns to Legumes program is building a movement to protect at-risk pollinators and the integrity of our landscapes. Residents across the state are working to establish habitat in their yards and communities. In doing so, they’re recognizing that their efforts can make a difference for at-risk species. While gardening may seem like an individual pursuit, it presents opportunities to connect with neighbors and build community.

Lawns to Legumes’ success can be attributed to the hard work of individual residents. However, we’ve observed that residents who are new to gardening or who may not have the financial resources available to invest significantly in landscaping are often hesitant to get started, even if they have been awarded cost-share funding. This is where neighbors can play an important role in supporting each other.

A sign is posted amid newly planted plants black soil with a bit of leaf litter

Following are five ways neighbors can assist neighbors to increase benefits for pollinators and other at-risk wildlife species.

Share tools, materials and information: Sharing knowledge, tools, extra plants, seeds or other materials can be a big help to neighbors who are getting started with native plantings. If you do share plants, tools, or materials, be sure to take precautions to prevent the spread of invasive jumping worms (Amynthas spp.). Sharing information such as resources found on BWSR’s Lawns to Legumes webpage can also help.

Erect yard signs, host project tours: Having pollinator yard signs is one way to communicate your project’s intent, and can lead to discussions with neighbors about how to get started. Garden parties and project tours can build community support for pollinators while allowing people to enjoy the beauty of established pollinator gardens.

Map your project: Map and provide information about your projects on Blue Thumb’s website. We want to know about your efforts and those of your neighbors. This data helps state government agencies and others understand where pollinator corridors are developing, and where additional habitat is needed. A robust map of projects also can help support future funding requests for the Lawns to Legumes program.

Get involved with local organizations: Many local organizations work to educate and collaborate on the establishment of habitat for wildlife. Wild Ones is a great example of an organization that promotes native landscaping. It has several Minnesota chapters; many of them are hosting tours this spring and summer. Contact your local soil and water conservation district or view the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ list of native plant nurseries.

A woman behind a table faces three people with their backs to the camera

Share projects and updates on social media: Social media is a powerful tool that can help stress the importance of protecting declining pollinator populations. It’s a great way to show pictures of established projects. Follow BWSR’s social media accounts for gardening resources, project photos and program updates on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. BWSR also recommends following its Lawns to Legumes partner organization, Blue Thumb — Planting for Clean Water, on Facebook and Twitter.

About the author: Dan Shaw is BWSR’s senior ecologist and vegetation specialist. Shaw started working in the field of ecology about 25 years ago. Before joining BWSR, he gained experience with restoration companies, native plant nurseries, consulting firms and nonprofit organizations. Over the past 15 years at BWSR, he’s coordinated conservation programs focusing on native vegetation establishment, invasive species management, pollinator habitat, habitat-friendly solar, water management and resiliency to climate change. Shaw has taught ecology courses at the University of Minnesota for the past 20 years. He also has written and illustrated several ecology-focused publications.

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