During the NCSU Turfgrass Field Day, Dr. Danesha Seth Carley from the Department of Horticultural Science showed demonstration plots of test seed mixes being studied at 20 highway locations across the North Carolina Piedmont region for their attractiveness to bees and other pollinators.
Her No. 1 plant observation is that pollinators love partridge peas (Chamaecrista fasciculate), an easily grown, widely distributed native. The plant tolerates a wide range of soil types, fixes nitrogen, and its seed is high in both protein and phosphorous, making it attractive for many birds. Flowering is from mid to late summer.
Partridge pea (Chamaecrista fasciculate). Photo credit: USDA.
How important is having habitat for pollinators? Test plots were monitored every three weeks for the number of pollinators present. When compared to control plots, preliminary results showed that habitat plots had 12.5 times more bees, 4.8 times more flies and 10.5 times more butterflies. American Meadows Pollinator Wildflower Mix was the early favorite of the tested mixes.
Observations show that having a mix of at least nine species blooming across early, mid and late season is important to provide pollinators with continual food sources and a flow of color for aesthetics.
The challenge, she explains, is managing installed habitat. It’s not practical to hand weed, she told the audience of primarily golf course and landscape maintenance personnel. The second best strategy is to mow habitat to 5 in. or 6 in. in the fall. By then annuals will have reseeded and perennials will have built good root systems for second-year emergence and growth. Managing habitat by fire is effective, too, but impractical in many urban locales.