F4P @ HMR Farm: Summer 2017

This summer seemed to fly by at HMR Farm! I like to think it’s because I had SO much fun documenting pollinators in the F4P plot. The annuals in the study did not get as big here as they did at other sites, but this made it even more exciting when an insect chose our plants over the many native perennial species sharing the space.

Flower for Pollinators_F4P_HMR Farm_After Planting_October 2017_3_Cropped

The most attractive annual to pollinators at HMR was Rudbeckia ‘Prairie Sun’. This beautiful plant began blooming early in July and continued to set forth gigantic yellow flowers all summer. R. Prairie Sun was loved by native bees, wasps, flies, stink bugs, and butterflies. Caterpillars were often found feasting on this plant, and the occasional spider visit was always a thrilling surprise.

Zinnia plants attracted many bumble bees, flies, and spiders throughout the season. However, these flowers became especially fun to observe once the butterflies emerged late in the season.

Tagetes ‘Ivory’ marigoldand Cosmos ‘Capriola’ and ‘Double Click’ were well loved by bumble bees this year, whereas Tagetes ‘Bambino’ marigold, Helenium ‘Dakota Gold’, and Salvia ‘Summer Jewel Pink’ were usually covered in natives.

Although there was no shortage of native and bumble bees in the F4P plot, I was surprised not to witness a honeybee utilizing the annual flowers until my final day of observations. There are many honeybee hives at HMR farm, but there are also many native flowering plants much closer to the hives than our plot. Late in the summer most forage plants near the hives had finished flowering, and lo and behold! When food ran low near the hives, honeybees flocked to the F4P plot. On this day, late in September, they were especially interested in Salvia ‘Summer Jewel Pink’.

Next year I would love to see the F4P study expand to other sites on the farm. It would be especially interesting to plant these annuals nearer the honeybee hives and document the difference in honeybee visits between this summer and next. Expanding to other areas of the farm would also increase the likelihood of citizen-science participation.

A special thank you to Julie Weisenhorn for bringing me on board for this study, and to HMR farm staff for helping maintain our plot. It was a wonderful summer, and I look forward to working alongside you all again next year!


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How pollinator-friendly is your landscape?

Creating a better world for pollinators starts in your own backyard. Pollinator-friendly landscapes benefit our food systems, increase biodiversity, and beautify what we see every day.

How pollinator-friendly is your yard and garden right now? Join the 120 MN State Fairgoers and complete this survey to find out how your backyard measures up on plants, habitat, and gardening practices that help bees and other beneficial insects.
Be sure to include your email address at the end of the survey to receive your pollinator-friendly survey score and Extension resources to help you grow from a “Wanna Bee pollinator gardener” to a “Pollinator Protector”!


Honey bees on Helianthus ‘Music Box Mix’

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Painted Ladies in the Garden

A boom in painted lady butterflies has occurred not just in the St. Paul F4P site, but also my own home garden, my neighbor’s garden and fellow gardeners’ too. They are abundant and beautiful! There must still be nectar rewards available as they are spending considerable time on the zinnias.


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Stem nesting

When deadheading flowers, leave stems about 18″ long; in other words,  don’t cut them down you the ground.  Many bees can use them for as nesting sites. They will lay an egg in the stem and then pack it with food, plugging it with grass or mud. Bees will also tunnel out stems like elderberry or, as in this case, Penstemon. Now, I know you are thinking,  “But I don’t want ugly dead sticks in my garden”. Plants, like this Delphinium, will grow up around last year’s stems, concealing them with foliage  and beautiful blooms.


Stem pith from bee tunneling, Penstemon ‘Husker red 


Plugged bamboo nests, Bee Research Lab


Delphinium stems left for stem nesting bees. New foliage and flowers grow up to conceal old stems.


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A garden is a changing thing

Annual flowers change throughout the season. At the Flowers for Pollinators St. Paul site, some flowers have been quite slow to flush out a decent bloom (cosmos, white swan sage, lemon queen sunflowers, Rudbeckias, Twizzle Penstemon) while others were amazing right away and now look, well, pretty lousy. The sunflowers which I was so blown away by are being decapitated by a weevil.

Sunflowers I deadheaded are struggling to flush out a weak second bloom. The Popart zinnias continue to be resilient and bloom well though are a bit ragged. Some that are still looking great are the butter daisy (Melampodium) which continues to look almost fake it’s so nice, the short marigolds, the orange fudge Rudbeckia, Dakota Gold, and Zinnia ‘Old Mexico’ (one of my personal favorites) and Zinnia ‘Zahara Starlight Rose’. Click on pictures for captions.

So how does this late season effort reflect on pollinator activity? Fewer sunflowers have  resulted in insects visiting other plants. For example, there was little to no activity on the butter daisy until the sunflowers bit the dust. This could be due to the fact bees are opportunists and efficient pollinators. They will stay with one flower until they are finished collecting the pollen. This is great for the flowers as compatible pollen is important to reproduction.

The honeybees are still the most widely seen insects in the garden (if you ignore the rash of Japanese beetles. Hoo boy.). Bumble bees have been almost nonexistent here at the St. Paul site and I am not sure why as we saw them often on the same Salvia varieties last year in a garden not far from this planting site. Hover flies, too, are less frequent as well. Does the age of the flower have anything to do with it? Could the presence of other insects like the Japanese beetles? Other insects are coming onto the scene now – soldier beetles, stinkbugs, assassin bugs and gorgeous butterflies. Click on the pictures for captions.

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F4P Morris Hort Night!

It is fun to see the Morris F4P study garden – and visitors to the annual Horticulture Night in the Display garden were intrigued by the flowers. Many loved the Suntastic Bicolor Pink sunflower, and I saw a lot of people jotting down names and taking pictures on their phone. There was some visible deer damage, and a bunny was the focus of three toddlers, but made me nervous hiding in the Rudbeckia. Several people took the survey, but most wanted to just admire and plan their next annual garden. Thanks Joe Knight and Steve Poppe for taking care of the Morris F4P planting!


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Hot and breezy

I stepped out of my office late this afternoon into the wicked heat wave to check the plants in the St. Paul Display garden. I am worried the Japanese beetles will find our zinnias (not yet – they are still absorbed in the plum tree, grape vines and milkweed flowers). While watering, I observed that, in spite of the 96 degree heat index, honey bees were active visiting almost all the flowers – even those not previously where activity hadn’t been seen to-date. I am curious why bumble bees – so active last year – have not been seen much this year. Will keep watching.

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